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Ex-Google employee connecting Kenyan artisans to clients

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Experts consider it to be one of the biggest macroeconomic challenges that is facing the continent today. Unemployment. And, it is a youth problem in most parts of the continent. They attribute this challenge to barriers such a lack of education or the lack of employment opportunities.

According to the World Bank, there are 60 percent of the people in the continent that are unemployed. This challenge has led people to the informal sector, further adds the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It adds that there are about are about 0.8 million youth who join the workforce annually. This is despite Kenyan requiring one million people to join the workforce each year in the next decade so that it can deal with the high rates of this demographic, the youth. The UNDP further estimates that youth unemployment in Kenya stands at 35 percent, as of 2017.

But there are over 16 million people who are in formal employment as of this year. According to the ‘Kenya Social Protection and Jobs Programs Public Expenditure Review’ report by the World Bank published this year, the government is further trying to increase job creation in the formal sector with policies that will see the rate of employment increase by 40 percent within the next three years.

These policies include ensuring that those who are formally trained get access to attachment opportunities as well as information about employment opportunities that would be in alignment with what they have studied for. The World Bank report estimates that the government was able to set aside Kshs 4.6 billion as of 2017 toward this endeavour.

But what effort is the government trying to address with those who are unemployed? What can the state do if it is to be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 of Decent Work and Economic Growth, which includes eradicating youth unemployment?

The World Bank report explains that the Kenyan government has come in to mitigate this challenge by supporting blue collar workers, also know as ‘jua kali’ where people can be able to use their vocational skills to hire themselves. It states that the sector has been able to absorb over 70 percent of those people who are in unemployment.

It is against this unemployment context in Kenya that the former Head of Marketing at the American-based technology company, Google, saw a need to lessen this gap three years ago.

In an interview that was held on July 30th, Mr Adam Grundewald, an American, says that he had been part of the team that had been launching a Google transportation platform, Bebapay, for those using public transport in Kenya.

But his interest as an entrepreneur was different. He noted that the amount of people who have entered the workforce in Kenya was higher than the number of jobs that were created. According to the 2019 Economic Survey, there were 2.9 million people who were in employment in the modern sector as of 2018, as compared to 840.6 thousand jobs that were created in the same year.

Mr Grundewald says that he and his university colleague, Mr Johannes Degen, who is of German nationality, stated that they started a technology platform, Lynk. With it, they would be able to connect people to work, thus removing the oft-held perception of “I know someone” or that of relying on someone or getting a recommendation from someone to get employment.

Mr Grundewald says even did his own informal but important research three years ago.

“ I immersed myself into the community. I realised that one of the challenges that they do face is unemployment. Some of these people are not salaried, others are salaried, while some are hustlers trying to do their own jobs. This challenge of unemployment seemed to be the biggest challenge to me,” he says during the interview held at their present office in the up-market area of Spring Valley in Nairobi.

Mr Grundewald says that the informal labour market is huge and so many people are forced to work in the informal labour sector. It represents the vast majority, he says. Mr Grundewald explains that there are no structures or systems that enable one to get a lead to look for a job, and this is another reason that led to the start of the Lynk platform, www.lynk.co.ke.

“If you need a painter, we connect people to work, such as getting their leaks fixed or making their tables made,” says the holder of a degree in Government and Energy Policy.

Mr Grundewald and his co-founder and business partner, Mr Degen, started their entrepreneurship journey at an apartment in Ngara. Here, they would spend their days speaking to blue-collared workers, to learn what was needed so as to address the challenge of unemployment. In the evening, Mr Grundewald, explains, they would code.

Mr Grundewald says that the initial capital investment into the company was a software that they built by themselves.

But, it has not been easy running Lynk, Mr Grundewald admits. There are times as an entrepreneur that he has felt like giving up, he says. But passion has kept him going, says.

Since they started in 2016, Lynk has grown to have 1,400 professionals who work on the platform so as to help those who are seeking for work, says Mr Grundewald.

The services offered include at Lynk are for highly skilled blue collar workers along 50 categories that include beauticians and manicurists, as well as plumbers and painters. Mr Grundewald says that it could be someone with a vocational training certificate, or, someone that they could cross-reference check, such as a previous employer.

He further explains that when a customer some to Lynk in search of a says a manicurist, they will subject the latter to a practical test to test their ability.

The company uses a rate card to price its services, says Mr Grundewald. This is important to as to create transparency about their prices, thus removing the hidden cost of charges that will come afterwards.

He explains that the company relies on data to make decisions. As a technology platform, or whether as an app, Lynk is able to collect insights from its customers and professionals. With it, they are able to use that data to make informed decisions about how to use its products and also address the main challenge of whatever it is that the company is trying to address: unemployment.

My Grundewald says that the distinctive quality about Lynk is that it tries to rely on trust and quality.

“ Quality means that if someone is unsatisfied with their work, Lynk tries to redo their job or get a refund of their money. On the other hand, trust refers to all the workers in our platform who are tested  and their background checked and that way, a person who is sent to us will be known for good,” explains Mr Grundewald.

He says that Lynk takes into consideration that those who use their platform will succeed and not get rebuked and that they will get a job in the future.

Mr Grundewald says that the monthly returns of the business include a 10-15 percent growth for month-over-month. He says that since its inception about three years, Lynk has managed to become one of the largest online marketplaces in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

Mr Grundewald says that the marketing strategy for Lynk is to market itself on social media, though they plan to do a better job of putting Lynk infront of people when they need it the most, such as if they need a blue collar worker, such as a plumber.

Mr Grundewald says that one of their milestones is that Lynk has been able to get their 50,000th job on the platform. He further says that the company has been able to pay Kshs 300 million to the professionals that work on their platform. Part of this reason is why earlier on this year, they were recognised as one of the “greatest solutions for youth employment by the Department For International Development (DFID).

Mr Grundewald says that the advice that he tries to impart to aspiring entrepreneurs is that they should have a passion for whatever area that they would wish to venture into, because it is not easy.

“There are so many ups and downs and its incredibly hard. Because if you want to help solve the challenge of work, of unemployment, sometimes wherein lies the biggest challenge is also where there is also opportunity,” he says.

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