Democracy that Delivers #400 – FEDN Small Grants – Using Democratic Spaces to Promote Ethical Practices in Business

Tamari Dzotsenidze |

Episode Description

In 2022, FEDN Member Grace Nzou began the project “Using Democratic Spaces to Promote Ethical Practices in Business.” As one of the inaugural FEDN small grants projects, the first phase of the project focused on training youth in Elgeyo Marakwet on ethical entrepreneurship. The second phase focused on implementation, working with youth to submit memoranda, track budgets, and build lasting partnerships.


In the final installment of this year’s FEDN small grants series, tune into a conversation hosted by Program Officer Tamari Dzotsenidze with Grace Nzou and Edwin Ronoh from RESTHUB on empowering youth in agribusiness and ensuring the sustainability of learning programs.

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Tamari Dzotsenidze (00:01):

Welcome to this week’s episode of Democracy that Delivers, and our final episode on the miniseries on this year’s free enterprise and democracy network, small grants program. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been speaking with grantees, engaging locally to promote the principles of free enterprise and democracy. I’m Tamari Dzotsenidze, Program Officer with CIPE’s Policy and Program Learning Unit and coordinator of the Free Enterprise and Democracy Network, known as FEDN here at CIPE. FEDN was established by SIPE in 2012 to bring private sector voices into global discourse on democracy and provides a mechanism for private sector leaders and advocates of economic freedom across the world to exchange ideas and make the case for democracy and markets. The small grants program launched last year in an effort to promote understanding of how democracy and market economies enable a better way of life. Today we’ll have the pleasure of speaking with FEDN member Grace Nzou and Edwin Ronoh, the Executive Director of REST Hub, about their project using democratic spaces to promote ethical practices in business. Initially started under the inaugural 2022 FEDN Small Grants program. The first phase of the project involved training youth on ethical business practices while the second phase then transitioned into focusing on implementation. Welcome both and thank you for joining us today. Can you start us off by sharing a bit about your project and how it has evolved from the start to now, this second iteration?

Grace Nzou (01:41):

The project that we are talking about is a project that started in 2022, which was the first phase of this project. Our main objective was really to train the youth in agribusiness in marque to use collective action to be able to participate in democratic spaces so that they can negotiate for a conducive and ethical business environment. And what we did at that point was to get 90 youth that were engaged in agribusiness and train them on how to enhance their businesses by using ethical practices and how to engage duty bearers. And after the first phase, we had quite some encouraging results because we noticed that these youth were now starting to follow the budget making process calendar for example, and participate in opportunities where they were able to negotiate for certain business environments that they were looking for. That was very good, but after that we noticed that we could not, the youth may not be able to do this without the project going on, and so we came up with the second iteration of the project where we wanted to make it practical for the youth.


And what we did was to choose at least 30 youth out of the 90 that we had trained in the first project and the youth, the 30 youth that we trained were people that had either registered businesses during the first phase or had at least set up businesses and streamlined their operations so that they can implement ethical practices. And we started to help them strengthen their capacity in the budget making process. We trained them on how to write memos, request for information and petitions that they could present to duty bearers regarding the agribusiness environment, and then also we strengthened their capacity to implement ethical entrepreneurship processes. Now, by doing this, we wanted to make sure that the youth can be able to participate effectively in the budget making process and also run their businesses ethically so that they’re able to access opportunities that are beyond and really beyond the region.

Edwin Ronoh (04:18):

During that time, we were trying to address a number of issues, but here I would like to dwell on two main ones. The first issue was the notion and the perception by the county government that youth in agri business do not exist and therefore difficult to engage. What we did is that we profiled 90 youth in agribusiness from three words, those are the words that form 10 municipality. After the profiling, we brought them under one roof with the county officers and the national government officers. During that meeting, one of the officers from the Department of Agriculture and Livestock exclaimed where did you get all these youth? For them it was a great surprise to have such a huge number of youth under one roof and are willing to engage.


The second issue that we wanted to address was the perception of the government officers. The perception that the youth had about government is that government officers are unreachable and therefore cannot be engaged. But when we brought them under one roof and created an enabling environment, they were able to exchange ideas, they were able to exchange mobile numbers and of significance is the number of opportunities that the different government officers were able to share with the youth. Some of the opportunities were scholarships within the county government, others were funding for the youth and many others. One of the youth from CYAA was able to get a scholarship through that meeting. In our phase two, we moved from just generalities and we moved to addressing some of the critical issues that really touches on businesses. And one of the issue that was prevailing among the youth was that there’s no need to register a business as long as your business is making profit, there’s no need to register.


So our main focus for phase two was on businesses which were operational and the registration of the businesses. So what did we do? We helped them understand first the importance of registration of registering businesses and the benefits that one can get as a result of registering a business. And as a result of that, 20 businesses managed to register and as the registration of individual businesses was going on, we also embraced among the youth that there was need to register one big umbrella organization for collective backing with government. And so we started the process of registering Country Youth Agribusiness Assembly as a cooperative. The second issue that we also wanted to tackle was the notion that it is very difficult to engage government and it is even more difficult to influence decisions made by government. So what we did to address this was that we organized the trainings for the youth to learn about the budget making process, the writing of, and how to write memoranda, how to write petitions, and how to make access to information requests. The reason why we wanted them to learn these skills is for them to be able to move from public participation to civic engagement. And for us, this would be a game changer.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (08:28):

You mentioned that you’ve had 20 businesses formalize as a result of this project. Why is formalization important? What have you been able to see as the outcomes from this?

Grace Nzou (08:40):

As you know, Kenya is one of the 10 countries in Africa that have signed to be members or to participate in the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. Of course, that agreement is going through various stages before it ever becomes actualized, but sometimes late last year in October, our president announced that Kenya had won the bid to host the P-A-P-S-S, which is the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System, which basically means that Kenya would be the host of the payment or the financial market infrastructure for the A-F-C-T-A, and that’s big now for our businesses in Kenya to be able to participate effectively in the Africa free Continental trade agreement, then we would need to have businesses registered. And so when you look at this in the grand scheme of things, what we want to achieve is to have enterprises that can participate in not just the local environments, not in the local markets, but can participate in the regional markets and international markets and very well, that there is no way a business will be able to operate at such levels informally.


And so our goal here is to start preparing these businesses, not just to access markets locally, but to access markets and networks internationally. And in as much as that looks like, it’s a very goal. It already has started to work because what we have seen is that the youth that have formalized their businesses, first of all, they’re able to access financing faster and easier than businesses that are not formalized. And then also what we have seen is that the formal businesses now are able to participate in the regional markets and get access tenders within, for example, the county governments and within schools and hospitals that are within the North Rift region, not just in Elgeyo Marakwet. I mean we have one youth that set up a limited liability company after the first iteration of a training. And this young man was able to get the tender to supply water in El Gilmar County assembly.


And that is big time. We got another youth who also registered and is now constructing classrooms within Elgeyo Marakwet County. And we have another youth that registered their business or rather formalized their business. And initially she used to sell products in the market and that meant that she would be out in the field sitting in the market waiting for customers to come. And after registration, she changed her business model and now she’s one of the main suppliers of vegetables and fruits to schools, hospitals, restaurants, and hotels in the Northridge region. And just by changing that model, her life has changed completely because now she doesn’t have to sit and wait for customers. She knows how much she’s supposed to sell, she knows what orders she has, she gets precise amounts, she doesn’t have to worry about storage, she doesn’t have to worry about her products going bad and such kinds of things.


So formalization is very important in sustainability of businesses. Formalization helps businesses to run ethically because unless you’re formalized, you cannot have proper structures and without structures, you cannot be able to be compliant and have standards that make you ethical. So that is the importance of formalization and we foresee the youth in EL being able to access huge networks within the region and internationally of formalizing. And because as soon as, because when they formalize also, the other thing is that by formalizing their businesses, they’re able to expand their product offering and they’re also able to expand the worldview and see what else is needed beyond their region. And I’m sure by doing that they will be able to become more sustainable, grow their economies, and grow even as individuals.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (13:33):

Can you talk a bit about some of the partnerships you made through this project and why those are important?

Edwin Ronoh (13:39):

During the project periods, we met quite a number of important governance related partnerships for country youth agri business assemblies in Marqui County, and I would like to mention three outstanding ones. The first one was our partnership with the director of Cooperative Development. The Department of Cooperative Development has been very instrumental in the process of registering the Country Youth Equity Business Assembly as a cooperative and as a result of the partnership, we have really received immense support from the director who was present during our meetings. And now we are waiting for, we’re in the final stages of having a co agri business registered formally as a cooperative.


The second partnership was with the Department of Agriculture and Livestock Development. As a result of this partnership, CYAA is now involved in the many meetings and activities and decision making processes within the department. And going forward, we would like to push for a representative from CYAA to join the County Agriculture Steering Committee, which is the key decision making organ within the county. The third one, which has been a game changer, is our partnership with the directorate of Budget and Economic Planning in Marques. All the data within the county, especially on budgets and other development related issues, are domiciled within the budget and economic planning department. So our partnership with this department has made access to information much easier to contribute Agri Business Assembly members and also when it comes to submission of memos, ais, and petitions, it has been seamless when it comes to these submissions since we started our partnership. So these partnerships have really announced the work of CYA and has led to great, great, great, great achievements.

Grace Nzou (17:01):

When we were doing the project with the youth in Elgeyo Marakwet, one of the things that we realized was that it would be important to make sure that the lessons that we had taught them and the doors that we had opened for them could stay open and they could be able to implement the practices that we had instilled in them on ethical entrepreneurship and engaging duty barriers. And we realized that the youth may not be able to do this by themselves without some support, at least in the short term. And so we connected the youth with partners such as the National Chamber of Commerce in WashU, and the youth went ahead and registered as members and also the registered as members of the chamber in was Chu, which is a neighboring county, and they were able to as members now they do have access to resources that are going to help them continue running their businesses.


They also have access to networks that they would ideally never get by operating in a silo in Elgeyo Marakwet. And also they do have access to continuous training because the Chamber is a renowned brand and a trusted brand in making sure that the businesses in Kenya run very well. And so they offer continuous trainings to their members and also finally they have access to collective voice because the chamber is representative of businesses in Kenya across all the counties in Kenya. And so now they have an opportunity to have their voice heard at the national level, at the county level, and also at the international level. And that partnership with the Chamber is very, very important. Finally, the Chamber has given the youth an opportunity to access funds from the MasterCard Foundation, and these funds have become very, very important for the businesses to be able to expand their product offerings and to be able to remain sustainably.


It’s so interesting that a couple of weeks ago I was in was in Gehi Chamber on a business that was not related to the project and I was getting served, I saw 15 youth walk into the, was in Gehi chamber office from Elgeyo Marakwet, from the county Youth Agri Business Assembly. And they had come in to register as members of the chamber because they wanted to be able to access trainings and be able to access the funds that the Chamber is offering. And I think that just the youth realizing that not doing business in a silo is going to help them succeed. I think for me that is one of the greatest successes that we’ve had in this project.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (20:11):

What impact can youth involvement have on the chamber and what role do you think Chambers play in programs like this?

Grace Nzou (20:23):

The youth is a vibrant part of any community. They have the energy, they have the zeal, they also have capacity to achieve a lot of things with a little exposure from organizations like the Chamber, the youth can be able to change the economic environment of their communities. The youth participating in the Chamber is the quickest way to open the business environment in Kenya. It’s also the quickest way to develop the economy of Kenya because as you know that Kenya is a very youthful country. Majority of the population is below 30 years old. And so you can imagine if we have a lot of youth participating actively in organizations like the Chamber, then they’re able to access networks, grow their business businesses and essentially change communities and change the economic status of Kenya. As far as the impact of organizations such as the Chamber is concerned, the Chamber is already a very big brand worldwide, but a big brand worldwide is not enough if it does not have people following it. And so the Chamber is an important resource for businesses all over the country and really all over the world to be able to first of all speak collectively on issues that affect them and at the same time build the networks to enhance the economic status of countries as well as just individuals at the end of the day. So the Chamber is an important tool and an important vehicle for collective action and collective voice because it’s only through collective action and voice that democracy will be able to be achieved effectively for all.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (22:25):

Often international development programs focus on training and education. Can you share a bit about your thoughts on their impact and how we can move from training to implementation to ensure lasting change?

Edwin Ronoh (22:40):

It is true. Most international programs focus on training and education and that impact at times has been minimal with lack of sustainability. Our experience during the project in Qu County has told us that if we can infuse mentorship in our programs, provide linkages, networks and initial guided implementation, it can lead to greater ownership, more confidence and project sustainability.

Grace Nzou (23:10):

You are very right. A lot of times international partners focus on just simple capacity building trainings and sometimes going as far as offering handouts to communities in hope that this will change their circumstances. And what we have seen is that this is usually shorter measures. It’s like first aid to someone who is very, very sick, so it does not cure what the problem is. The way to cure endemic poverty and endemic and democratic practices is to empower communities that we are working with, give them the tools to be able to send for themselves beyond the project. And that was one of the things that we were very keen to get doing in the project with the youth in Elgeyo Marakwet. We knew and we realized that for this youth to continue using democratic spaces to strengthen their business environment, they would have to be able to write, for example, to write or to engage the duty bureau directly without us.


Therefore, they needed to know how to write memos, they needed to know how to write petitions, they needed to know how to request for information from the county government. The youth needed to know what ethical practices are and how to implement them, but also where to get help beyond the project. And so one of the things that we did was to make sure that the youth continuously do these activities without us, and we offered mentorship at the end of the day, and it is through the mentorship that now we are seeing the youth being leaders and some of them have even taken up the challenge to be the leaders amongst the society, within the youth, within the society, so that they’re the ones that are guiding the youth on what to do and where they get stuck. They’re always, they know that we’re always there to guide them as their patrons and show them direction on which way to go. So yes, it’s very important that international organizations move away from offering handouts and fast aid to giving beneficiaries lasting solutions to their challenges. That is the only way democracy will be enhanced in the world.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (25:44):

Were you able to see any results or quantifiable outcomes from submitting memoranda to the county government?

Edwin Ronoh (25:51):

Through our submission or memoranda to the county government, we were able to see quite a number of impacts. One of the impacts was at the policy level, that is when we submitted a finance bill memo, the finance bill usually stimulates the amount of fees that one is required to pay to the county government. And in this case, it was the market women who submitted the memo, Miranda, trying to prevent the increase of the market fees from 5,000 to 7,000, of which it was very successful. After the memo, the market fees remained at 5,000. The second result was on service delivery. This one still was submitted by the market women before the submission of the memo. There no water connection at the market. Garbage collection was not usually done, so the place was very dirty. The other thing is the overall cleanliness of the marketplace. After the submission of the memo, water was connected to the market and as we speak they have running water and cabbage collection became regular, and so the cleanness of the market improved. The third achievement, which we realized as a result of the submission of the memo is on the civic space. After the submission of the memo, the government recognized that, oh, so these market women are organized and they’re able to resend their issues for every meeting that the county government is doing from that time, they usually invite the market women to give their views before the county makes decisions. So for us, these three issues, the influence at the policy level, service delivery and the improve the civic space are worth celebrities.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (27:53):

Can you share any lessons learned through this process that others can use in their work on similar initiatives?

Grace Nzou (27:59):

That’s a very interesting question, Tamari, because when you begin a project, usually you have a very big goal and it’s usually very clear in your mind that what you’re doing is actually right. And for example, one of the things that we were very sure we were doing right during the first phase of the project was to identify youth that were in agribusiness. And so what we did when we were selecting the youth, we went ahead and looked for people in the agribusiness value chain. These are like people that worked with the county in the agriculture department and we actually worked with these people to select the youth that we trained. Lo and behold, after the training, as we were going through the training, we realized that some of the youth that had been recommended by this team that were not really in agribusiness, they were somewhat interested in agriculture, some of them were not practicing and that just hit us much later.


And so one of the lessons that we learned in this project is that, and that’s something that we implemented in the second phase, was that we had to go and verify the businesses that we were working with. And so the 30 businesses that we trained, we went to each one of their farms or their businesses and we were able to verify that these guys were actually in business or they were not just interested, but they were actually engaging in business. That is one of the lessons that we learned that was very important. You must verify the people that your beneficiaries verify that they have capacity to absorb and capacity to implement. Otherwise you will spend a lot of resources and you will not be able to get results, the kind of results that you want.

Edwin Ronoh (29:54):

The second lesson is compliance with legal requirements can open doors and partnerships

Grace Nzou (30:01):

Collective action, collective voice is important. And just to add on the collective action and collective voice thing is also about the role of partnerships is the other thing that we have learned that if you choose the right partners, then you will be able to achieve your objective. Say for example, getting the youth engaged or partnering with the Chamber of Commerce, they’ve been able to access resources there. They continue to access trainings and some of these trainings are usually offered for free that, and these are things that they would ideally have to spend a lot of resources to get, but now they’re able to access them for very little resources on their part. And so the power of partnerships cannot be ignored. And finally, the other lesson that we learned as we were undertaking this project is that small little efforts provide the big success that you’re looking for.


When we started, it looked like we were never able going to be able to get businesses to run from the youth. In fact, I remember one person who A CSO member within Elgeyo Marakwet, when they heard about the project and what we were trying to do, they told me the youth are not consistent. You will not be able to achieve what you’re looking for with that kind of a constituent. You should have looked for a different constituent. But what I told him is that we must start somewhere first. And secondly, if we keep ignoring the youth, we are setting a time bomb for ourselves because we are going to have adults because these youth are turning into adults in a few months and a few years, we’re going to have adults that are not going to be able to sort out the challenges that we have as an economy and as a country.


So we better find a way to mentor them and slowly and surely, sometimes very painfully and in very difficult situations, we were able to get youth interested in things that they would ideally not be interested in. Getting them interested to participate in the budget making process, getting them interested in ethical entrepreneurship, getting them interested in registering and formalizing their business and helping them to broaden their worldview. It has been slow consistent efforts on our part. One of the most exciting activity we had was us taking the youth to Elder town, which is about 40 kilometers from their home. And we were teaching them how to conduct market survey for their agricultural produce. And what we did was we took them to the market, to the elderly market and they were able to go there and source directly for direct clients, vendors in the market that they took their phone numbers and now all they do is they call the vendors and send the produce to elder it.


They don’t even have to be there and the vendors send money because they conducted market research, they were able to understand which products work very well during what season, how much the products go for, how the vendors prefer the products packaged, what quality of products the vendors are looking for and such kinds of things. And we noticed that just by taking the youth to the market, they were able to move ahead and go beyond the market and now look at neighboring hotels, neighboring schools, neighboring hospitals within Elgeyo Marakwet town and go there without us to be able to look for markets for their produce. When we took them to the high-end market still on the market survey activity, we took them to the high-end markets in malls and they walked in there and they had to build courage to speak to managers in big restaurant chains.


We are talking a SIMBI brand, which is a regional brand who owned by Zimbabwe Zimbabweans, but very active in Kenya. We are talking about Java, a South African brand, and they had to go and speak to the hotel restaurant managers to try and get orders and find out what kind of quality of product do these big regional brands require. So that kind of exposure, slow, small, consistent, was important in making sure that we achieve the results that we needed and that was one of the lessons that we learned. Small, small, consistent, consistent efforts. Bear fruit at the end of the day.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (35:28):

One final question, what is next for you? How do you envision sustainability with something like a small grant where it has a limited time and budget?

Edwin Ronoh (35:38):

The two small grants for us in phase one and phase two has had a tremendous impact for the youth in QU County having laid a farm foundation for ethical businesses and civic engagement. The big thing for us after registration of individual businesses and registration of CYAA as a cooperative first would be setting up and strengthening structures for CYAA cooperative. This would give it a solid identity whereby we envision CYAA as a very big brand at the local level, national and even international. This would enable it to make profits that would ensure its financial sustainability. The second thing is for CYAA to start inferencing policies, this would entail domestication of national policies to the county level in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Livestock. This would mean that CYAA would create its own enabling environment that would enable it to flourish as a cooperative. The other area would like to focus on is market research and more linkages for CYAA as a cooperative. The

Grace Nzou (36:57):

Small grant for us was a seed. It was a seed for us to set up an opportunity and environment for the youth in agribusiness Iner County to be able to access networks and opportunities that they would ideally not get by just operating individually. And so what we did was to help or work with the youth to set up marketing Cooperative society. The idea of the Marketing Cooperative Society is for it to be a vehicle for them to access networks, partnerships, financial resources that they ideally would not be able to access individually, but also to work to market their products all over the region and all over the country and hopefully in the near future internationally. And so the Cooperative Society is aimed at opening up the worldview of these young entrepreneurs because by them participating or selling their produce through the marketing cooperative, then they will be able to negotiate for better prices.


And for them to do that, it means that they have got to go look for markets, they have to conduct market research. By doing that, they automatically expand their worldview, and that is very important in the group of any entrepreneurship activities that people undertake. The other thing is that this cooperative society is a vehicle for engagement with the county government and other duty barriers at any level. The small grant was very instrumental in setting up all this. It may have been small in terms of the numbers that the grant was offering, but the impact has been great and it has been long lasting. The greatest impact that we have seen in this grant is being able to make the youth realize that they’re not invisible and they’re not unimportant. The most success we have seen in this grant is seeing the youth expand their worldview and realize that there are opportunities beyond their region and that all they need to do is just take action, take the first step to change their lives by simply formalizing their businesses, by getting out of the comfort zones, going traveling 40 kilometers away to be able to access a partner or to access a network.


Just changing the worldview, I think is not measurable. We cannot put a value to an improved worldview because once an individual changes and improves and expands their worldview, then the limit is not even the sky. The limit there is just limitless opportunities for them. And so this may have been a small grant, but it was limitless for the youth of Elgeyo Marakwet and we are hoping in the near future that we can partner with Fen to continue expanding the worldview and expanding opportunities for the youth in El Gil Marque because we know that an economically stable people are likely to practice democracy. They are likely to follow democratic principles and practices, and that is what we want for Africa. Thank you very much for having us.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (40:54):

Thank you both for taking the time to speak with us today. It was wonderful to hear about how your project has continued to grow and evolve, and I’m excited to see how the outcomes continue to impact the youth and the community to our listeners. You can learn more about the free Enterprise and Democracy Network by going to our or on X, formally known as Twitter @FEDNGlobal. Thank you.


Published Date: May 10, 2024