When 34 Yes Youth Can participants were selected to attend U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech at the Safaricom Arena in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday, they were excited and surprised to hear him specifically highlight their organization.
“There are some amazing examples of what’s going on right now with young people. I’m hopeful because of a young man named Richard Ruto Todosia. Richard helped build Yes Youth Can—I like that phrase, ‘Yes Youth Can’… After the violence of 2007 and 2008, Yes Youth Can stood up to incitement and helped bring opportunity to young people that were scarred by conflict,” Obama said.
With more than 1 million members, Yes Youth Can has become one of the most prominent civil society organizations in Kenya. The program is funded by USAID and implemented in Nairobi and Kenya’s Coast region by NCBA CLUSA. Other development partners are implementing the program in other regions of the country.
Yes Youth Can participants are entrepreneurs and leaders, having developed local “bunges,” or youth parliaments, that empower young people to participate in the political processes and develop entrepreneurial skills. These groups have developed credit unions, encouraged ID card registration and developed small businesses to improve their livelihoods.
“That’s the kind of young leadership we need,” Obama said to an audience that was more than three quarters youth.
“They were inspired as the leaders that will make the change Kenya needs,” said Joyce Wafula, Chief of Party for NCBA CLUSA’s Kenya Program.
Since 2011, Yes Youth Can has registered more than 135,000 youth, almost half of whom are women, for national ID cards, which are a voter requirement in Kenya. Almost 90,000 youth were linked to credit institutions and seven Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) were developed specifically for bunges and youth. These SACCOs leant $123,000 in small loans for livelihoods projects.
These youth are also becoming leaders in their communities. Over 43,000 youth—40 percent of whom are women—have been elected to leadership roles in village councils, churches, local health committees, women’s groups, farmers groups and cooperatives. This is a huge increase in youth participation across Kenya. In fact, there are 87 percent more youth involved in the coast provinces and 67 percent more in Nairobi since the beginning of the program.
“When it comes to the people of Kenya—particularly the youth—I believe there is no limit to what you can achieve… We are investing in the young people of Kenya and the young people of this continent… and it’s the young people who must take the lead,” Obama said on Sunday. The president was in Kenya to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Throughout the weekend President Obama emphasized the importance of youth and women in starting businesses and leading.
The Yes Youth Can Program has been extended until the end of September 2015, with additional funding from the Coca Cola Company’s 5by20 initiative. These extra funds will be distributed as small grants to 5,000 youth participants, particularly young women, to receive training on business skills and start income-generating projects in their communities.
Obama’s trip comes on the heels of a 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, promoting trade across the continent. This is the president’s fourth trip to Africa and the first time a sitting president has ever visited Kenya.