Kenya is a very youthful country. The median age is estimated at 19 years, and about 80 percent of Kenya’s population is below 35 years. To a very large extent, Kenya’s youth — defined as individuals between the ages of 18 and 35 — will determine the shape of the country’s future. A shape that is currently being moulded through technology. The country is currently undergoing a transformation of sorts with the government of the day undertaking many projects to automate the country’s processes.
One of the major projects the government is undertaking in line with technology and youth is the “Ajira” project which links the youth to online work. Ajira is one way of promoting tech-entrepreneurship in the country, a noble idea if I do say so myself, but all that glitters is not gold; this statement bodes true for technology as well, especially online technology where the internet is an open place, and thus the youth need guidance when utilising it.
In 2013, a UNICEF study was launched in Nairobi looking at young people and issues of digital access, knowledge, and emerging practices. The study, dubbed “A (Private) Public Space”, pointed to a knowledge gap between parents and their children when it comes to Internet use. Many participants reported that their parents and caregivers had a low level of digital literacy, especially among those living in poorer urban neighbourhoods or rural areas.
One way of ensuring the youth can enjoy technology without being exposed to negativity is by establishing safe spaces where they can be supervised and advised on how to go about it. In Kisumu, one such safe space has been established called “LakeHub.” CIO East Africa recently held an interview with LakeHub’s co-founder and CEO, James Odede, in a bid to get a better understanding of the institution.
“LakeHub is a technology and social innovation hub based in Kisumu, Kenya with the aim of decentralising access to technology and growing entrepreneurship and social innovation,” said Odede.
“LakeHub has created an open and supportive space where young and talented developers, creatives, entrepreneurs, and social innovators in Western Kenya meet to network, learn from each other, brainstorm, and find solutions to societal challenges,” he added.
LakeHub’s vision statement reads as follows: “An innovation hub with a community of social entrepreneurs providing innovative and sustainable solutions for social change.” In line with the vision, the institution fills the gaps in infrastructure and resources needed by young entrepreneurs and innovators in Kisumu and its environs to launch, run, and scale their businesses.
“These include access to mentors, working space with internet, linkages to market data, and a network of like-minded entrepreneurs to collaborate with,” explained Odede.
The company supports entrepreneurs in Kisumu and its environs by providing free co-working space for young, early stage entrepreneurs whose startups are at least at the prototype stage. The company also offers space to established businesses in Kisumu at a premium. Apart from hosting businesses, the hub is focused on building the community through regular, themed events around technology, business plan competitions, hackathons, and design sprint workshops.
“Since our launch in March 2015, our community has grown from 100 founding members to 2,500 members. We host 10 startups out of our space. We have hosted 53 events with an average audience of 30 and run two successful three-month long boot camps. I can say our services have been received well by our target market,” said Odede.
Odede further explained, “We have no plans to expand to other Africa countries soon. We are currently working on launching a three-month long incubation program targeting early stage startups and providing support in financing, mentoring, and business coaching to six startups every quarter.”
According to Odede, the company is currently opposed to expanding due to the lack of financing and the right talent needed for them to expand. The company is, in a way, understaffed as five people support a community of 2,500 young people, a feat that Odede commends and appreciates.
“We have created an inclusive space that values all our team members. We make our team members happy by supporting them with the resources they need to effectively contribute to the growth of the organisation,” he concluded.
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