Some of our early insights were around how youths (broadly defined as people between the ages of 18 and 35) approached the idea of formal employment and what they did to combat being "idle", which was seen as a precursor to crime and ruin.
Our colleague Tatiana Thieme (University of Cambridge) went on to spend several years researching these groups for her dissertation and has published several in-depth articles on urban youth and the so-called hustle economy in Nairobi.
Tatiana's work is a great resource to gain a better understanding of the complexity of income generation for urban youth and their calculation between pursuing employment vs. practicing "livelihood strategies".
A couple of Tatiana's articles are listed below:
- "The 'hustle' amongst youth entrepreneurs in Mathare's informal waste economy", Journal of Eastern African Studies, volume 7, issue 3, 2013, April 2013
- "Community Cleaning Services: combining market- and donor-based approaches to urban sanitation and youth engagement", in Field Action Science Reports (FACTS), co-authored with Justin P. DeKoszmovszky, published by Institut Veolia Environment (2012)
Here are a few key takeaways from our work and Tatiana's articles:
- Many youth practiced "livelihood strategies" instead of seeking more traditional employment: they felt more comfortable with having more diverse income streams and considered relying on a single income source (or full-time job) as potentially risky. It was also seen as a form of self-empowerment, consider this quote from an informant in Tatiana's research:
"We looked at our parents, who toiled their backs doing daily employment for all their lives, and there was no change. When we were growing up, we had no role models. None of our parents who were employed were role models because they had no resources, no power....To make change you need resources. The only guys who had power were thieves, or gangsters, or land grabbers....So we believe that we deserve to be self- employed, because at least if we have our own business, then we are free."
- A number of young people we met actively avoided being "idle", for example even if they didn't have school or work, they made sure to keep productive by meticulously shining their shoes or brushing dust from their clothes. Opportunities to be visibily productive were welcome.
- Morever, even petty crime or "thuggery" could be seen as better than "wasting your youth" with substance abuse or other ways that showed you had given up and were just trying to avoid reality.
- Most took pride in making it by "hustling", but were carefully elusive about their particular recipes for income. They were were careful about looking like they were doing too well vs. their peers, not only for security reasons but also not to lose identification with the group.