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

As the world marks International Day of the Girl Child on Friday, October 11th, 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. 

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.