I have the good fortune of traveling to Kenya annually to see friends and family. But now, thanks to CIPE, I have another great reason to visit. My CIPE mentee, June Gathoni and her organization, the Small and Medium Entrepreneurial Resource Centre, are headquartered in Nairobi and on my trip this March we were able to meet for the first time after several SKYPE calls over the past 8 months.
We all know the value of face to face meetings and this proved itself again to be true for us. While we had many productive calls and have been able to deliver on the value of the mentorship, the ability to sit together and discuss our lives, challenges and plans for the future proved invaluable to us both. We now have a personal connection that will remain well beyond the life of the CIPE mentorship program.
Like any small to midsize program, June has A LOT going on and has to balance management of the day to day with the bigger picture role she has for the future growth and sustainability of the organization. Luckily, SMERC is completely aligned with the KENYA 2030 Plan envisioned by the national government. Even better, SMERC has “sandals on the ground” in the counties where much of the devolution of government programming and spending is being focused. We have been working on how June and SMERC can raise their visibility within academia, the corporate sector and government in Kenya.
Kenya’s economy is one of Africa’s fastest growing. It has a growing middle class and a well- educated, young workforce ready to reach for all the goods and services they see on satellite TV. Kenya also has a new constitution that is changing the dynamics between the branches of government. Everyone is watching the debates and devolution of power, planning and government funds to the County (equivalent to our State) level. Entrepreneurship will be key to Kenya’s continued growth and an outlet for Kenya’s educated youth. Empowering women and the youth is part of SMERC’s mandate. I should also note that Kenya shares a long border with Somalia and we all watched the Westgate rampage on TV last summer. Security is a concern that the national government, the UN and the US are taking seriously.
In all, it is still an exciting time in Kenya and I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate both personally and professionally. June is a wonderful leader and I look forward to helping her and her organization achieve success.