MSU receives $15 million from USAID to empower youth success in Kenya

November 4, 2021

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State University has received a $15 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to serve 300,000 youth in Kenya and help create job opportunities that can improve their lives and transform their communities. 

In the USAID Empowered Youth project, MSU will partner with two other universities and youth organizations across Kenya to provide life skills training and starter funds to empower young people to work together in ways that support local economies. 

Continuing high unemployment in Kenya disproportionately affect the livelihood and well-being of people ages 15-24, a large part of the population. The economic climate can be especially challenging for youth who lack formal education, have disabilities or are at-risk adolescent girls. 

“We often see youth, especially in Africa, as lacking something instead of being great partners who can lead transformation themselves,” said Leapetswe Malete, project director and associate professor in the MSU Department of Kinesiology, where he is also part of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports. “We need to change this way of thinking about youth’s role in society. If we do that in Kenya, we are likely to have an impact in the region and across the continent on how to engage youth effectively as development partners.” 

 Leapetswe Malete, project director and associate professor in the MSU Department of Kinesiology

Building on previous work funded by the USAID, the Empowered Youth project will leverage Kenya’s “bunge” (Swahili for parliament), a unified network of local youth-led organizations, to strengthen its collaboration with county governments, nonprofits, private sector partners and Kenyan higher education. MSU will work closely with Egerton University, EGU, and United States International University-Africa , USIU, to provide skill development workshops, internships and apprenticeships in industries including  agribusiness and information technology. 

“MSU has a long legacy of global engagement, and that means we are focused on building the livelihoods of youth not only here on our campus but around the globe,” said President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “By helping young people in Kenya achieve their aspirations, the USAID Empowered Youth project will support our mission of applying skills in ways that transform communities and ultimately help create a more sustainable, prosperous world for all.” 

The interdisciplinary project engages multiple partners at MSU, including the College of Education; the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Global Innovations in Development, Education and Scholarship, or Global IDEAS; the Global Youth Advancement Network; and the Center for Gender in Global Context. EGU and USIU are members of the Alliance for African Partnership, an MSU-founded consortium that includes MSU, 10 leading African universities and a distinguished network of African research institutes. 

Other key partners, the National Youth Bunge Association and the National Cooperative Business Association Cooperative League of the United States of America, will play an important role in mobilizing youth from six counties during the first year and later expanding to 20 additional counties. 

Over five years, the project will strengthen local partner capacity to serve larger, especially vulnerable and more diverse groups of youth through peer-to-peer mentoring, skills building and information sharing. It will progressively transfer responsibility to local champions and systems, increase county government and private sector buy-in as well as foster participation in supporting youth initiatives. 

“Youth voices and actions matter. USAID youth policy and programming acknowledges that young people are critical to development today and in the future. We partner with and offer youth the necessary skills and tools to create and increase employment,” said Mark Meassick, USAID Kenya and East Africa Mission Director. 

Over the course of the grant, up to $2.5 million will be awarded directly to young people in the form of small grants to kickstart their own innovative business ideas. Malete said these youth will have gained additional skills needed to be successful through the training opportunities, such as leadership and problem solving. 

“It will enable them to see these opportunities and fail, to stand up and keep going,” said Malete, who has experience building youth life skills through sport in other parts of Africa. “We believe many of these small projects will take off and the youth can run with them.” 

The team from MSU also includes Amita Chudgar, Department of Educational Administration; John Bonnell, Global IDEAS; Felix Kwame Yeboah, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics and Global Youth Advancement Network; Abou Traore, MSU Department of Community Sustainability; and Marcy Hessling O’Neil, MSU Department of Anthropology.  

“Drawing on such an array of talent and commitment, I am excited to see the impact of this project among youth, educators and community members in Kenya, as well as among the MSU community,” said Ann Austin, interim dean of the MSU College of Education. “This project demonstrates the commitment of MSU to continue a long tradition of collaboration in the global context designed to make real differences in the lives of individuals and the experiences of communities.” 

About USAID 
USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency for international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance, and help people progress beyond assistance. 

This story is also posted on MSUToday.