NAIROBI, Kenya — When David Otieno graduated from the Kenya Institute of Management five years ago, he joined the estimated 50,000 other new graduates searching for employment. But luck was never on his side – so he made his own.
“One day I was looking for a job in a government office but I was sent away to make copies of my documents,” he said. “I had to walk to the town center to find a stationery bureau where I could do the photocopies.”
On his way back, embarrassed to have to make the trek, inspiration struck. It occurred to him that every day hundreds of Kenyans just like him had the same experience.
He made a detour. He didn’t return to the prospective employer, and instead started shopping for a portable, battery-powered photocopy machine. Once he found one, he set up business outside the same office that had sent him away for copies.
“I reasoned with those who needed photocopy services that it would save time if I served them instead of walking all the way to town,” he said.
“At first they were reluctant, but eventually they bought into my idea.”
Otieno, who earns the equivalent of about $25 a day, is one of a growing number of youths in Kenya and other African countries who are using business process outsourcing as a means of employment. From small wooden tables and booths, entrepreneurs have been providing photocopy or passport photograph services in urban areas for years, but with the explosion of information and computing technology their business prospects have ballooned.
International organizations are stepping up their support. The Rockefeller Foundation recently launched Digital Jobs Africa, a seven-year, $83-million initiative to improve the lives of one million people in six African countries through digital job opportunities and skills training.
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