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ICS made me one of Africa’s 100 Most Influential Young People

There’s something interesting about 28-year-old tech entrepreneur Kennedy.

I think it’s the fact he manages to balance his quietly fierce entrepreneurial drive with a refusal to forget his roots. He’s never been shy about admitting that those key skills required to get into business – grit, resilience, self-confidence – were traits he found while on ICS.

Last month, he was announced as one of 2019’s 100 Most Influential Young Africans – no mean feat. The reason? The success of his digital marketing company, Serengeti Bytes,  has empowered young Tanzanian enterprises to take advantage of tech – and all while creating jobs for fellow young people.

We spoke to Kennedy to find out why creating spaces for young people to thrive and promote his country’s development is so important to him.

ICS volunteer Kennedy poses next to a poster of all the award winner
© Kennedy Mmari
ICS taught Kennedy the real-world private sector skills he needed to get ahead

“I’ll always be grateful to ICS,” explains Kennedy Mmari.

“Before I volunteered, I could hardly speak in public, let alone lead meetings or a pitch. These are real-world, private sector skills that I just didn’t have or knew I needed. My ICS experience was tough and showed me another side to life in my country, but also prepared me to go into business.”

Kennedy was one of the first volunteers to work with Raleigh ICS in Tanzania in 2013. Having grown up in the city, his awareness of the realities of rural life for the country’s poorest came as a shock when he discovered a lack of local knowledge about the link between disease and unclean water.

“In the rural village of Mgongo, local people simply didn’t know about good sanitation practices,” said Kennedy. “When we arrived, they were drinking from boreholes in the ground, most of the time without filtering or boiling the water, and in some cases, sharing the water source with animals.”

Kennedy and his team of volunteers pose for a group photo
© Raleigh / Kennedy Mmari
Kennedy and his team. He continued to stay involved after ICS, setting up a national alumni network

Real impact lies in how you inspire people to continue

Over the next 10 weeks, his team dug the foundations for primary school latrines, conducted field research and campaigned to raise awareness on good sanitation. And when Kennedy returned to his host community, long after his placement finished, he was pleased to see the impact of their actions.

“Villagers were accessing clean water from the tap and schoolchildren had access to fully-functioning new latrines, built by volunteers in partnership with local people and project partners. But one of the things that most impressed me was the increased level of awareness following our campaigns.”

It was then that Kennedy recognised that the impact of their work could be amplified if volunteers could stay connected after ICS. This was to be the birth of the Raleigh Tanzania Alumni Youth Society – a group that would go on to recruit over 1000 members in the following three years.

By the time Kennedy graduated from university in 2016, he already had three years of work experience under his belt, including a stint as a communications officer for Raleigh,those formative years of volunteering and leading Raleigh’s national alumni society.

“I decided there was nothing stopping me starting my own initiative. Marketing is a growing business in Tanzania, and never before has communications offered so many possibilities. I wanted to find a way to bridge my passion for telling stories and my passion for my country’s development.”

A group of young girls wearing white hijabs receive careers advice
© VSO / Andy Aitchison
In Tanzania, young people face a challenge finding meaningful work

I don’t just want to give young people jobs – but businesses too

And so Serengeti Bytes was born, an agency offering services in PR, communications and digital marketing. Kennedy was quickly picking up clients, creating video commercials, placing their stories in the media and managing some of Tanzania’s upcoming social media influencers.

Importantly for Kennedy, the flurry of work has meant he’s managed to become an employer, too.

“In Tanzania, youth unemployment is a huge challenge. There’s a skills mismatch, lack of opportunities and a real absence of a supportive entrepreneurial culture,” he said. “Even when young people have the skills, we’re held back by a lack of access to finance to get our ideas started.

“So it feels incredible to not only help these young people to earn a salary but also to encourage them to start their own initiatives when the opportunity arises. To me, if I lose an employee but gain them as a competitor in this challenging business environment, then I know we’re all progressing.”

Kennedy poses for a photo in a suit at a desk
© Kennedy Mmari
What's next? Kennedy is launching his own digital media skills academy for young people

I’m launching my own academy for young people

It’s hard not to be inspired by this humble but driven young man. And clearly the judges of this year’s 100 Most Influential Young Africans prize felt the same.

“I felt honoured to be acknowledged. It’s a comprehensive list with many deserving names of people who are truly driving change across our continent. But it’s a list that also deserves many more millions more young people’s names who need to be spotted and recognised for their work.”

He’s achieved a huge deal – and all before reaching 30. But what will the next decade hold?

“I hope to be able to help more businesses learn how to take advantage of communications, all while making jobs available for young people. And I plan to launch the Serengeti Academy, which will focus on delivering employability skills for young people in the fields of digital media.

“ICS keeps on impacting our world in a very special way,” he added. “You can’t really see, understand or talk about it precisely until you’ve experienced it. But since volunteering all those years ago, I’ve never stopped dreaming about how I can make a positive change.”

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ICS is funded by the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID) which leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty.

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