Youthful and Innovative: A City Like No Other rosie jervase, aga khan university's east africa institute

Nairobi is a city that is thriving with innovations. There are platforms providing accessible financial transactions via mobile devices, commonly known as M-Pesa. There are numerous start up companies, such as Sanergy, catalyzing change through low-cost high-quality sanitation facilities. There is a permeating buzz and insurmountable creativity booming throughout this city.

The best thing about being on the Aga Khan University’s East Africa Institute Communications team is being able to dive head first into this innovative bubble. I have been able to learn from entrepreneurial youth, gaining inspiration while carefully articulating their success stories.

For instance, I really never knew the power a single seed coated in charcoal dust could have in regenerating Kenya’s lost forests. That is until I met Teddy.

Teddy Kinyanjui, Seedballs Kenya Co-Founder

Teddy Kinyanjui is the co-founder of Seedballs Kenya, an initiative that invests in low-cost and efficient tree planting. I had the great privilege to connect with him and learn about his success in contributing to conservation and natural reforestation throughout the country.

Seedlings covered in charcoal dust, Seedballs Kenya team

With the majority of Kenyan households using wood as their main source of fuel, millions of acres of forest are being degraded. This is coupled with a high financial cost of re-planting millions of trees.

Consequently, Teddy came up with the brilliant idea to insert seeds of Kenya’s native tree species into balls of charcoal dust. The charcoal dust is what protects the seed from being eaten by animals or damaged during extreme temperatures. And there you have it, the revolutionary seedball.

Not only is the seedball a valuable environmental initiative, it encourages the younger generation, like myself, to take action. Teddy and the Seedballs Kenya team often go to multiple schools around the country to educate students on the importance of the environment. The team also organises seedball catapulting competitions, adding a fun aspect to tree planting. Thanks to Teddy, I even had the chance to throw seedballs of my own to create change in my own neighbourhood in Nairobi.

Recording the Story of Seedballs Kenya for the East Africa Institute's 'Outside Looking In' Podcast, Nairobi

Having the opportunity to speak with Teddy, a young and successful entrepreneur, I took away three key lessons when it comes to realizing your goals.

Firstly, if you want to make a difference in your community, don’t be afraid to start small. An idea the size of a single seedling might just have the greatest impact on an entire nation’s ecosystem.

Secondly, remember to pursue a career that you are passionate about. We spend the majority of our lives earning a living, so why not contribute our precious time to projects, initiatives, and/or research that fulfill our emotional and mental well-being.

Lastly, make sure to educate those around you. That may be spreading awareness of the importance of conserving the environment or promoting the rights of women. Transferring knowledge to friends and family unfamiliar with the context of the developing world can inspire them to make powerful change themselves.

Another memorable success story I covered focused on the undertaking of youth to create safe and child-friendly spaces. I had the chance to interact with youth working with the Dandora Transformation League (DTL) - a community-based organisation that seeks to create a clean, green and secure suburb, whilst providing employment for youth.

Courtyard Youth Leader of the Dandora Transformation League, Dandora, Nairobi

I had the chance to explore Dandora for the day - an urban area that is often known to be an eyesore and highly unsafe. Nonetheless, when I entered the area and stepped out of the car, I was blown away. The streets were beautifully clean and full of life. Bright colours of yellow, blue, and green covered the walls and roads. Children were playing freely in the streets, laughing and cheering. I couldn’t believe that I was warned by friends and colleagues that this was considered an unfavourable environment. Dandora was far from an eyesore.

I was shown around by one of the youth leaders of the DTL team. He showed me a courtyard full of trees and beautifully cut grass, playgrounds for children to engage themselves in, and chairs for adults to sit and chat.

I was also highly impressed that DTL offers employment opportunities to youth striving to make a change in their community. Youth in Dandora get the chance to collaborate as a group with the DTL team and earn a monthly salary for cleaning up the courtyards of the residents in their community. Not only do they earn money, they get the chance to be role models to their friends and family, ensuring safe and child-friendly spaces are maintained.

A Courtyard Transformed by Youth into a Safe and Child-Friendly Space, Dandora, Nairobi

In turn, this organisation changes the mindset of youth, showing them that they deserve to live in a healthy and welcoming environment that they can call home.

Seeing first-hand how determined and committed young people in Kenya are to making green transformations is truly inspiring. They have motivated me to strive towards investing in youth in underserved communities, especially in South Sudan, my home country. Perhaps even to realizing my long-term goal of creating a sports training organisation in South Sudan. This is with the hope of providing youth with crucial professional and life skills they could highly benefit from.

Biking in Hell's Gate National Park, Naivasha

That being said, I feel truly fortunate to be living in such a vibrant and ground-breaking city like Nairobi; a place where ideas can be transformed into realities, investment is made in opportunities for youth, and meaningful change can come about. If anyone needs inspiration or that extra push to finally follow their dreams, Nairobi is definitely the place to be.

Hiking in Ngong Hills, Kenya

Rosie Jervase was part of the 2018-2019 cohort of the International Youth Fellowship Program. She was placed at the Aga Khan University's East Africa Institute in Nairobi.

Since 1989, Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) has been helping to develop young Canadian leaders in the field of international development through its International Youth Fellowship program.