International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Young women in Kenya need help finding jobs and starting own businesses, says IRC

Nairobi 10 Oct 2013 - As the world marks International Day of the Girl Child on Friday 11 October, the International Rescue Committee in Kenya says women and girls must be given more economic support so they can not only survive but prosper.

Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 account for more than 20 percent of Kenya’s population. While these young women have enormous potential to create positive change, they struggle to find jobs that will enable them to further their education, help care for their families and see a more prosperous future. 
 “Women and girls in Kenya are involved in a myriad of economic activities and are often the main supporters of their families,” says Jerotich Seii Houlding, IRC Kenya Country Director. “Ninety percent of the income and profits that they make goes back to the family, compared to 30 to 40 percent for men. We want to see girls move from just scratching a meager living to owning, operating and expanding their own meaningful businesses or accessing formal employment and moving up the ladder.” 
Seii Houlding says the challenge lies in enabling women and girls to reach the next level and then to control the money they earn so they can use it the way they want, set aside savings and open their own bank accounts. 
Through the Girls Empowered by Microfranchise (GEM) programme, the IRC is aiming to enhance their chances of succeeding. With support from the Nike Foundation, more than 2,000 girls in some of Nairobi’s poorest communities (Eastleigh, Huruma, Mathare, Dandora, Lungalunga and Baba Dogo) have been economically empowered to change their lives. Through GEM, the girls can start their own businesses under the auspices of existing for-profit entities. 
Initially, they are trained in business, financial management and life skills and are provided with ongoing support. Then they are paired with one of three IRC-selected business partners – Darling Hair Products, Kenchic fast food outlets or the affordable solar lighting company d-Light. The IRC provides participants – designated as “lead girls” – with start-up capital, which they pay back over the first few months of operations. The lead girls are responsible for engaging two additional “buddy girls” to support their businesses. In this mutually beneficial relationship, the lead girls gain help for their business, while the buddies benefit from the mentoring they receive. Moreover, as the microfranchise program succeeds, businesses will independently take on additional franchisees beyond the life of the GEM project.
Darling gives the girls intensive hairdressing and beauty training from its academy in Nairobi. The company also provides post-graduation support and links them to existing distributors so that they can buy supplies at lower rates and therefore earn higher profits. Mahmoud Saffideen is CEO of Style Industries, which produces Darling hair additions. He believes more businesses should support programmes like GEM. “Life for these women living in the slums is unimaginably horrific, with rape and abuse the order of the day,” he says. “It is important that we give them hope so that they can come out of this despair. You see the dejection on their faces when they come and hope when they leave.” 
Companies like Darling also benefit not only from the visibility of their corporate social responsibility investment but also from additional marketing outlets. Saffideen says, “The girls’ salons are heavily branded just like billboards. The girls and the salons are therefore our greatest ambassadors and marketers. The presence of these girls in the slum areas is creating a whole new marketing campaign for the brand.”
Before participating in the GEM programme, Jacinta Wariara, 19, helped support her mother and two nieces by doing domestic work. Her training with the IRC has helped her become one of the lead girls running a Kenchic chicken products business. “In the few months since I have been running the business, I have been able to expand my client base and diversify my products, which has allowed me to help my mum to buy food, pay rent and pay school fees for my nieces,’ she says. 
Current financial support for the GEM program is due to end in December 2013.   The IRC is committed to continuing this work over the long term and is actively seeking additional funding. 
For an interview with Jerotich Seii Houlding, success stories and photographs or to visit a GEM participant, please contact Sophia Jones-Mwangi on +254 731 044 422
What is a Microfranchise?
A microfranchise is a small business that can easily be replicated by following proven marketing and operational concepts. The model offers a set of guidelines and instructions that, if followed properly, provide a map to a successful business. Sometimes called “businesses in a box”, microfranchises enable low-income individuals to own operate and expand their own businesses. 
About the International Rescue Committee: A global leader in humanitarian assistance, the International Rescue Committee works in more than 40 countries offering help and hope to refugees and others uprooted by disaster, conflict and oppression. During crises, IRC teams provide health care, shelter, clean water, sanitation, learning programs for children and special aid for women. As emergencies subside, the IRC stays to revive livelihoods and help shattered communities recover and rebuild. The IRC also helps resettle refugees given sanctuary in the United States. A tireless advocate for the most vulnerable, the IRC is committed to restoring hope, dignity and opportunity. The IRC has been in Kenya since 1992 providing life-saving services such as health care to refugees and vulnerable local communities. Currently, the IRC works in two refugee camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, in northern Kenya. The IRC supports communities in Lodwar and Garissa Counties as well as in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Through its Peace Initiative Kenya (PIK) program it is also working in several counties throughout Kenya. 
About the Nike Foundation: The Nike Foundation ( is a non-profit organization dedicated to investing in adolescent girls as the most powerful force for change in the developing world. The work of the Nike Foundation is supported by NIKE, Inc., and by significant investments from the NoVo Foundation.