Modern technology for "Juakali", the informal sector

There is a booming informal sector in Kenya of small-scale traders, craftspeople, and entrepreneurs. A large percentage is known as “Juakali” (“in the hot sun”) because they work by the roadside, sometimes with shelter, sometimes not. Supremely adaptable, whatever you want made, copied, or created, the Kenyan informal business sector can provide it—and fast.

In a recent survey, the Juakali sector employs more than 14 million people translating to an 83.4 percent total jobs in the country and contributes 34.3 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Making it one of the most intense sectors in the Kenyan economy.

As other countries move to adopt more advanced technologies to enhance their productivity, Kenyan artisans remain trapped in the Stone-Age applications, consequently hindering their growth and that of the economy. However ,Gearbox seeks  to  promote  the  creation  of  inclusive  manufacturing  opportunity  for  Kenyans by providing modern technology resources and training to curb this problem.

Gearbox’s approach is also decidedly future-facing, meaning  that  the  technologies  and  methodologies  it  avails are  consistent  with  the  4th  industrial revolution. Gearbox also goes further to ensure that the assistance provided is end-to-end by partnering with others who complement their work. The African Innovation Ecosystems Group (AfricaIEG) is a business resource network that brings   together   various   parties   interested   in   proactively   designing,   developing and   deploying new   innovation ecosystems across Africa to create a pipeline of investment-ready, technology driven businesses.

In partnership with KCB 2jiajiri program, Gearbox trained 250 informal sector (juakali) artisans in metal fabrication, sheet metal works, wood work and plastics all at Kamukunji region in Nairobi. Different machines were deployed and an intense hands-on session was experienced by each artisan. AfricaIEG connected training experts in life-skills, human centered design to add to the value of the training, and business development services to maximize the chances of business success, and of course minimize the risk associated with the machine-purchase loans. Bearing in mind that the juakali artisans are mostly unable to leave their place of work for training more than a few hours a day, Gearbox’s designed containers for outreach with an engineering workshop and a training room.

The main objective of the program is to train individuals to use modern digital fabrication tools to produce items that have proven demand, quality competitive products and with little to less man power.  Great point is that the  machines  they have been  trained  on  were  designed  and  built  by  local contacts  through the Gearbox network, and are already proven in the market place. How easy is it to design customized machines for them?

The artisans then are enabled to buy the machines through soft loans and Gearbox will ensure that they are linked to markets through the Government’s Big 4 Agenda, beginning specifically with the “Affordable Housing” pillar for which plans to provide 700,000 new low-income housing units (500,000 national government, 200,000 Nairobi County government) are at an advanced stage.

The artisans through this customized training will be able to provide; door  hinges,  plastic  shower units  (shower  trays  and  sliding doors,  all  made  from  acrylic  and  metal),  kitchen  counter  tops,  window  frames,  electrical  consumer  boxes  among other  things. The training will ensure that the quality of the products meet the requisite standards.

There is need to consciously put more effort to diversify local industrial production and through policy, and such training we can fully target to improve manufacturing in Kenya. There is no other way of growing local firms without us investing in new technologies and creating a conducive business environment.

Nelson Mandela said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Let’s rise and comprehensively deal with our bottom of the pyramid through linking innovations to our SMEs for greater local productions and exports.