On 23 May 2022, stakeholders working in the youth innovation space and drawn from twenty-five organizations participated in the Youth Innovation Hubs Stakeholder Consultations held at Kenya School of Government, Kabete.
Organizations represented included: Kenya School of Government, World Bank, Plan International, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), Council of Governors (COG), Kenya Red Cross Society, National Youth Council (NYC), Kenya Innovations Agency (KeNIA), Generation Unlimited, Ajira Digital, Association of Countrywide Innovations Hubs, Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG), Miramar International College, Spread Truth Africa, World Food Programme, Konza Technopolis, Kenya Climate Innovation Center, and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
Hosted under the theme of Co-Creation, this Workshop sought to create a platform for players in the youth innovation space to share best practices, highlight challenges and generate new ideas with potential to change the youth innovation ecosystem in Kenya.
“I call on all partners to bring their comparative advantage to help realize our common agenda: nurturing youth innovations into profitable businesses”, Mr. Walid Badawi, the UNDP Resident Representative said in his opening address. He further outlined five conditions necessary to achieve this: Common Agenda; Shared Measurement System; Mutually Reinforcing Activities; Continuous Communication; and Backbone Support Organizations.
Walid informed the workshop that UNDP has just recently launched the #timbuktoo hub for Africa in Nairobi to mobilize resources to work for Africa’s development to further transform the future of with the youth as the centre of regeneration. “Our common agenda is to support investments, partnerships and to scale up the innovation ecosystem and growth in Africa with the SDGs as our compass”, he concluded.
Youth innovation hubs have provided a fertile ground for mentorship, incubation, and skilling. UNDP, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), and Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA) conducted a mapping of the Kenya Innovation Ecosystem and identified a total of 133 innovation enablers consisting of labs, hubs, co-working centers, and innovation centers.
The workshop was hosted by KSG, who have been very instrumental in working with county governments to initiate youth innovation and empowerment centres. Prof. Nura, the Director for Administration and Finance at the school, highlighted some of the successes of Isiolo Youth Innovation Center including training of 164 youths in agri-business; empowering of 940 youths through leadership programmes; and over 100 youths in the County have gained basic computer skills.
The participants discussed some of the critical challenges affecting innovation ecosystem including duplication of efforts, lack of clear scale-up models, inadequate funding, competing county priorities and unclear institutional arrangements. The report by UNDP, KoTDA and ACTS also revealed that 81% of youth innovation are focused on software hence the need to contextualize innovation ideas. In the end, the participants agreed on the following practical recommendations necessary to address the challenge of scaling youth innovation hubs in Kenya.
- Sustainability: It is critical to the success of innovation hubs. Participants noted that sustainability can be enhanced by finding opportunities to reduce costs such as through sharing of co-working space. Other suggestions included a system of graded specialization that allows innovation hubs at lower levels to address one or two areas of start-up needs while a higher-level hub, say level 6, would have the capacity to address a wider spectrum of needs. Some of the current innovation centres such as Tana River and Isiolo have implemented income generation models by renting their spaces to host meetings.
- Quality standards: Developing a shared measurement system is essential to collective impact. While there are opportunities to specialize, there needs to be a definition of bare minimums for innovation hubs. With standards, it would be possible to bridge the language gap that exists between innovation hubs, youth empowerment centres, and constituency industrial development centres.
- Legislation: There is need to anchor youth innovation hubs in a legal framework to ensure continuity. The Startup Bill, 2021 was a good attempt to streamline the innovation ecosystem. It was a decent effort to address funding, access, ecosystem roles and incentives to the establishment of hubs and coordination of support to start-ups.
A vital outcome of this dialogue was the creation of an ad hoc committee to spearhead the development of a framework that would coordinate partners working on youth innovation hubs across the country. The members of the committee include State Department of Youth Affairs, Council of Governors, UNDP, KSG, KeNIA and KEPSA. It was also noted that the committee would come up with a policy brief to be presented to the ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs. In addition, the committee would explore mechanisms to present a memorandum to the sector working group on youth issues in the on-going MTP IV consultations.
The meeting, even though isolated, was like the proverbial stone that created Rome. While many stakeholders in the youth innovation ecosystem make very vital contribution to the development of start-ups, the fragmentation and duplication of effort so far witnessed do not portend well for the growth of innovation agenda. There is a need to harness synergies by expanding the space for collective impact.
Written by Samuel Kimani, Youth Leadership Coordination Officer