No longer content to be known solely for wildlife safaris and savory coffee, Kenyan officials have begun marketing the east African nation as a destination for companies looking to outsource labor.
Following India's lead, Kenya, where two-thirds of the 32 million population live below the poverty line, is pinning its hopes for economic recovery on international companies looking for affordable, efficient employees.
The country's ministry of information and technology has begun an ambitious initiative to create 30,000 new jobs this year alone by establishing outsourcing incubators at three universities and several local information technology firms.
"So many educated university graduates are walking around the streets with no jobs," said the ministry's permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo. "This plan presents a real opportunity for anyone with a desire to work hard and earn money."
Fewer than 200 Kenyans are now working in outsourcing-related jobs, but officials see that number skyrocketing as companies realize the potential of the country's well-educated, English-speaking youth.
The program will provide labor for companies offshoring IT contracts and provide technical, managerial and entrepreneurial training for those enrolled in the three-month course.
After completion, participants could either subcontract work through the government or submit an original business plan eligible for small loans from the World Bank that would cover 70 percent of start-up costs.
So far, more than 100 individuals and representatives from local companies looking to get involved in the IT sector have expressed interest in the scheme, a ministry spokesman said.
Katherine Getao of the University of Nairobi, one of three universities hosting the incubators, is eager to offer recent graduates an opportunity to use the skills they learned at school.
"This is a sleeping giant of skill, energy and enthusiasm for the young people we're training," said Getao, who heads the university's computer science department.
"It's important for us as Kenyans to create meaningful, gainful employment for our young people," she said.
While the universities tackle more advanced outsourcing contracts, such as software development, several area businesses already involved in outsourcing will operate call centers and data processing units.
The founder of one of four companies in Kenya offering data-processing and transcription services to overseas clients says incubators could be the first step in developing the IT industry to its full potential.
"Startup costs do not have to be prohibitive," said Mugure Mugo, of Nairobi-based Preciss Services. "If you show people how to start small and grow organically, that's the best way to work forward."
In addition, KenCall, east Africa's only international call center, has agreed to provide space in their state-of-the-art complex where customer service calls are re-routed from diverse companies in the US and the UK. The center's operations director, Eric Nesbitt, says expanding the industry will help grow the country's poor infrastucture and lure more international clients.
"We need to get Kenya on the international map but we need support to get the country recognized for its call center industry," said Nesbitt, as he strolled through the warehouse that houses KenCall's 100 employees.
All efforts will be concentrated in the capital Nairobi for the first year, as Kenya's erratic communications system is upgraded in several other major cities.
Ndemo hopes the completion of an underground fibre-optic cable system will enable providers to offer more reliable and affordable telephone and bandwidth services.
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