Kenyan investors venture into waste recycling to boost youth employment

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Somali refugee Abtidon Ali Mahat sorts through plastic waste at the recycling plant in Dabaab refugee camp in Garissa County, Kenya on May 30, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nita Bhalla
FILE PHOTO: Somali refugee Abtidon Ali Mahat sorts through plastic waste at the recycling plant in Dabaab refugee camp in Garissa County, Kenya on May 30, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nita Bhalla

For Kenyan industrialist Mary Ngechu, tackling joblessness in a country where 85 percent of the unemployed are below 34 years old, strikes her investment nerve to create avenues for absorbing those yet to secure paid work.

Ngechu is the co-founder and managing director of the Nairobi-based LinePlast Group Limited which manufactures plastic bottles for packing pharmaceutical, cosmetic and agro-veterinary products as well as provide labeling services.

She has experience in the manufacturing sector for more than 15 years. In her line of work, she has been exposed to realities of joblessness among women and youth, considered vulnerable groups in Kenya due to little accessibility to economic resources such as land and property.

Endeavored to be part of the problem solvers, in 2017, she started a waste management initiative-Takataka ni Mali (Waste is Wealth), looping in women and youth from 46 counties, Nairobi exempted due to existence of related initiatives.

“Being a manufacturer of (plastic) bottles, I understand well how proper management of waste can generate wealth for the women and youth who have no jobs,” Ngechu told Xinhua during an interview on Friday.

Under the initiative, she collaborates with other partners to educate the cohorts on environmental protection and their role in keeping it sanity.

“They are trained on collecting the plastic bottles and sorting them out for sale to recyclers,” said Ngechu, adding that she has created a value chain in which the sellers have direct linkage with recyclers.

She said they have installed Kajiado, located 80 km south of capital Nairobi, as the model county where they have set a waste management hub with at least 250 women and youth attached to it.

“We seek to multiply these numbers as we spread to the rest of the counties. I am a strong believer in gender equality and I devote to change the lives of both men and women,” said Ngechu.

At the moment, she is mobilizing partners in the respective counties to ensure a successful uptake of the initiative.

The Takataka ni Mali initiative won her UN recognition in 2017 as Kenya’s Person of the Year (runners up) for having changed lives by promoting enterprises in manufacturing.

Ngechu’s social contribution counts as one of the many ways the private sector can expand employment bandwidth in Kenya, as such pool many out of poverty, experts argue.

“Investors always conduct an analysis of market trends and they identify the gaps or emerging opportunities…they are therefore best placed to invest in those opportunities…and create jobs for Kenyans,” said Tom Nyamache, a Kenyan economist.

Judson Nyabuto, an investment advisor with Stag African said governments in Africa need to prioritize addressing challenges investors face as they supplement government’s efforts to tackle unemployment.

“Any step an investor takes to create employment opportunities for a country’s citizens should surely be applauded,” said Nyabuto.

“But the government needs to have a discussion with investors to remove obstacles like high taxation which stifle business making it difficult for an investor to put money in an enterprise benefiting locals,” he added.

With a stable economic environment, established companies can offer contractual jobs to many people who would then invest their income in enterprises branching out jobs to others, said the investment advisor.

They can also offer apprenticeship which enables fresh graduates to sharpen their skills thus not only improve their employability but prepare them for self-employment, said Nyabuto.

“But the most important factor in all these, is for the government to listen and respond to the concerns of investors,” said Nyabuto.

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