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Opportunities Abound, Employment is just one of them

In November 2022, I facilitated a SACCO member education day. The education day was unique because the company from which the SACCO draws its membership was winding up its operations and the employees were going to be redundant by end of January 2022. On the bright side, the employer was to pay the employees a severance package that will included 2 months’ salary in lieu of notice, accumulated and outstanding leave days as well as one month’s salary for every year worked. Another bright side to the story is the fact that the severance package would be sufficient to off-set loans owed by each of the SACCO’s borrowers. Consequently, none of the members would be indebted to the SACCO while all guarantees were to be discharged.

What touched me the most was the perspective by some of the members to the effect that the SACCO had no future. These members argued that the SACCO should be liquidated with each member taking home their accumulated savings. This was even after I had made my presentation where I had given examples of other SACCOs that have survived the demise of their main employer as well as a Boda Boda riders’ SACCO in Nanyuki who started by saving as little as KES 50 per day and currently own a KES 150 Million estate in Nanyuki. To these individuals, loss of a job was tantamount to permanent economic incapacitation and they could not fathom how they can borrow a loan and repay in future – without a job.

The second group of members were relaxed and advocated that there was no need to wind up the SACCO since there were other economic opportunities from which they could raise income, be able to save, borrow and repay loans. To this group, other jobs, businesses and even casual labor were some of the possibilities come January 2023. Some also had confidence that their spouses would support them as they ventured into business.

This scenario reminded me of my time growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. We were made to believe that going to school was the only way to a better life. In school, one was supposed to pursue good grades which would in turn help one secure a good white collar job. The message was initiated at home, reinforced in school and backed up within the community. Relatives, friends and neighbors who had white collar jobs were used as examples of how education led to employment and good life thereafter. The reinforcement went as far as having a theme song on Voice of Kenya, Now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, being played every morning encouraging children to go to school and study so that they can thereafter get good jobs. In Kiswahili, the song went thus “someni vijana, muongeze pia bidi, mwhso wa kusoma, mtapata kazi nzuri sana.

Once employed, one’s status in society immediately changed with adjectives such as X the teacher, Y the Doctor, W the bank clerk amongst others being commonplace. While at the workplace, the notion that the job is permanent was promoted. In addition, the prospect of job loss with resultant loss of status was portrayed as terminal. I recall the many times I and my colleagues were threatened with the sack and reminded that being dismissed from employment – especially by a bank – would bring an end to someone’s career.

There are a few truths that were not told in school, home and at the workplace. Chief amongst them was the fact that education is a means to a better livelihood with several options such as self-employment, entrepreneurship and employment. We were also not told that no job is permanent since each appointment letter (I had six in total) has a termination clause which states that either party can terminate the contract either by giving a specified notice period or making a payment in lieu of notice. In addition, there is also the probability that the employer can voluntarily wind up or go bankrupt and therefore rendering all employees redundant. Another truth that was kept away from us was the fact that the corporations who acted as employers were formed by human beings and we therefore had the capacity to form companies and become employers in the long run. Lastly, we were also not told that we had the ability to make a living by utilizing our natural talents in areas such as writing, sports, literature, art, music and poetry amongst others and probably use the money generated from these talents to form corporations that would employ thousands.

I write the above having left formal employment in 2011 on a voluntary retirement basis though the “voluntary” part was not so voluntary. At some point, I felt helpless and hopeless since the job had almost become a part of my identity. My saving grace came when I accepted that my talents were sufficient to help me earn a living. Since that time, I have facilitated numerous training seminars on short contracts (some only one day). I have also taught in several colleges and universities on short contracts. Most importantly, I also formed a training company and has employed a few persons on short assignments. I also know several former colleagues in banking who ventured into real estate, farming, audit and oil marketing business amongst others and are currently employers. I therefore restate that opportunities abound with employment being only one of them.

Dr Weru Mwangi is the Chief Executive at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in Training and Consulting in Finance, Governance and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@umslgroup.com or +254 788 858570.

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