How social entrepreneurs are contributing to higher-education change in East Africa

A key component of ensuring students leave university with appropriate skills for employment when they graduate is fostering links with employers. Vincent Otieno Odhiambo, Regional Director of Ashoka East Africa in Kenya, shares some examples of how social entrepreneurs are providing that link in supporting the Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) partnership.

Across the world, social entrepreneurs are being accepted as the new role models. Their innovative problem-solving and critical thinking skills are being regarded as a solution to the current reality, characterised by accelerated disruptions, compounding challenges and a historic opportunity.

In the Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) partnership, which is working to help students in Tanzania and Uganda become better equipped for the world after university, there is an obvious role for social entrepreneurs to play. The TESCEA partnership is made up of four universities in Tanzania and Uganda and three support organisations. I work for one of those support organisations, Ashoka East Africa, which is based in Kenya.

Within TESCEA, a group of leading social entrepreneurs from Ashoka’s network are making their contribution either indirectly by curating and sharing their insights, knowledge and experience or directly within the Joint Advisory Groups of the four universities. The Joint Advisory Groups – or JAGs – are groups of stakeholders – local employers, government representatives and other community contacts – that come together with key university staff, to help guide the direction of course redesign and other activities within TESCEA. The goal is to ensure that changes to curriculum and pedagogical approaches are appropriate and relevant for the world that students will emerge into when they graduate. Our social entrepreneurs contribute expertise in the form of research validation, storytelling to inspire change, fostering ecosystemic approach to transformation, and offering experiential learning.

Research validation

At the commencement of the TESCEA project, social entrepreneurs from Ashoka East Africa helped validate various research on the skills needed to transform employability (the results of that research were shared in this paper) and shared perspectives on wider change issues for students and faculty along with the other TESCEA partners.

Storytelling to inspire change

Social entrepreneurs have compelling, empowering stories of change detailing their journey from opaqueness to prominence, highlighting core skills needed to build ideas and achieve transformation. For example, Abu Musuuza, who is a social entrepreneur in the Ashoka network, was one of the guest speakers during Uganda Martyrs University’s JAG stakeholders meeting with students. There, he shared his change-making journey as a co-founder of Village Energy in Uganda working to ensure there is a skilled solar technician in every village across Uganda.

Another example is Joseph Sekiku. As a member of Mzumbe University’s JAG in Tanzania, he shared his change-making journey fostering entrepreneurship among farming families in Northern Tanzania. He talked about establishing Family Alliance and Development Cooperation (FADECO) in Tanzania to improve economic possibilities for small-scale farmers by giving them greater control over their products post-production and greater access to global markets.

When social entrepreneurs like Abu and Joseph share their stories, they serve as a form of inspiration to university leadership, faculty and students – and this can help staff and students to visualise the transformation they want to see through TESCEA.

From the stories from Abu, Joseph and other leading social entrepreneurs, Ashoka East has deducted some patterns that we have distilled and captured into steps that support a learning journey – both in class and outside. We are capturing these steps in a toolkit and this feeds into the development of student portfolios in which students document their learning and skills development to show to future employers and tell their own stories of change.

Fostering ecosystemic approach

Social entrepreneurs have largely proven that scaling and accelerating innovative solutions require a ‘collective impact’ approach where different actors are rallied to support solving complex problems.  Another Ashoka fellow, Mario Molteni, joined one of Mzumbe University’s JAG meetings as special guest to share his initiative E4Impact (Entrepreneurship for Impact). This is an initiative aimed at training impact entrepreneurs. Participants acquire knowledge and skills useful for starting a business and for contributing to the sustainable development of their countries. Mario is now developing a partnership with Mzumbe University’s Students Incubator Centre to support the incubation of ideas, including those originating from students undertaking courses that have been redesigned as part of TESCEA.

Another social entrepreneur and Mzumbe’s JAG member, Joseph Sekiku, who I mentioned earlier, has offered his community radio as a platform for Mzumbe University and stakeholders in Mzumbe’s JAG. The aim is to share stories of change through the community radio and hosting talk shows highlighting the innovations and reforms as a result of TESCEA at the university level and at the class level. This should increase bottom-up demand for problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and build trusting relationships across different ecosystems towards systems change.

Offering experiential learning

Leading social entrepreneurs tend to opine that the theoretical nature of education is often not in sync with the reality on the ground. This, they observe, results in a triple jeopardy for students: outdated education philosophy; obsolete pedagogy; and irrelevant case studies. The TESCEA partnership is working to change that and an important component is ensuring a strong link to the world beyond university.

Students need exposure to practical experiences, which social entrepreneurs can provide through experiential learning. In Uganda, Mwalimu Musheshe, who is Gulu University’s JAG Chairperson and the founder and Vice Chancellor of Africa Rural University (ARU), is offering insights on how ARU’s alternative training approach of incorporating social entrepreneurs and traditional wisdom holders in training students is developing effective social development practitioners.

Another social entrepreneur, Joseph Nkandu, who is also the Chairman of Uganda Martyrs’ University’s JAG, has opened his entity NUCAFE (National Union of Coffee agribusinesses and farm Enterprises, an umbrella national coffee farmers’ organisation founded in 2003) for students from the university to intern in various roles along NUCAFE’s value chain. This provides them with an opportunity to have a real feel of what problem-solving and critical thinking looks like in a context they can relate to, with the nuance of local knowledge. The outcomes of these kinds of experiential learning opportunities offer much needed evidence for the value in university-industry collaboration.

Next normal

Social entrepreneurs have proven they are ahead of the curve and are willing and ready to share their experience, knowledge, insights, tools and connections for the common good of all. For instance, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, social entrepreneurs across the globe have been at the forefront of providing solutions while working collaboratively with other stakeholders.

Universities that want to stay ahead of the game, nurturing more changemakers and staying relevant within their communities, will have to forge close working relationships with social entrepreneurs. TESCEA provides this opportunity for the four universities to adjust quickly and set the pace in the emerging reality.

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Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) is helping young people in Tanzania and Uganda to use their skills and ideas to tackle social and economic problems. With partners in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, TESCEA supports universities, industries, communities and government to work together to create an improved learning experience for students – both women and men. This improved learning experience fosters the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and allows for practical learning beyond the classroom that improves a graduate’s employability.

The TESCEA partnership is led by INASP (UK), working with Mzumbe University (Tanzania), University of Dodoma (Tanzania), Gulu University (Uganda), Uganda Martyrs University (Uganda), Association for Faculty Enrichment in Learning and Teaching (Kenya) and Ashoka East Africa (Kenya).

TESCEA is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) as part of DFID’s SPHEIR (Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform) programme to support higher education transformation in focus countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Guest Contributor

10 Responses to “How social entrepreneurs are contributing to higher-education change in East Africa

  • Jacqueline
    2 months ago

    Great article. It would be great to link up with the East Africa Business Council. Your activities resonate well with others some questions they have been raising with Universities for quite a while

  • Stories for Change captures my attention in this article. Stories inspire and motivate, not just others, but also the person to be more. Being able to evaluate your personal impact through an initiative inspires and challenges others to act and move. The TESCEA partners are writing their story and would be encouraged to tell this story.

    • Vincent Odhiambo
      1 month ago

      Indeed Mary, Story telling is one of the most important elements of achieving TESCEA’s objectives.

  • Indeed theoretical nature of most education systems in Africa are not in sync with the reality of the job market. TESCEA should consider scaling up and extending strategic partnerships beyond Tanzania and Uganda.

    • Vincent Odhiambo
      1 month ago

      Thank you Linet! Indeed, we are implementing TESCEA with clear plans for future scale-out and scale-up not only beyond Tanzania and Uganda, but beyond East Africa. We are also keen on developing strategic partnerships across; we welcome suggestions.

  • Great work. I think it is incredibly important to create better links between the professional world and academic education. TESCA sounds like a very good initiative to foster such connection.

    • Vincent Odhiambo
      1 month ago

      Thank you Sarah! We are witnessing first hand how critical academia and industry linkages are for skills alignment. There is a better understanding by the Universities of the the needs by the demand side, which is the way it should be.

  • Maurice Omondi
    1 month ago

    This is a great initiative that should be scaled up to all institutions of higher learning. This will ensure that graduates are connected to the real world situation and can contribute to the real transformation f the world.

    • Vincent Odhiambo
      1 month ago

      Yes Maurice. It is one thing to have all the theories and it is another thing to have the theories augmented by real life problem-solving and applying critical thinking for instance.

  • Vincent Odhiambo
    1 month ago

    Thank you Jacqueline. We’d be happy to link up with EABC not only as part of a broader stakeholder engagement which is at the center of TESCEA design but because we also realize that collaboration between industry and Universities is critical for effective skills development for employability.

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