By Koech Irvine Kiplangat


Over the past couple of years, many young graduates in Kenya have left school and ended up “tarmacking” in a shrinking economy.  The Covid 19 pandemic has exacerbated the unemployment situation, resulting in layoffs and the closure of businesses.  Most graduates are now caught between a rock and a hard place in making career decisions.  Do you take up an unpaid internship position in the field of your dreams, or do you abandon your career aspirations completely and try your luck on something new?

Nowadays, social media is awash with the dissenting voices of young people against exploitation at the workplace.  According to most of them, “unpaid internships” are the modern-day slavery practice.  Before you write off these young people and label them entitled, take a moment and think about their point of view.  Why would a company that rakes in millions in profit annually, fail to pay stipends to the interns in their organization? Why do organizations prioritize profits over the welfare of the fresh graduates within their ranks? Well, there’s usually a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions – Uchumi ni mbaya (The economy is struggling).

Anyway… this article does not seek to delve deeper into these moral arguments.  Regardless of the state of the economy, graduates eventually need to find something to keep them busy. Therefore, I am going to talk about the value of volunteering.

To kick start this conversation, I am going to share the following quote by Charlamagne Tha God (an American radio host and podcaster); “Most people fail to recognize an opportunity when it does not have a paycheck attached to it.”  

We all got bills to pay, right? However, we shouldn’t solemnly look at every opportunity that comes our way through the prism of financial benefits. We need to evaluate the options based on the amount of personal and career growth that will be experienced from each opportunity. As a university student in Kenya, before you go for industrial internships, your parents or mentors will tell you to work hard and leave a good impression at the workplace so that you may be considered by the organization when employment opportunities arise in the future. Why would they say such things to you? The answer is quite simple. Most of them had to swallow their pride, put their heads down and focus on assigned roles when they were starting out in their first jobs.  Through volunteering, they were able to look into what exactly happens in a place of business.  From there, they were able to decide if the jobs were the right fit for them.

If you are a millennial, I hate to break it to you – You are not exempted from this natural order of life. You cannot be a successful Boss without spending time in the trenches. “First you learn, then you earn”. 

Before I wind up, let’s take a look at an apprenticeship as a form of volunteering. The Igbo of Nigeria are renowned for being entrepreneurial people. Their success in business can be attributed to a cultural apprenticeship program that began shortly after the Civil War that ravaged their country. Due to their strong kinship ties, the “Igba Boi” apprenticeship program made it possible for young entrepreneurs to be mentored by successful business people in their community. After working for an Oga (Boss) for some years, the apprentice would be given the resources to start their own business.  It was expected that during those years, the mentee had learned valuable lessons about life and business from their mentors. (You can read more about this cultural apprenticeship set up here.) We can learn a lot from this age old model.

In conclusion, I believe that every young person should volunteer in one way or the other. There are plenty of opportunities out there for the youth to take advantage of when it comes to volunteering. For instance, if you want to be part of a global youth movement focused on advancing the SDG 7 agenda in different parts of the world during this Decade for Action, the SDG 7 Youth Constituency of the UN MGCY will be the perfect fit for you.  Kindly endeavor to join hands with other like-minded people around you in various capacities so that you can be exposed to a wide array of things that lie beyond your comfort zone.  In the course of following your passion, life may lead you to unpaid internships or apprenticeship programs that would be a stepping stone to bigger and better opportunities. So before you shun an opportunity next time, ask yourself one simple question. Besides money, what else is in it for me?

Take great care of yourself!