En­ter the new pro­fes­sional

The search for ful­fil­ment has given rise to a new gen­er­a­tion of work­ers in Nairobi, writes

CityPress - - Voices - Biko is a Kenyan writer and blog­ger .This is a part­ner­ship by African youth cul­ture voice, TWHSG and City Press that looks to pro­vide a can­vas for dif­fer­ent African writ­ers in or­der to ac­knowl­edge our col­lec­tive dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties as African cou

My busi­ness part­ner and I are lucky to rent an of­fice at a nice ad­dress in Nairobi. You know it’s a nice ad­dress when they in­sist on charg­ing you for park­ing. We are both young en­trepreneurs. We are both fa­thers. We met five years ago when he of­fered to re­design my web­site. He was only start­ing out then, and has since grown his dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency of two to al­most 20 em­ploy­ees, mostly mil­len­ni­als who come to work in hats. He’s smart, calm and hun­gry.

There are tons of guys like him, like us, who have put up shin­gle signs and are trudg­ing through to make some­thing with our hands and minds. You will meet lots of peo­ple run­ning all man­ner of quirky busi­nesses – coders, web­site de­sign­ers, soft­ware de­vel­op­ers, young PR hawks, folk sell­ing ties, shoes and sus­penders on­line, food blog­gers, mid­dle­men who roam gov­ern­ment cor­ri­dors schmooz­ing with pro­cure­ment of­fi­cers – all these types who have re­fused to fit into the nar­row de­scrip­tion of tra­di­tional em­ploy­ment. They want free­dom. They want to con­trol what they earn and who they work with. They want to wear hats to work. It’s the new gen­er­a­tion hus­tle and it’s the fu­ture in the face of Kenya’s 17% youth un­em­ploy­ment, com­pared with 6% in Uganda and Tan­za­nia.

And Kenyans are not known to shy away from work. If Nairo­bians are known for any­thing it’s their re­silience, and these fig­ures have given rise to a cul­ture of DIYs (do it your­selves): if the gov­ern­ment won’t cre­ate jobs, we will cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties our­selves. And so rises the wave of the en­trepreneurs and new busi­ness card hold­ers who are defin­ing their own nar­ra­tives. This new gen­er­a­tion of worker bees is baf­fling to our par­ents. My fa­ther, for in­stance, doesn’t un­der­stand ex­actly what I do for a liv­ing, be­cause he can’t imag­ine that some­one can just write for hay.

“What do peo­ple pay you to write about?” he asks.

“Lifestyle, mostly. Like food and travel and, you know, peo­ple.” “Not pol­i­tics?” “No.” “Is it se­ri­ous?” he asks. “Well, some­times it is.” [Pause] “And you write this on this thing you call the in­ter­net?” “Cor­rect.” “You have it in your of­fice?” “Yes. You can also find it ev­ery­where, at home, in a cof­fee house...”

“Can you send me what you write on the in­ter­net?”

“Yes. But you need an in­ter­net-en­abled phone, which you said you don’t want.”

“So you don’t write for peo­ple like me?”

“Only if they have in­ter­net-en­abled phones.” [Pause] “Let me check on the cows.” Can you blame him, af­ter com­ing from a gen­er­a­tion that stuck to a gov­ern­ment job their whole lives; same of­fice, same desk, same street? The prop­erty in­dus­try has paid heed to this new pro­fes­sional cul­ture, of­fer­ing cre­ative spa­ces in which these minds thrive. They have come up with af­ford­able “al­ter­na­tive” of­fice spa­ces like iHub for the tech pow­er­house, Nairobi Garage for the young and fast-grow­ing busi­nesses that don’t have the time and re­sources to deal with print­ers and pho­to­copy­ing lo­gis­tics, and then Alchemy, the cre­ative work space for cre­ators and thinkers. There are also big­ger boys, like ESBC, play­ing in this space, pro­vid­ing so­lu­tions for blue-col­lar pro­fes­sion­als who are go­ing it alone.

The new buzz word is “start-up”, and it’s an il­lus­tra­tion of the pro­gres­sive­ness of thought of a gen­er­a­tion. Even those in “tra­di­tional jobs” are con­sid­er­ing do­ing some­thing “of their own” or are al­ready run­ning “things on the side”. It’s the hunger of the beast that wants to be fed by new ideas; but cen­tral to this is some­thing pro­found, the search for hap­pi­ness, ful­fil­ment, pride and in­de­pen­dence. Every­body just wants to turn their vo­ca­tion into their va­ca­tion, and those who aren’t do­ing that yet are search­ing for their true north. And therein lies the beauty of these times, the search for the north­ern star.

TALK TO US Are you con­sid­er­ing launch­ing your own start-up? What draw cards and risks have you ob­served?

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