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Nairobi Summit Puts Kenya on path of Innovation

  Jul 29, 2015
 

Innovation and enterpreneurshipBy Dr. George Njenga
Image and Story courtesy of Daily Nation.

Kenya hosted the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) from Friday, the first time Africa South of the Sahara hosted the summit.

The last five summits have elevated entrepreneurship to the top of the global agenda and inspired new generations of innovators.

This has been an Obama initiative.

Ten years ago, Kenya would have frowned at a graduate considering entrepreneurship as a profession or as a source of employment. We all wanted and esteemed white-collar jobs. We still do in the large majority of East African citizens. It sounds right in our culture to introduce oneself as an employee of a big company… no matter the job one has.

It is our pride to speak of our sons and daughters as employees of such companies as General Electric or Barclays Bank or the World Bank.

This, however, is a ‘slave’ approach to building our future. The hidden misconception in our culture is that other people, especially those coming from Europe and the United States of America, should be the authors of new products and services and that they are the ones who have the skills to be true innovators and entrepreneurs.

In fact this mentality is so embedded in our system that entrepreneurs are misunderstood by the government and frustrated by our fear of buying anything locally made. GES 2015 begins to change this mentality and demonstrate that it is entrepreneurship development and incentives that will create wealth for African nations. Notwithstanding our lack of entrepreneurship culture, there is hope.

US President Barack Obama has called this nation wonderful and blessed in terms of growth. Yet, he has also reiterated that the tender-preneurs and corruption oriented public and private sector players are hampering the growth of entrepreneurship. This is a major weakness in our country’s system and it is a disincentive to entrepreneurial growth.
Some may ask, why was Kenya chosen to host the summit?

Kenya is a very important centre for growth in Africa. It is the compass that is projecting how Africa will grow and a hub for technological development. We are being touted as the ‘first born of Africa’, which is a serious responsibility.

While Ghana and South Africa would have been great options, Kenyans have demonstrated a great entrepreneurial spirit and their economy has expanded significantly across various sectors.

For instance, we are really no longer dependent on donor aid. We are now speaking of partnerships with our historical donors. We can and have offered bonds and other financial vehicles for investors to bring in their funds with a good return.

This is obviously an important issue for economic growth and will also mean that from now on, our investment will be investor oriented rather than donor-driven.

The latter does not demand investment returns but rather seek good reports on the use of money. This can be cooked and corrupted. Investors on the other hand will look at statistics and hold the government accountable.

Kenya has demonstrated that it can pay back its loans over the last 50 years. We do not have a history of defaulting, unlike some of our African counterparts.

Kenya is also at the forefront of institutional development. Key among these is growth in structured governance accountability and in the fight against corruption systems. Furthermore, the devolution of our Budget and decentralisation of government expenditure is probably one of the most advanced in Africa, given its recent implementation.

ECONOMIC STABILITY

This means that growth will be spread across the country. All these developments are a sign of future economic stability and progress.

Kenya was, therefore, a good place to host the entrepreneurship summit.

But how do we encourage and nurture young minds in the country to be bold enough and create more jobs by starting their own businesses?

Kenya is globally renowned as the intellectual capital of Africa. This also applies to our entrepreneurial capacity. We are the key entrepreneurs and ICT innovators in Africa and to an extent, globally.

To create a sustainable entrepreneurial culture, we need to build incentives for entrepreneurs and fight endemic corruption. Corruption increases inefficiency and the cost of doing business.

We should also develop information and research data of business sectors and clarity of business systems. Lastly, good, state of the art, training of entrepreneurs is fundamental for sustainability of organisations built by entrepreneurs.

Training for entrepreneurship should also make businesses ready for capital investment and capital fundraising. As it is, most young entrepreneurs, are not able to attract funding because of ignorance.

Finally, while we build our entrepreneurship capital, we should also understand that growth of our companies to new international markets, especially structuring a resilient organised African market is fundamental. Issues of Intellectual property processes become very crucial here. African markets are the place where we should base our business growth rather than try to capture international American, European, or Asian markets.

Many people in the country have one fear as they venture into entrepreneurship – intellectual property. The question then arises, how do we go about this to safeguard people’s ideas and futures?

Partnerships with international companies with adequate legal and financial capability is fundamental for safeguarding intellectual property. Most of all, however, the Government should set up a fund for financing the intellectual property and patent process for young entrepreneurs. This latter policy is not long term though. International partnerships will safeguard our products wherever they are produced and value will come back to Kenya.

Sadly, our innovations in the research centres, whether medical health products, ICT, engineering, genetically modified agricultural products, or new plants go to other countries and Kenya does not enjoy the returns from such efforts. In effect, the paradigm of innovation in our research centres should be in universities and should be linked to marketing companies that have an international reach. This will be the best way of safeguarding our intellectual property.

The Strathmore Business School (SBS) last month hosted a precursor event to the GES.

We are part of the global intellectual standards in supporting entrepreneurs. SBS has more entrepreneurship models that have been thoroughly tried and has spent over $1 million in developing resilient entrepreneurship programmes across healthcare, agriculture, industry, retail and wholesale production and service sectors. We are at the vanguard of climate innovation, ICT and especially mobile-based products innovation and business structuring.

Most fundamentally, we have established a resilient gender-based entrepreneurial development orientation based on work\family organisations. We are also helping store knowledge of business strategies of government and family businesses.

We have also set up public policy executive training for managers in our government and NGOs to ensure that we also inculcate new models in building and enabling environment for our young entrepreneurs.

SBS is a learning institution that is keen to coach more and more Kenyans and other people to become entrepreneurs so as to grow our economy.

However, there are still very few successful entrepreneurs who are ready to coach and mentor young investors. It is at the coaching and mentorship levels that the individual business people converge great knowledge and individual weaknesses. We have inbuilt this coaching into our programmes to ensure that each person is considered special and is taken care of individually.

As we celebrate US President Obama’s visit to Kenya and the summit, there is one key message that Kenyans should remember if they want to grow the economy in double digits through entrepreneurship.
Kenya should build partnerships that add value to all Kenyans and business partnerships that also embrace the less fortunate in their design.

When Americans come they can invest in the LAPSSET programme, port maintenance, road construction and budget support for counties. It is in the latter, the support for specific development projects at the county level, that economic growth and development will be inclusive.

We welcomed the American President. We welcomed the son of Africa back to his origins. But in doing so, let me reiterate, we want partnerships that do not leave Africans as slaves of imperialism. We want inclusive growth that will be a win-win for both countries.

For every project we partner in, let the Unite States of America demonstrate that it is investing in our security for their good business and our good business.



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