Program will bring Kenyan entrepreneurs to Chicago

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Earlier this year, several Chicago business men and women were in the east African nation of Kenya helping young entrepreneurs there establish or better run their own businesses.

Earlier this year, several Chicago business men and women were in the east African nation of Kenya helping young entrepreneurs there establish or better run their own businesses.

It was the second year of a U.S. Department of State program run by the Chicago-based non-profit organization Heartland International. Through the program, Heartland was tasked with reaching across the culture divide that existed between members of the once-warring Kikuyu and Luo tribes and unite members of the groups through entrepreneurship.

The task was as humanitarian as it was about business plans and balance sheets.

Next month, as the program continues, 10 business men and women from the Kenyan town of Nyahururu in the Rift Valley will be in Chicago to participate in internships at

Chicago businesses involved in helping to train them.

“This program looks to engage youth and give them other options for their future to consider, and also hone their business skills,” said Heartland International President Julia Stagliano.

They are all members of the Kenyan Young Entrepreneur Association – started out of this program – and are set to arrive here Oct. 22 and stay through Nov. 19.

The workshops, seminars and the exchange of business an cultural ideas and experiences over the four weeks that the Kenyans will be in the city are all designed to help them with their own business aspirations back home and foster “peace through entrepreneurship,” Molly O’Donnell, director of the program for Heartland International, told the Defender.

She explained that to be successful, the members of the Kenyan Young Entrepreneur Association would have to, “Get away from the idea of the ethnic tensions or the tribal tensions and forge the concept of business partners.”

More simply said that done, but O’Donnell said, “that was the way to both bridge the issues and address the concepts of the violence and unemployment but also create something that, in a sense fostered … developing a relationship between ethnic groups and even forcing them to work together to succeed.”

Their industry interests vary.

One participant owns a beauty salon and is looking to open another one that is more upscale and offers a wider variety of services. Two other tech-minded men who currently own an Internet cafΘ and do computer repair look forward to exploring how they may be able to up their business. Other participants include ones in the real-estate with goals of developing housing in their homeland.

The Kenyan business men an women, all age 25 to 35, not only have to deal with inter-ethnic disputes, but also other biases that often hinder economic success among young adults in the African nation, O’Donnell explained.

In their homeland, their age is assumed to be indicative of their wisdom – or lack of – and level of responsibility and O’Donnell said that simply because of how old they are, getting a bank loan to start or sustain their own business can be difficult.

“A lot of banks won’t give them loans just because they’re (for example) 30 years old and they’re considered too young to be responsible,” she said.

But as a group, the young entrepreneurs are much more “empowering.”

The organization is still in need of more businesses to place the Kenyans for internships, as well as homes for them to stay in. Any business or individual interested in hosted should contact Molly O’Donnell at molly@heartlandinternational.org or Julie Stagliano jstagliano@heartlandinternational.org.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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