At a time when Kenya was focused on developing its infrastructure, Lillian Wambui Chege was more concerned about developing the youth.
“Working with our youth also teaches me the impossible does not exist. Every day, we see youth from difficult situations driving change in their own lives, transforming local economies and turning corporations into billion-rand businesses. I have seen young people go from having very little job prospects to climbing the corporate ladder becoming successful entrepreneurs,” she says.
Chege is the co-owner of CareerBox, a company that recruits, trains and places the youth in jobs; her solution to Africa’s problems.
“I’ve always been committed to contributing to Africa’s transformational agenda,” says Chege, who was raised in a small town west of Nairobi, Kijabe, and went to school at Rift Valley Academy (RVA), an American school.
“Although RVA was a boarding school, I was a day scholar and had the privilege of growing up with my sisters and parents. Since my mother is no longer with us, I take comfort in the fact I could see her every day during my formative years,” she says.
She completed school and RVA was her ticket to America, where she attended Calvin College, a liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she graduated in political science.
“After college, I moved to New York City and had a series of jobs from working in a law firm, woman’s reproductive health advocacy, accounting and ultimately ended up in philanthropy working for the Rockefeller Foundation,” she says.
It was at the Rockefeller Foundation her career developing the youth shaped.
“I co-designed an initiative called Digital Jobs Africa. This was an effort to leverage the proliferation of ICT infrastructure on the continent to connect young people to jobs.”
This was a tough time for her country of birth.
“At the time our African countries were – and continue to – investing billions in infrastructure development and the continent played host to the fastest-growing economies. Unfortunately, the youth unemployment was at crisis levels and was threatening the security of our countries,” she says.
“Kenya was experiencing post-election violence, events fuelled by high unemployment and disenfranchized youth who had the education, skills and will to work but no jobs,” says Chege.
The foundation’s offices were in the country and the events were poised to undo decades of investments and contributions into the country.
“We spent an incredible amount of time and money accessing was best to intervene. We conducted extensive landscape analysis to identify key sectors that had the ability to absorb large amounts of youth into the workforce with relatively short training. We landed on the business process outsourcing sectors and decided to intervene in six countries, including Kenya and South Africa,” she says.
The countries were selected based on the government’s commitment, private sector investment and willingness of the youth to work.
CareerBox takes on youth from disadvantaged communities.
“Our innovative model has been successful. The government recognized by the government as part of the National Development Plan (NDP). We are on target to reach our goal of impacting 100,000 by 2020,” she says.
Chege’s role with CareerBox is to come up with expansion strategies and she sources capital for their headquarters in Durban, South Africa, and offices in Nairobi with 50 employees. Through support from international donors, they intend to relaunch in Soweto so they can transform the township and contribute to the government’s township revitalization process.
Chege travels to South Africa regularly because she believes more investments are coming to the country.
“Globalization and the growth of our economies have enabled many like me to be able to work across borders. It is also the diaspora that is also helping drive an incredible amount to business to the continent. I consider myself blessed to straddle multiple cultures, disciplines, and markets. This enables me to drive high-impact work that serves not only those with access but also more importantly, those who are marginalized,” she says.
Chege says the support of her team has enabled her to keep empowering the youth.
“As a result of this co-dependency, we communicate and meet frequently. They need my skills as much as I need theirs. This respectful way of working enables me to work and deliver on my responsibilities, most internationally-driven,” says Chege.