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Youth entrepreneurship

From slum living to company director

One woman’s success story shows how green entrepreneurship could be an answer to both youth unemployment and environmental degradation in Africa.

Feature | 25 February 2013
Lorna Rutto, Director, Eco-Post Recycling
GENEVA (ILO News) – Lorna Rutto was born in one of the most stunning parts of Kenya – the Rift Valley region of Nakuru, home to wildlife, pink flamingos and dormant volcanoes.

But amidst this natural beauty are the sprawling slums of Kaptembwa where she grew up, on the outskirts of Nakuru town. Around 140,000 people live there in insanitary conditions, doing what they can to eke out a living.

“I grew up in a place where there was no waste collection. There was so much plastic waste. The sewage was encroaching into people’s homes. The people in the area were desperate.Most of them were not doing very well economically so even when I was still young I would take some of the plastic waste and melt them and make ornaments and small things out of it to sell. I was around 11 or 12 years old,” Rutto told ILO News.

Sixteen years on – helped by the ILO – Rutto is the owner and director of Eco-Post Recycling, which turns waste plastic into poles and fence posts as an alternative to timber.

“After I graduated, I got a job in a bank but I just kept thinking about where I came from. I was very passionate about trying to make a difference, especially for women and youth. I didn’t think working at the bank would help me so I resigned and started a recycling project working with boys who would pick up plastics in the industrial area,” she explains.

There was so much plastic waste. The sewage was encroaching into people’s homes. The people in the area were desperate."
“Through the ILO I had business advice, training in writing business plans, sales and marketing awareness. They connected us with places where we could access capital and there was also some funding, which was very important.”

Since Rutto started the company at the age of 24, she has created more than 500 jobs, saved over 250 hectares of forest and eliminated over 1 million kilos of waste from the environment. She has won a number of awards, including a prize in the green category of an ILO-sponsored business plan competition.

Creating jobs, saving the environment

A problem in many African countries is that although their economies are booming, growth is not being translated into new jobs, says Jealous Chirove, Chief Technical Advisor of the ILO Youth Entrepreneurship Facility (YEF), speaking at the project headquarters in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

But Rutto’s story is an example of how the combination of entrepreneurship and green jobs could be one solution for many of Africa’s unemployed youth, while combatting the challenges facing the environment.

“In Tanzania, for instance, there has been a positive economic growth of 6-7 per cent over the last five years but much of the growth has been in industries like mining, which don’t create a lot of jobs. They use a lot of heavy equipment and although there are large companies, they are cost conscious and don’t create many direct employment opportunities. Entrepreneurship is an alternative,” explains Chirove.

The YEF is a partnership between the ILO, the Africa Commission and the Youth Employment Network, which aims to foster a culture of entrepreneurship among young people in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda and to support them through business skills training and by helping them access external finance and business development services.

Now they are entrepreneurs who have their own businesses. There are so many job opportunities in waste.”
The ILO believes that the creation of green jobs will be critical to developing a sustainable future, so helping young people develop green businesses is also a key part of the project. Rutto received US$12,500 from the YEF, which she used to buy a machine for her business.

By the end of the project, which finishes in 2014, 45,000 young entrepreneurs will have been trained by the YEF and 11,000 new businesses started.

For each of those new businesses, jobs will be created which, in turn, have the potential to generate a ripple effect of more jobs.

In Rutto’s case, thirty of her company’s workers are directly employed. A further 500, all from marginalized communities, work in small independent teams that are paid to collect waste for the company.

“We train them on how to collect and separate it and we help them write their business plans and make bigger margins by finding practical solutions to waste. Now they are entrepreneurs who have their own businesses. There are so many job opportunities in waste.”