“I’m not poor!” Mindset is everything for young Kenyans on an uncertain journey to success
How thinking like a Hustla has helped shaped a positive future for an orphaned young man in Embu, Kenya
Kevin ‘Kevo’ Waweru, 22, was brought up by his grandmother after he was orphaned at 5. He moved to Embu Town, where he now lives, when he completed his primary school exams. He took up menial jobs to pay for food and rent and would sometimes engage in petty crime to make ends meet.
Kevo started a hustle selling eggs and after a long break joined high school in 2012. He had just enough money saved to pay the fees for his first term and to support himself.
Money represents different things to young Kenyans, ranging from survival to freedom and independence to social-capital and accomplishment. According to the latest national survey by Shujaaz, East Africa’s biggest youth brand, only 4% of Kenyans aged 15–24 are ‘finanically fit’: having an independent income that generates enough money to set aside so that they can survive a crisis and take advantage of opportunities.
Only 35% of young Kenyans can be regarded as savers. Of those, half save occasionally towards a particular goal while half are regular savers. The remaining 65% range from those who have never saved, those who wish to save, and those whose savings are often wiped out by crises.
While many young people strive for financial stability and independence, shortage of money remains a reality for the majority of them. Hustling — or informal employment — often presents the only way for young people to have some money in their pockets while also helping them to attain their optimistic aspirations.
“When I was in school, I was always on the lookout for new Shujaaz comic book editions” reports Kevin. The monthly Shujaaz comic book provided Kevo with the chance to learn useful facts to support his hustle while enjoying the stories, ideas and motivations that each edition brought. This, he says, was why Malkia became his favourite Shujaaz character, since she embodies the importance of financial skills such as saving and accumulating funds towards a particular desired goal.
With a note of admiration Kevin describes Malkia as a Profyam, using a term introduced in Shujaaz to refer to a savvy young person who is held in high esteem by their peers, manages their money efficiently and is in control of their future. The word Profyam was conceived and launched in the Shujaaz “story world” across all the Shujaaz radio and comic book and social media channels in 2017. Researchers have since found it in use on various other independent platforms in the Kenyan media, helping to indicate the spread of an important new and worthwhile aspirational concept, and also the positive influence Shujaaz can have over national youth culture in Kenya.
Kevo continued to make money selling eggs in the evening but his income was now significantly reduced by the time he spent at school. He was forced to stay out of high school after the first term due to his lack of school fees. He used that time to try and make more money, doubling down on egg sales, and so he made it back for the third term. But going to school in fits and starts is far from ideal, and he barely scraped through the end of year exams.
In his time out of school, Kevo diversified beyond his egg hustle and started drying khat — also known as miraa, a stimulant widely used across Eastern Africa — which increased his earnings to 400 shillings (4 USD) a day. During this time a regular customer asked him why he wasn’t in school considering his age and Kevo explained his situation. The customer offered to pay his school fees if he would work in their business and this added a new occupation to Kevo’s repertoire: night watchman at his new benefactor’s hardware business. Like more and more Kenyan youth who fend for themselves, Kevo realized that in order to survive and cater for his daily expenses, he had to have multiple sources of income, hence multiple hustles. In this way, he was able to complete the last 2 years of high school uninterrupted.
Digital Financial Services (DFS) — chiefly mobile money services — represent a friendly and available way for many young Kenyans to manage their money. They are cheaper and more accessible when compared to traditional financial institutions, such as banks. 80% of Kenyans above the age of 15 have tried using some digital money method; however most use them for basic transactions rather than their savings or borrowing potential.
Like a lot of his peers, Kevo continued his hustles after high school. “I remember Charlie Pele [another Shujaaz character] advising his brother Taabu to save money for his wedding instead of asking his parents for it. This advice really hit home.” Kevo used a mobile money service to save his money. The discipline of a saving method that put his money just out of reach, but available when he needed it to go to college, appealed to him. Using his savings, Kevo attended a course in emergency response with a focus on fire fighting and is now working as an intern firefighter at the Embu County emergency response centre.
Young Kenyans save for a host of reasons — to help deal with potential crises, to achieve particular goals, and to raise capital for their small businesses. Shujaaz highlights the stories of hustlers who its readers relate to; bringing the ideas shared on various platforms to life. They represent real life examples of the Profyam ideal.
Although he has been unable to earn much this year because he has been studying and interning, Kevo is frugal with the stipend he is paid during his internship. “This year has been a bit tough on the savings front but I hope to be employed fulltime as a firefighter and earn a regular salary that will enable me to get back to my old saving habits”. Kevo thinks of himself as a person headed for great things, “I don’t think of myself as a poor person. I’d actually say I’m creative, an innovator.”
15% of young people are tempted to save but need a small push from their peers to actually start saving. Shujaaz acts as a connector between the young people who interact with its characters on different platforms and their peers across Kenya and therefore acts as an entry point for young people to learn how to improve their financial fitness.
Kevo’s love for Shujaaz is well known among his friends and a number of them can point to its impact on their lives since he introduced them to the Shujaaz media. He will regularly take multiple copies of the comic to share with his friends. “I’m a Shujaaz Ambassador,” he says proudly. His fellow intern firefighter, also named Kevin, shares how he started a business with Kevin’s encouragement. “Kevo told me to start a hustle of my own instead of depending solely on money from my parents.” The kiosk shop he started now provides him with enough money for his daily expenses.
Over 1 million youth enter the Kenyan job market every year but only 25% of them can expect a formal job. Jobless youth include college graduates, 50% of whom are unemployed. The saving and hustle skills Shujaaz fans acquire in the course of interacting with their favourite characters and each other are highly valuable in this context.
Like many youth in Kenya, Kevo believes that obtaining higher education is the route to securing formal employment which will in turn guarantee financial stability. Judging by his track record, it’s only a matter of time before his dream of being a fire fighter comes true. “I’d describe Shujaaz as a catalyst; it gives you tips on how to actualize your ideas. My goal is to become a Shujaa [hero] and inspire other people to make wise decisions in their lives.”
Read more about youth and money here http://www.welltoldstory.com/oopsex-and-youth-views-on-love-sex-and-relationships/