e-Biz kwa Vijana - Training the New Generation of E-Commerce Business Leaders 

For Kenyans who spend much time online, e-commerce is nothing new. 

e-Biz kwa Vijana - Training the New Generation of E-Commerce Business Leaders 
Michael Mandu, the Acting Secretary for Trade, State Department for Trade, addresses the media following a stakeholder engagement forum called to review the Kenya National E-Commerce Strategy, on Thursday 13th June 2024 where he welcomed private sector collaboration to ensure the full implementation of the Strategy so as to realize its objective of promoting the growth and development of the e-commerce sector in Kenya. On the right is Chris Otundo, Chief Executive Officer BrighterMonday Kenya.

Thuku Kariuki, Nairobi

For Kenyans who spend much time online, e-commerce is nothing new. 

Jumia and Kilimall, for instance, have been taking digital orders and delivering goods for more than five years. Moreover, Safaricom, a telecommunication giant in Kenya, also launched its e-commerce platform, M-Soko, just before the corona-virus pandemic hit. 

The onset of COVID boosted the growth of digital platforms, saving many Kenyans stuck at home due to the lockdown and social distancing measures. 

But for those who thought everybody was already selling their products online...well, they were wrong. 

The Kenyan government has partnered with the American development agency USAID and employment resource company Brighter Monday to create the e-Biz Kwa Vijana project. Through it, they have trained over 2000 young Kenyans in e-commerce practices, ultimately onboarding 632 companies onto e-commerce platforms. 

The Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry launched a national e-commerce strategy in 2023. The strategy comprises four pillars: law and regulation; information technology, telecommunications, and power; trade facilitation and logistics; payment solutions; access to finance; and skills and human capacity development. E-Biz Kwa Vijana initiative addresses the last pillar effectively. 

Still, the acting Secretary of Trade in the Kenyan government, Michael Mandu, says there is so much potential to be realized by building on and expanding such programs. 

“The combined revenues from the sector were projected to grow to USD2,928.00 billion in 2023, with a large share of this revenue being accounted for by the Small and Medium Enterprises and youth enterprises. This has contributed to job creation and employment opportunities for young people while also nurturing of digital talents in the country," states Mandu, who represented the Principal Secretary of the State Department for Trade at an event to celebrate the success of e-Biz Kwa Vijana. 

With 96% internet penetration, Kenya has many advantages for e-commerce businesses. Long known as the Silicon Savannah, the nation already boasts numerous tech businesses. But there is so much more that can be done. 

Chris Otundo, Chief Executive Officer BrighterMonday Kenya, (Ctr), addresses the media after a stakeholder engagement forum to review the Kenya National E-Commerce Strategy, on Thursday 13th June 2024 where stakeholders also expressed concerns on the Finance Bill 2024 and its potential impact on the E-Commerce sector in Kenya. He is flanked on left by Michael Mandu, the Acting Secretary for Trade, State Department for Trade, and on the right by David Rodgers, Deputy Office Director, Office of Economic Growth and Integration (OEGI) at USAID.

Brighter Monday might have seemed a strange lead for the e-Biz Kwa Vijana program. An e-commerce company might have seemed more natural. The enterprise's commitment to developing young professionals and its familiarity with what the Kenyan job market needs created an excellent fit. 

"We are concerned with the gap, in terms of the skills available, to power e-commerce. We're also concerned about the lack of jobs for the burgeoning number of young people coming out of university," Brighter Monday's CEO, Chris Otundo, told the audience. 

Even in seemingly analog jobs, skills development is vitally needed. Otundo narrated a story about a client who needed to fill 300 accounting jobs. Brighter Monday received over 100,000 applications. But they couldn't fill the 300 positions with qualified applicants.  


So, they did something about this by creating the e-Biz Kwa Vijana initiative. The training they spearheaded involved Kenyans between 18 and 35 who lead micro-small or medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). More than 41% of the participants were women. 61 persons with disabilities also made it through the program. 

Feedback from the beneficiaries shows promising results. 95% of the participating MSMEs said the program helped them get fresh money-making ideas. 86% made their first online sales after training. 

Furthermore, almost 96% worked digital marketing/sales costs into their budgets. In addition, online platforms such as Kilimall, Pigiame, Jiji, and Jumia saw their usage grow by over 55% after the engagement. 

Despite Brighter Monday, USAID, and the Kenyan government celebrating the great success of this program, there are evident challenges that need to be addressed. For instance, the 2024 Finance Bill has drawn much negative attention from the nation's digital commerce community.

 The proposals include shifting from the 1.5 percent Digital Service Tax to a 6 percent Significant Economic Presence (SEP) Tax. Online businesses have cried loudly about increasing their tax burden by 400%. 

The Brighter Monday's leader thinks Kenyan businesses will overcome this challenge. 

"Does that mean the end of e-commerce in Kenya?  No. We need to adjust, we need to adapt.  We need to find more creative ways of operating our businesses," asserted Otundo. 

Victor Waliaula, Founder and Owner, Jekins Computer Solutions, also an E-Biz Kwa Vijana Beneficiary, gives his experience in the program that was designed to train up-to 1,000 young entrepreneurs aged between 18-35 years, in leveraging online trading and digital platforms also covered women entrepreneurs and people with disabilities. 

While the government may be increasing taxes on the industry, they are doing their part to create ways for e-commerce to prosper. The Investment Ministry is launching an e-trade reform tracker. 

Apart from this collaboration, they are further engaging with UNCTAD, the United Nations Agency on Trade, to boost the sector.   Such initiatives like e-Biz Kwa Vijana have already helped thousands. Thousands more may benefit in the future. 

Otundo hopes his organizations will stay involved with the Kenyan and American governments in enhancing the e-commerce space and building capacity for digital technology users. 

"We are actually very excited about potentially doing this again, and focusing more on women-run businesses, because we see the efficacy and we see the value....that's really coming out of focusing on women and people of disability and other marginalized groups," states Otundo. 

There is little doubt that the Internet can be the key to unlocking youth unemployment in Kenya. The e-Biz Kwa Vijana initiative might provide a template for how youth across Africa can create businesses and digital partnerships that will change the trajectory of their financial futures.