On a mission to elevate Africa’s young people

Monday, October 28th, 2019 00:00 |
Dr David and Elizabeth Wachira, co-founders Youth Engagement Society. Photo/PD/COURTESY

Famously known as the first man of the Akorino faith to work with World Bank, Dr David Wachira is giving back to the community by empowering the youth

Within the precincts of Strathmore University, dozens of young people wrapped up a session of a summit with dance and laughter.

The African-themed gala dinner held during this year’s International Youth Week was the culmination of a two-day youth summit where Kenyan youths from as far as Garissa, converged in Nairobi to draw inspiration from one another and share their experiences. 

For the two days, young professionals, government officials and youth organisations sat in panels, moderated sessions and put heads together to find solutions to challenges affecting them including drug abuse, social isolation access to education and rampant unemployment. 

All this was the handiwork of Dr David Wachira and his younger sister, Dr Elizabeth Wachira, the co-founders of Youth Engagement Society (YES).

Common challenges

“No society can move forward if it leaves its young people behind. Just as iron sharpens iron, our intention was to create a space where youths could be inspired and inspire others as well,” says David, a public sector specialist at the World Bank.

The idea crystalised a few years back, when the 35-year-old, now based in Washington DC, USA, was serving as a youth pastor at a church in Texas.

“I interacted with many young people and realised there were common challenges affecting them, ranging from lack of motivation to lack of guidance in career choices.

What stood out among them was their deep-seated desire to transform the society by creating solutions to existing problems,” he says.

While also serving as Co-Secretary for World Bank’s Youth to a Youth programme in 2017-2018, he met youths from across the world and realised the challenges were largely similar across the board. 

With pressures of life pushing young people to desperation and causing mental health issues, YES aims to empower youths to fulfil their aspirations and create solutions to local and global challenges. The organisation offers academic support, mentorship and startup capital to young adults. 

“We all need role models and mentors and recognise that our accomplishments are often a result of standing on the shoulders of giants,” he adds. 

One of the youths who has benefited from the programme is Schola Ndungu, a 26-year-old from Limuru, Kiambu county.

When she graduated from Kenya Methodist University in 2017 with a degree in International Relations, she had high hopes of securing a job. But frustration began to set in following multiple job applications without any success. 

Fastest growing population  

The same year, she vied for an MCA position but did not win. Schola, who is passionate about leadership did not give up, but she instead started mobilising youths in her home area to tackle issues that bedevilled them. “Drug abuse is rampant in my area.

It really saddens me to see many people I went to school with are wasting away in alcoholism,” she says. She joined YES in 2017, and met role models she could walk with.

The experience made her realise she did not need to be employed to make an impact on society. 

Since it started, YES has organised five youth summits, three in the US and two in Kenya and more than a thousand youths have participated.

David had global ambitions when conceptualising YES, but with a particular bias for Africa.

It has also established a competitive startup fund to support youth-based initiatives with the potential to succeed and a large scale of impact.

Now in its second year, the fund supports startups with up to Sh250,000. 

“The fund is designed to enable startups to reach key technical or commercial milestones by allowing them to meet potential investors, partners and other key stakeholders.

This year, we have supported five startups with ideas ranging from an initiative to fight FGM to a venture tackling food waste,” says Wachira. At the moment, the organisation relies on funding from the two co-founders. 

Wachira, who was born in Nyahururu and raised in Nairobi before his family moved to the US  when he was 12, says the organisation is his way of giving back to the community. At the tender age of 27, he acquired his PhD and worked at World Bank.

While pursuing his doctorate at the University of North Texas, his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His two younger sisters were at the college at the time.

With the family finances under strain, he thought he would not complete his studies but then a Good Samaritan paid his school fees.

Although he never got to meet the person behind the kind deeds, he vowed to pass forward the generosity and impact positively on others.

More on Lifestyle