Nov 13, 2015

Work and Responsible Citizenship: Self-employment and Civic Participation

Participants listening to the presentation

As part of an ongoing discussion series under its broader research project on Youth and Citizenship, the Integrity Program convened a roundtable entitled ‘Work and Responsible Citizenship: Self-Employment and Civic Participation’ on 28th October 2015 at the University auditorium.


The half-day event saw 70 participants in attendance, comprising of youth and women interested or engaged in self-employment ventures and/or community development projects, industry representatives, and officials from the Directorate of Youth Affairs and the Directorate of Gender under the Ministry of Devolution and Planning. The panel consisted of officials from two Government enterprise funds, namely Mr Morris Ondiek (Head of Enterprise-Youth Enterprise Development Fund), and Mrs Judith Midamba (Marketing, Research and Communication Officer-Women Enterprise Fund). Alongside them was the Lead Researcher of the Integrity Program, Dr Antoinette Kankindi.  Dr Tom Odhiambo, formerly a lecturer at Strathmore University and currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi, moderated the discussion.


This was the second in a series of annual public fora, with an inaugural conference having been held in October 2014 to discuss the findings of a survey conducted in Nairobi to determine the impact of unemployment on the youth’s conceptions of citizenship and consequently, their sense of social integration. This survey marked the inception of the Integrity Program’s youth project and has since the October 2014 conference, spawned the writing of a research paper to study youth citizenship in Kenya through a more critical lens. It has been observed that a dearth of scholarship on this subject in the African context and by African scholars exists. The Integrity Program seeks to substantively contribute towards building African perspectives on the topic of youth citizenship.


While last year’s conference broached the topic from the unemployment perspective, this year’s discussion was framed by the self-employment point of view. The ever increasing scarcity of jobs in the Kenyan job market necessitates the exploration of self-employment as an alternative avenue for livelihood. Findings from the 2014 survey backed by studies on youth citizenship globally have revealed a nexus between being engaged in gainful work and the formation of responsible civic attitudes. From the anthropological and social point of view, work has been observed as a factor that humanizes and socializes the individual in cultivating a sense of responsibility that transcends the self. Unemployment and other situations of precarious employment militate against the types of civic activities the individual is able to take part in and diminish his/her concern for the broader welfare of the community.


In her presentation, Dr Antoinette Kankindi reiterated this link between work and responsible citizenship, and underscored the salient role of the former in guiding the person towards self-improvement and contribution to the common good in society. Making the case for the need to contextualize and expand civic participation among the youth, Dr Kankindi emphasized the duty of the citizenry in building the political society through active participation in the civic sphere. A rights only approach that lays little to no credence in duty has debased the concept of citizenship, fostering the culture of entitlement that has entrenched itself in Kenyan and African citizenry, as is evidenced by the pervasive expectation that the Government always intervene in even localized and trivial issues within the community. Dr Kankindi brought to the fore the need for the youth to be engaged in work, as the boredom and disenchantment that accompanies unemployment renders them especially vulnerable to manipulation. The spates of post-election violence and tribal clashes that have swept through Kenya and the greater region in the recent past have attested to the danger of an unoccupied youth population.


The roundtable was aimed at shedding light on Government enterprise funds as avenues for the uptake of self-employment, and to provide a platform on which officials from these funds could disseminate correct information about accessing these facilities, and at the same time, debunk any misconceptions held by the public. In addition to elucidating on the application requirements and products offered by the Youth Enterprise Fund (YEDF), Mr Morris Ondiek encouraged the youth in attendance to empower themselves by setting up their own enterprises, either as a long-term pursuit or as a buffer measure while seeking employment. He cautioned against seeking quick, easy money afforded by unscrupulous activities that erode the dignity of the person, and extolled tenacity as a work ethic. Mrs Judith Midamba of Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) spoke of the WEF’s mandate grounded on a mission to eliminate the exclusion of women from the mainstream economy through the provision of credit facilities, capacity building, and a range of enterprise support services. At the same time, she encouraged more women to take advantage of WEF as there still exists room for more people to benefit from it.


During the interactive segment of the roundtable, participants took the opportunity to pose pertinent questions to the panelists and ministry officials, confronting them on issues spanning challenges encountered in applying for and receiving disbursed funds, dissemination of information at the grassroots level in rural areas, improving accessibility for people with disabilities, and expanding enterprise support services.


Dr Tom Odhiambo, the moderator, called for the cultivation of industrious thinking and the need to dignify work that falls outside the bounds of “white-collar jobs”. Moreover, he proposed the revitalization of vocational training institutions by the Government as a way of creating a suitable system that supports the entry of more youth into the workforce. He further elaborated on the need to critically examine possible areas of improvement in the current education system, which continues to produce half-baked graduates despite the knowledge and skills imparted to them over the years. As a way of preparing the youth to cultivate good work ethic, Dr Odhiambo encouraged the youth to seek out credible mentors after the completion of their formal education.


Beneficiaries of Government enterprise funds had the opportunity to speak about their experiences and to relay feedback to the fund officials. The roundtable came to a conclusion with the articulation of a plan by the Integrity Program to conduct an endline survey in the coming months, to determine the impact of Government enterprise funds on improving the livelihoods of beneficiaries.

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