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Youth, Girls’ and Women Empowerment in Kenya

Simotwo Faith Zainabu is perhaps one of the most inspirational and innovative social entrepreneurs in my community and country at large. Simotwo is a civic leader with experience in community development and leadership sector. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship in the rural areas, girls’ education, women economic empowerment, mathematics and technology and currently pursuing her MSc. in Mathematics at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Simotwo served in the University Student Representative Council as the Deputy President of the student organization, she is a Mandela Washington Fellow 2016 by President Barack Obama, Mandela Rhodes Scholar 2018 and recently selected as one of the 20 Laureate Global Fellows 2018 by YouthActionNet . She has been nominated for several awards including 2016 Africa Youth Awards and 2015 finalist International Young Achiever Women4Africa Awards.

Simotwo grew up in a rural community in Kenya where it was a taboo to take the girl child to school, the place for a woman or a girl in her society was in the kitchen and was not to be seen and her voice is never to be heard. At the age of eight, she became the first Girl Scout in her village and in 2007 at the age of thirteen, she began her own troop of girls’ scouts. Having struggled and fought hard to acquire education after losing her mother at a tender age, she got a scholarship to go to the prestigious Starehe Girls Centre national high school in Kenya. It is here that she developed her passion in the rural areas, girls’ education and women economic empowerment.

Having been raised in a community that belittles women, she founded African Girl Voice Foundation, a platform where girls are empowered on the importance of education so as to reduce the level of early marriages in our community where girls are married from a tender age of as young as nine years. It is through this that she was selected as a Regional Ambassador for Girl Rising. She has been able to campaign against early marriages, Female Genital Mutilation and gender based violence and has transversed several counties in Kenya empowering the girl child and stating how important it is to educate the girl child. This has left many people calling her ‘The Girls Champion’. Faith has also introduced sessions where she trains girls on their rights according to the constitution and has been involved in explaining the various policies we have for women in our country.

Apart from the above mentioned, Simotwo is the co-founder of Mashinani Hub, a rural solar powered hub located in Nyamira village in Kenya and recently in the DRC. It is an innovation space that is located in rural areas dedicated to provision of business development, incubation services and market place to the local community through inspiring, creating, and connecting the next generation of entrepreneurs in Africa.

Mashinani hub was established on May 2016 to address the issue of unemployment in our community. 75% of the Kenyan population is composed of youths. They live below $1/day and their families cannot afford college fees to educate them. Of these, 60% live in the rural and peri-urban regions in Kenya. The rate of unemployment of youths stands at 80%. 120,000 youths are unemployed and live in Nyamira, Kisii, Kenya. 700 unemployed youths in Nyamira surveyed showed that they lacked access to opportunities to exploit their potentials and help their families and thus are left idle as others indulge in social vices such as drug abuse. 98% of incubation spaces and business training are only found in urban cities such as Nairobi with only a few government tertiary colleges offering fixed training such as masonry and tailoring. Lastly with the 75% mobile phone penetration in rural areas, the youths lack internet and electricity to access services and opportunities. Mashinani hub seeks to impact 720 youths by offering them a disruptive space to create wealth.

Mashinani hub is providing business incubation services to youths in rural areas in Kenya. They equip the participants with business development and support services to help them go to the market with their ideas. The youths undergo a 6 months incubation program where they build on their ideas and learn all the aspects of business such as ideation, market validation, prototype development and fundraising. They also offer them a marketplace where they learn the concept of “fair trade” and showcase their innovations to the public and thus getting access to feedback and customers. At the hub the youths also access free internet and computer services with free office spaces that they are using to build and run their ventures from. After completion of the incubation program some of the youths receive $1,000 seed capital from the hub to enable them go to the market and execute their ideas. Lastly Mashinani Hub offers mentorship services to the youths by connecting them to a community of online mentors from different countries in Africa to walk them through the journey of entrepreneurship.

Mashinani hub has been able to create the first innovation space in the rural Nyamira and installed 10 computers, working benches to offer office space and thus they have enabled more than 470 youths in Nyamira access to free internet services and computers. Since the hub is located in the rural area with no electricity connection, they have installed 2 solar panels with which now the neighbours can access free solar light in their homes. The hub has trained more than 520 youths in Nyamira, Taita Taveta and Lubumbashi, DRC with business skills. They have been able to incubate 37 youths with business ideas and awarded 3 of the participants $1,000 each to launch their businesses. Mothers and girls who never completed school learn basic computer skills and the community can now access computer services such as printing and scanning affordably. The hub has managed to attract a pool of online mentors from various African countries who can be connected with the participants to support the incubation process. Mashinani Hub this year has received two awards one from BMCE Bank of Africa recognizing it as the most innovative idea needed in the region and lastly by Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) as the best 1,000 business ideas in 2017 that can transform Africa and the Hub is currently undergoing mentorship with TEEP which will end with a prize of $5,000.

The major challenge has been access to funding for the sustainability of the hub. Their micro goal is to offer employment to the mothers and women in the community to work in the hub. The macro end goal is for Mashinani hub to be a social venture firm with roots in all African Countries offering business development and investments to youths in Africa by 2025.

Educating a girl is not only right but SMART”- Simotwo Zainabu

Pictures taken by Simotwo Zainabu and Mashinani Hub team, and reserve rights as such.

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