It begins with you

In an interview with writer, Art Dalglish of the AARP Bulletin, Bangladeshi banker and social entrepreneur Professor Muhammad Yunus points out a somewhat simple yet very pragmatic way of dealing with the social issues affecting developing nations in an attempt to end poverty in what he calls “The New Kind of Capitalism.”

Asked about his principle of selflessness and how we can unlock it in all human beings, Professor Yunus says “When I see you are helping five people get out of welfare, suddenly I am thinking, hey, I could have done that, too. So demonstration is one thing that can start loosening that lock”.

That seems to be the case in Kenya where the Government last week launched a laptop ownership initiative for University students across the country. The programme called “Wezesha”, a Swahili word that means “enable” ,will ensure that  university students can now own laptops at a subsidized price of between 15- 33% off by providing a fixed amount of KSh.9,000, approximately $120 for each student.

The launch of this noble initiative, which will undoubtedly have far reaching effects within local institutions of higher learning, comes almost a year after Equity Bank; a leading bank in the country launched an almost similar initiative.

In partnership with telecommunications giants Safaricom, Equity Bank’s program was called “laptop ni lazima”, a Swahili phrase for “a laptop is a must”. Under this scheme, one would select a laptop from any Safaricom retail shop, then pay for it by acquiring a bank loan from Equity Bank. One would then need to repay the loan for a period of up to four years at a reasonable interest rate.

The scheme gained so much popularity that a few months down the line, the two corporates partnered with Kenyatta University to provide such loans for students and staff of the Public University. This scheme saw hundreds of faculty staff and students at the institution of higher learning gain access to a hitherto expensive academic asset.

Their latest partnership saw the two companies provide laptop access to public school teachers through the same process of acquiring through an Equity Bank loan and paying it over an extended period of upto four years.

It wasn’t long after Equity and Safaricom entered into this collaboration that Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), yet another local Bank entered into an almost similar partnership with the mobile telephone company.

The Government’s “Wezesha” programme is similar in principle to the one propagated by Safaricom and the two commercial Banks though with some slight modifications here and there. Under “Wezesha”, the Government has appointed specific retail stores to stock the laptops (including Safaricom). Students then choose the model they want but pay for it at a subsidized rate. This initiative will go a long way to ensure that university students in Kenya can own laptops at an affordable rate. Computers are a necessity for anyone in such an institution for activities like academic research, thesis writing and a horde of other important doings called for in a University.

The case of the government of Kenya’s near replication of a program launched by a corporate body is a classic justification of the statement made by Professor Yunus, that one good deed can stir up the souls of hundreds of others who upon seeing the success of that particular individual, will wish to be associated with such. Consequently, they will end up coming up with their own creative ways of dealing with that problem, reducing it by an even greater deal.

This sounds like the most appropriate strategy of dealing with the social ills weighing down Africa. First by understanding that, it begins with you.

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