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Growing small youth businesses in Kenya

Rachel Kalbfleisch
Research Awards

Youth make up a third of Kenya’s population. Up to 35% of them are unemployed or work in informal micro-enterprises. Rachel Kalbfleisch, a 2016 IDRC Research Award recipient, wanted to know more about their ambitions and whether these youth planned to grow their businesses.  

The answer, she found, was “yes”. This is definitely the case for Nairobi youth, many of whom went into business because they identified an opportunity. And, contrary to assumptions, she found that youth pushed into business by necessity also “had significant growth aspirations. They showed a strong desire and willingness to grow their businesses, not only because it would be better for them, but so that they could pull other people out of unemployment,” she says.

Kalbfleisch had not considered engaging in research before coming to IDRC, but her experience “has completely changed the course of what I was doing.” The fieldwork was particularly memorable, she says. So was returning to present her findings, including to a research methods class at the University of Nairobi. “They thought it was funny that I was studying that,” she says, “because, as the professor said, a lot of the students have their own informal businesses.”

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