In the weeks following the announcement of the first COVID-19 case in Kenya on March 13, 2020, a considerable number of organizations were caught in tight spot- that of reducing employee salaries, sending them on unpaid leave or dismissing them from their duties all together. Employers had to make such decisions because of the prevailing economic circumstances. Those who were lucky stayed on, and they still hold jobs to date, one year down the line.

In September 2020, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) showed that Kenya's unemployment rate doubled to 10.4 percent in the second quarter of the year compared to 5.2 percent in the first quarter, compounding the situation from bad to worse. Sadly, some businesses closed and have never reopened to date.

While high unemployment rate remains a major unresolved challenge, youth tend to be most affected. With the situation at hand, the key thing is for organisations to lead the way in supporting and empowering the youth.

According to the Commonwealth Youth Ministers, youth empowerment refers to creating and supporting enabling conditions under which the young people can act on their own and on their terms rather than the direction of others. Considered as a gateway to economic empowerment, it remains one of the strongest pillars for organizations to create sustainable businesses and an enabling environment for them to thrive. This can be done in the following ways:

1. Amplifying available opportunities

One of the ways to enable youth access the opportunities is to make sure that they are aware of the opportunities in the first place. This enables then to effectively tap into the available resources effectively.

For businesses, being able to communicate in detail on how to get such opportunities creates a more appealing environment to empower the youth. For instance, we at the Kenya Electricity Generating Company PLC (KenGen) advertise all opportunities in the media, social media platforms and our website.

With proper awareness about these existing opportunities, especially under government’s Access to Government Procurement Services (AGPO), the youth are able to access them. We are happy with the impact we have made so far, and continue to make. In 2018 and 2019, for instance, we awarded tenders worth Ksh 389 million and 459 million to youth respectively.

2. Conducting training and mentorship programmes on economic empowerment

There is no doubt that skills and knowledge are some of the most important assets in the times we are living in. Training and mentorship plays a critical role in enabling the youth to manage their financials well while enhancing their creativity in advancing their projects.

By businesses creating platforms through which youth can be trained or mentored on how to overcome the challenges and also develop winning solutions, they shall be better placed to drive economic empowerment. This way, they can create their own opportunities. Additionally, businesses need to conduct programs geared towards enhancing the transfer of skills from one generation to the other and also unlocking the potential of the youth. At KenGen, youth training and mentorship is one of our key focus areas in our efforts towards creating sustainable generations.

3. Enhancing collaborations on empowerment opportunities

Collaboration is one of the ways through which businesses can gather scarce resources and create more opportunities collectively. With businesses exploring more avenues for collaborating, as we do at KenGen with communities living near our power plants, our youth are continuously presented with opportunities to unlock their potential.

Coming at the backdrop of social-economic impacts occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, this sets a good foundation towards attaining economic empowerment.

4. Including youth in decision making

Whenever youth are incorporated in decision-making, their leadership skills are enhanced, and their confidence levels boosted. This can also help in bringing out their critical thinking abilities while encouraging them not to practise favouritism and bias in the process allowing them to become solid leaders who are open-minded.