Kenyans in US win Sh8.7m grants to start projects
Four young Kenyan leaders in the on-going Mandela Washington Fellowship in the US have won grants worth Sh8.7 million to start and expand their projects.
Ms Hope Mwanake, Ms Florence Kamaitha, Mr Mshila Sio and Mr Eric Muthomi were among 36 participants from sub-Saharan Africa who received $25,000 (Sh2.2 million) each from the United States African Development Foundation this week.
The independent federal agency supports African-led community enterprises by providing seed capital and technical support.
It issued $900,000 (Sh78 million) to the 36 social and business entrepreneurs to create jobs.
The winners will use the grants to execute business plans, conduct technical studies, launch new and expand existing projects.
The grants are normally intended for creating and sustaining jobs, improving income levels and alleviating hunger in Africa.
The Kenyan winners told Nation.co.ke that they would use the grants to launch environmental conservation and social empowerment projects, and set up incubation centres for business ideas.
Ms Kamaitha, who has been leading a campaign aimed at distributing sanitary towels to underprivileged girls to reduce absenteeism from school, plans to use her grant to manufacture Kenya’s first eco-friendly, affordable, and quality sanitary towels from banana fibre.
“In Kenya, we get 1.4 million tons of banana fibre every year. When the farmers harvest, it becomes agricultural waste. So I am recycling it to make something great for the girls,” the Fellow told KUT Radio— a station run by the University of Texas-Austin, where she is training.
“And it’s very affordable; it will be 50 per cent cheaper than what we have in the market,” she said adding that her project will use labour from women.
Most sanitary pad brands in Kenya retail at USD2 (Sh170) per pack, a price that is too dear for most girls from families that survive on less than USD1 (Sh87) a day.
Ms Mwanake, 27, a co-founder of Trace Kenya Group— a community-based environmental conservation organisation in Gilgil — intends to make roofing tiles and ceiling boards from recycled plastic and glass.
“I’m hoping to create 20 direct employment opportunities for the youth. I am very passionate about the environment and young people,” the Fellow at Yale University said during the group’s reception at the Kenyan embassy in Washington, DC.
“If I can manage the environment and create jobs for the youth, it will be my happiness,” she said.
Ms Mwanake also plans to popularise social entrepreneurship in the country in a bid to reduce unemployment rate that currently stands at over 40 per cent, with the youth (ages 15 to 35) bearing the brunt at 70 per cent.
Mr Sio, 34, founder and director of Agua Kenya, a water purification and wastewater treatment firm in Ruaka, Nairobi, plans to set up a water treatment centre at one of the Kenyan universities to train young people in his bid to make clean and safe water accessible to all.
“In my training I have learnt how to find solutions based on the problem — a bottom-up approach – and I would like to demonstrate how we can boost our water and renewable resources management,” the Fellow at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, said.
On his part, Mr Muthomi, the founder and CEO of Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited in Nairobi, chose to play his cards close to his chest, and turned down Nation’s interview request.
Besides the grant winners, most of the 46 Kenyan Fellows in this year’s 500-person Young African Leadership Initiative (Yali) said they had learnt invaluable lessons during their six-week training at top US universities.
Mr Ramadhani Ndiga, 26 (Rutgers University, New Brunswick), Ms Angela Metto, 26, and Ms Fouzia Abdikadir-Dahir, 27 (both at Tulane University, New Orleans), and Ms Magdalene Kelel, 33 (Wagner College, New York City) said they were ready to change the mind-sets that have chained millions of Kenyans to poverty.
“I have learnt about the American spirit of voluntarism. They take collective responsibility to work as hard as possible for the benefit of their country,” Ms Abdikadir-Dahir, the founder of Northern Organisation for Social Empowerment in Garissa said.
Kenya’s acting ambassador to the US Jean Kamau urged the Fellows to engage and support progressive politics that promotes accountability, constitutionalism and rule of law.