Entrepreneurship programme proves students can work and study
Whenever he is not in class or completing an academic assignment at Kenya’s Egerton University, Gabriel Kwendo is likely to be at Comrades Dairy, helping to make and package yoghurt or sell milk to customers.
The fourth-year bachelor of agriculture student runs the venture located at Njokerio Centre in Njoro alongside two colleagues and five workers, a business they operate seven days a week, dividing their time between the dairy and attending to academic work.
It is a venture that Kwendo said is supporting their stay in school and, equally importantly, sustaining the five workers. This is besides providing a market for milk to local smallholding farmers, while at the same time acting as a link between producers and consumers.
“On average, we sell 100 to 200 litres of yoghurt a day, depending on the season. We mainly sell to the university community and to local shops and supermarkets. It is a business we hope to expand and continue past our days here at the university,” he said.
Partnership to tackle developmental challenges
The success of Comrade Dairy, a venture that rakes in up to US$3,500 a month in sales, has been made possible thanks to support from the Empowering Kenyan Youth through the Agrienterprise Incubation for Improved Livelihoods and Economic Development (AGLEAD) project implemented by the university in 2018, and an initiative of the Transforming African Agricultural Universities to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s growth and development (TAGDev).
The latter is a partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and aims to transform African agricultural universities and their graduates to respond to developmental challenges through the application of “science, technology, business and innovation for rural agricultural transformation”.
“The AGLEAD project builds the capacity of students through training to develop business plans and support them with funding to become successful entrepreneurs,” Professor Patience Mshenga, who heads the project, said.
Those enrolled in the project are following degrees in various fields, among others agriculture, food science, dairy technology and even information communication technology (ICT).
Some 60 students have been enrolled in the programme, including those studying towards a masters degree programme in agri-enterprise development, she said. Altogether, 40 students are currently in the programme.
Those in the masters programme are required to start and run an enterprise before they graduate, Mshenga said.
“The aim of the programme is to train students to work for themselves, not to become job seekers. We teach them so that they can employ themselves and others as well by encouraging innovativeness,” she said.
Entry into the programme is competitive. Students must pitch their business ideas and the most viable ones are picked, she said. The students undergo training in various aspects of running an enterprise before they get seed money to start their businesses.
Community also benefits
Beneficiaries, the professor explained, have become entrepreneurs in different agri-enterprise fields including agri-processing and value addition, agri-business consultancy where they offer advisory and management services to farmers, and technology where some students are producing chicken incubators in partnership with a local technical training institute. Others have developed juice blenders and vegetable cutters, she added.
In addition, ICT-savvy learners have been developing apps that provide services such as linking farmers to markets, while some run a hotel serving students within the university.
Mshenga said a major advantage of student enterprise is the ‘spillover’ effect on the community. In some cases, students work with suppliers – often farmers, who in turn gain by not only getting an income, but also training on post-harvest handling of farm produce such as milk.
“The fact that we can partner with local technical training institutions to manufacture equipment such as incubators that our students have designed shows that it is possible to cascade the entrepreneurial approach to other levels of education as well,” she said.
A revolving agri-entrepreneurship fund scheme supported by, among others, TAGDev and the university, has grown from US$10,000 to nearly US$50,000 since its inception in 2014. It lends at an interest rate of only 5% per annum.
“The fact that Egerton University has made it a policy that all agri-enterprises in the institution be managed by students has helped us further grow entrepreneurship in our students,” Mshenga said.
During the project, important lessons have been learned. This includes demystifying the perception that students cannot combine learning with non-academic activities. “All it needs is extra effort by students, and staff in mentoring them,” she said.
In addition, she observed that, for students to be nurtured into becoming business owners, a lot of patience, plus education, is needed, coupled with encouragement and facilitation. Students are generally receptive to new ideas and seem ready to change their mindsets.
This is often in contrast to older people, including faculty members, who often have a problem changing their ideas, especially about accepting anything outside of academic work.
Universities must rethink training approaches
The AGLEAD project has, so far, created some 106 jobs, employing students and young entrepreneurs as well as farmers, according to Dr Anthony Egeru, programme manager of training and community development at RUFORUM.
“Despite COVID-19 disruption, many of the youth enterprises have survived and we at RUFORUM are helping these enterprises bounce back better,” he said.
“Universities are under immense pressure to demonstrate their relevance to society and, in the African context, many perceive the university as a gateway out of poverty.
“However, frustrations have been building as the average time to the first job for many graduates is around five years after graduation,” Egeru said. This makes it imperative for universities to rethink their training approaches.
Besides creating and nurturing university entrepreneurship, the TAGDev programme has made progressive strides towards institutional transformation, with a focus on increasing the contribution of universities to the economic growth and development of their countries.
Egeru said: “We have seen that universities can be active players in helping to nurture the talent and practical business acumen of young people. The youth can create viable businesses, create jobs, and make profits. Egerton University has demonstrated this action.”
SOURCE: Maina Waruru - University World News