Innovating to Unlock Employment Opportunities for  Youth with Disabilities

August 30, 2022


What could a former American president, a double black belt – Guinness World record-holding pilot, a renowned physicist and cosmologist, and an award-winning athlete have in common when they enter a room? Take a moment to think about it and maybe even scribble down the first three words or phrases that come to mind. Is it a magnetic presence or the aura of confidence that commands respect and admiration? 

What if I told you that these four mentioned above, Franklin Roosevelt, Jessica Cox, Stephen Hawkings and Marla Runyan, lived/are living with various disabilities that did not prevent them from excelling in their fields?

This is the message that Fredrick Ouko wants employers to understand, that people with disabilities are highly capable. Fredrick runs Riziki Source, an organization that enables access to job opportunities for People With Disabilities(PWDs) in Kenya.

Fredrick draws greatly from his own experience. He is the first son of nine children and was born and raised in Kakamega, a county located in Western Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria. He contracted polio as a child, at the age of two, which led to a physical impairment that affected his ability to walk. 

Despite being educated and well-spoken Fredrick’s experience in the search for employment was disheartening.

“I went to several interviews and wasn’t offered any jobs so instead of waiting, I founded initiatives over the years that created work opportunities for me and others in my community, ” he says.

After completing his high school education, he moved to Kibera in Nairobi where he started a community theatre group that performed skits on health related issues. Fredrick would negotiate contracts with organizations in the health space and deliver messages to raise awareness on various issues through theatre.

He later facilitated a technological skills transfer training through one of his contacts that led to a simple solar assembling project with the Kibera Community Youth Programme (KCYP). It created employment opportunities for youth in Kibera as they were skilled to assemble small and affordable solar panels that tapped clean energy to power radios and to charge mobile phones.

In the course of running these projects he noted that youth with disabilities were missing and founded Action Network for the Disabled (ANDY). ANDY’s goal is to enhance the life prospects of children and youth with disabilities through education and sustainable livelihoods. It brought to light issues faced by Young People With Disabilities(YWDs) vis a vis other young people and highlighted a need for inclusion.

After more than 10 years of working at ANDY, the idea to form a social enterprise(Riziki Source) that primarily focused on employment and that could link job seekers to employers was conceptualized.  Riziki source ​​upskills youth with disabilities in Kenya to improve their employability skills and find employment opportunities. They also run a database through Riziki App, a mobile application that is both web(downloadable on android) and SMS based where PWDs seeking employment register. Employers too can register on the platform. 

“You know when someone with a disability goes out to look for a job, the perception right from the company gate is that they are there to beg. Access to opportunities and people’s attitudes towards PWDs disenfranchises them. In bridging the gap between job seekers and employers, technology has helped us break down this barrier.

Riziki Source also works on changing mindsets through offering training services to organizations. We train employers with the objective of correcting their perception of PWDs from people who need help and pity to active members of the society who can contribute positively to their businesses. To date, Riziki Source has placed 397 of youth in jobs at 50 organizations in Kenya.

Fredrick, an Amani Institute Social Innovation Management Fellow, says that the program helped him understand how to build an organization that is fit for purpose, how to bootstrap and connected him to an ecosystem of other doers that he learnt and drew inspiration from. One of his key take outs is a famous Amani Institute mantra, Trust the process!

“If you set up a project right, having taken care of everything that needs to be done for it to be successful, even if it takes time – it is going to be successful. You need patience, you must keep working on it and you must trust the process,” he says.

Like Franklin Roosevelt, who ably led his country through the second world war in spite of a waist-down paralysis caused by polio, Fredrick too is effectively championing equal employment opportunities for PWDs in Kenya.

You too can play a role in the diversity and inclusion for PWDs in the workplace. Reach out to Fredrick Ouko and discover how Riziki Source can support your D&I journey.