Africa Sep 19, 2016
KENYA: Fredrick Ouko lives the mantra that disability is not inability, and his mission is to make sure the job market internalises this idea.
To make sure this happens, the 33-year-old has created a mobile application that helps link employers to jobseekers with disabilities.
Various reports have found that persons with disabilities are often the poorest of the poor, with their disability often denying them job opportunities. To turn the tide, Mr Ouko launched Riziki Source in October 2015 after years of research and a search for funding.
And the business is already making waves in the market.
Before he ventured out on his own, the Nairobi University political science graduate worked on issues of disability and employment for about six years.
Through a non-profit he ran called Action Network for the Disabled, he would organise meetings with employers to support the unemployed.
“I looked for job placements to convince employers that people with disabilities can work just as well as their counterparts without disabilities if they are given equal opportunities,” said Ouko.
In these meetings, a common sentiment expressed by employers was that it was difficult locating individuals with disabilities.
“This complaint struck a chord with me, and I began to think about how to rectify this gap by making it easier for employers to connect with prospective employees who have disabilities,” Ouko said.
Technology, in his opinion, would offer the best solution, so he and his team began researching on how it could be used to address the challenges faced by people like himself.
“I did a lot of online research on how technology has eased the job search for disabled people in various countries around the world, including holding Skype meetings with people from as far away as Israel, the UK and Ireland to know exactly what needs to happen,” said Ouko.
He finally settled on creating a mobile application.
“Our mobile application is linked to a short code to ensure that any type of phone can send a message, and the information added to our database,” Ouko said.
“We are able to help anyone looking for a job from any corner of this country, irrespective of how basic their phone is.”
The platform requires a person with a disability who is looking for a job or internship to SMS the word ‘Kazi’ to 21499 at a cost of Sh1.
The user is then asked a series of questions through text messages, and the answers aggregated into a profile of the client.
The profile captures the type of disability, level of qualification, job being sought, and so on. The user is also required to send a CV either in soft copy or a hard copy that is then digitised.
Riziki Source enables employers to view the profiles of jobseekers to identify potential hires at a small fee.
Companies that sign up onto the platform can also post vacancies for jobs specifically set aside for people with disabilities, and receive training on how to accommodate such workers.
“People with disabilities face several physical challenges, including accessing buildings that do not have ramps, which can diminish their chances of being employed,” Ouko said.
He added that people with disabilities who go out looking for jobs are sometimes denied entry into buildings, the assumption being they are going in to disturb the peace.
Riziki Source seeks to eradicate these types of indignities that people with disabilities encounter in their job search.
His innovation is getting the right kind of attention already, with Ouko named one of six finalists at this year’s E4Impact Challenge, organised in partnership with Business Beat, that recognises East African innovators.
Riziki Source’s goal is to reach 30 per cent of Kenyans with disabilities, who are estimated to be six million, going by the latest national census figures. According to Ouko, 80 per cent of these people are unemployed, and it is not because they lack of qualifications.
The company also plans to establish accessible job centres to access more people in need.
“We estimate that the business will be profitable within two years, and we have intentions to scale up into other African countries that need a similar service for persons with disabilities,” Ouko said.
He hopes that in five years’ time, the company will have representation in the country’s 47 counties, as well as two other African countries.