New Research Shows How Young Kenyan Entrepreneurs Make Digital Platforms Work For Them

  • Report from Caribou Digital, Qhala, and Mastercard Foundation finds that young Kenyans succeed using digital platforms with innovative methods during Covid-19.
  • Researchers interviewed 74 young entrepreneurs and workers in logistics, farming, e-commerce, music and art all seeing innovative new practices.
  • This comes as up to 1.7 million Kenyans lost their jobs during the first wave of the pandemic.
  • Digital platforms have given physically-challenged people and women a means to increase their visibility and to reach new audiences and markets in ways that may not have been possible previously.
  • 16 participants also shared their direct perspective via diary videos. Watch them here

 Caribou Digital, Qhala and Mastercard Foundation today launch a new report showcasing the experiences of young Kenyans using digital platforms–from Facebook to Jumia–to earn a living during Covid-19.

In 2020, nearly 7 million Kenyans lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Platform Livelihoods report provides an in-depth insight into the creative ways young people in Kenya are using digital platforms to earn a living in this time.

For the study, researchers interviewed 74 youths (18-35 years old) in urban and rural Kenya working on platforms in logistics, farming, e-commerce, music and art. Aside from in logistics, a significant number of the participants in each sector were women.

New ways young Kenyans are using digital platforms include:
  • In e-commerce: devising creative ways to overcome long-standing difficulties such as the ‘last mile’ problem.
  • In agriculture: to engage and educate other young people about the sector.
  • In logistics: to combat the poor reputation of the sector.
  • In visual arts and music: to create communities and showcase the processes behind artistic creation.
Tade Aina, Head of Research at Mastercard Foundation, said:

“This report is a timely and important look at how young Kenyans are applying this ingenuity to digital platforms, an integral part of the economy. Despite the disruption of Covid-19, in each of the four sectors young people are devising creative solutions to the problems  posed  by  the  new  digital economy, demonstrating the resilience and transformation this technology can bring. The Mastercard Foundation is delighted to partner with Caribou Digital and Qhala, two leaders in the field, in this vital research.

Young Kenyans get creative to get the most out of platforms

The report shows that young people are expressing their innovation and entrepreneurship to succeed in the digital economy across a number of sectors. With online platforms often designed without the Kenyan context in mind, farmers and MSE owners have to think on their feet to fulfil last-mile delivery.

The research also found a massive motivation for individuals to upskill, stay ahead of trends and make themselves the best they can be for the success of their business. In this way, young Kenyans are seizing opportunities to push forward with digital tools and earn a living in new ways.

Young people use tech to forge new paths across sectors

Outdated ideas of various sectors are being disrupted as young Kenyans use tech to transform the way these sectors operate. In farming, youth farmers are using tech to educate and bring more young people into the sector. Joy, a 23-year-old onion farmer, told us:

“I have some clients who tell me, you’re still young you can be doing a white-collar job in the office […] [but] if people could visualize agriculture could be a bigger thing, and it’s not like it’s so poor, that is why you have opted for agriculture. It’s not poverty or an education thing, you can be so passionate about it like I am. We are young people, you see, our lines of business are mostly for old people, so they don’t believe in you.”

Elsewhere, artists are changing the way people view art, by using social media to create a newfound appreciation for the creative process. Creatives told us that sharing their work at every step of the way makes clients less likely to bargain and more likely to value their art more highly.

Driving as a profession has also seen its reputation challenged by young people on platforms. With increased professionalism and better pay, drivers are no longer seen as negatively as in the past.

Chris Locke, Founder of Caribou Digital, said:

“Digital platforms are increasingly fundamental to economies across the world. This report is another important milestone in Caribou Digital’s work as we try to understand how young people are building their businesses using digital platforms and what the implications are for the development sector.

We saw a wide range of engagement highlighting the innovative ways young people are using platforms not only to build their business and support their livelihoods, but in many cases to pursue work they’re passionate about. Many participants combine work on formal apps with innovative use of social media, leveraging a broad array of digital skills and approaches.

As part of the report, working with Story X Design, a Nairobi-based multimedia company, we asked 16 participants to share self-shot videos telling their story of platform work. These videos provide a further look into the methods of those working on platforms in Kenya, with participants directly communicating their experiences in their own words.

We are grateful to Mastercard Foundation for their support, and Qhala for their expertise as a research partner.”

Shikoh Gitau of Qhala, said:

“The gig economy has become an important source of livelihood for many young people in Kenya and in Africa. Understanding what motivates young people and witnessing first-hand their experiences was key to appreciating the size of the impact of the gig economy. We hope this report will make policymakers and platform creators more aware of the needs of digital entrepreneurs, so they can support entrepreneurs as they work to meet their goals.”

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