Businesses, governments, and citizens around the world increasingly recognize the challenges caused by our “take-make-dispose” linear approach to the production and consumption of goods and services. As a result of these actions, we now have more waste streams, such as plastics, textiles, food, and electronics, that are being dumped in landfills at an increasing rate. This has posed a threat, brought about environmental degradation and annually a global budget of around $400 billion (about $1,200 per person in the US) (Le Courtois, 2012; UNEP, 2011).) spent on waste processing worldwide.  

It is estimated that Kenya generates between 3,000 to 4,000 tons of waste per day, majority of which originates from urban areas. According to the World Bank, the country’s capital, Nairobi, generates between 2,000 to 2,500 tons of waste per day. The portion is significant to the total waste generated in the country due to the city’s dense population and high urbanization rate. How can we best remove such huge impacts brought about by the take-make-dispose system?

Let us go circular!

Going circular  

Did you know that waste can be a valuable resource? In a circular economy, waste is not seen as something to be thrown away, but rather as a valuable asset that can be reused, recycled, or repurposed. This approach aims to eliminate waste and promote the safe and sustainable use of natural resources. By adopting a circular economy model, businesses, society, and the environment can all benefit. Not only does it help reduce waste and minimize the extraction of natural resources, but it also creates new economic opportunities and promotes sustainable consumption and production patterns. The United Nations recognizes the importance of the circular economy in achieving sustainable development goals. SDG 12 focuses on sustainable consumption and production patterns, while SDG 8 aims to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth with full and productive employment for all. By embracing a circular economy, we can work towards these goals and create a better future for all.  

In Kenya, the circular economy has gained significant momentum in recent years. Publications like "Kenya is transitioning to a circular economy" by KEPSA in partnership with The Rock Group, in 2021 highlight the country's efforts in this area. Moreover, laws and regulations around extended producer responsibility have been introduced, emphasizing the importance of environmental management throughout a product's life cycle. However, as a continent, Africa faces unique challenges in adopting circular practices. With the emergence of new waste streams such as plastic and e-waste, it is crucial to embrace innovative approaches that are tailored to the African context. This transition requires unprecedented collaboration and interventions.

Setting a circular ecosystem.

Amidst the growing awareness of circular economy principles in Kenya, a transformative project emerged in 2019. The collaboration between MDF Training and Consultancy, Crosswise Works, Close the Gap Kenya, and the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) resulted in the BOOST project. This ambitious initiative aimed to build a circular ecosystem in Mombasa, empowering the youth, creating jobs, and fostering sustainable digital tools through a matching grant investment by the Netherlands Enterprise Fund (RVO) within their SDGP facility. The project would be implemented by working with young job seekers, entrepreneurs, innovators, established businesses, universities, community-based organizations, government agencies, and Mombasa residents. 

Under this backdrop, a young Entrepreneurial lady, Noor Yahya came to the BOOST Project. Noor’s story is unique, she first came to the program through the business incubation program; Boost Your Business pillar led by Crosswise Works. The incubation program selects promising start-ups and entrepreneurs after application and takes them through a 12-week fully funded incubation program. Startups with feasible and viable business ideas go through business model canvas training integrating circular economy approaches and are guided towards marketing and registering their businesses.

Noor Yahya had established a niche in the ICT repair and maintenance space. With a Computer Science Degree and 7+ years or working experience in the ICT repair sector, she had begun repairing and maintaining ICT assets from phones, computers, and laptops. As she went about her vocation, she realized a growing need for repair and maintenance among the female Arab community she comes from. The need emerged from phones and gadgets that have not reached the end of life having technical issues however, due to the need for privacy, women were more likely to keep their gadgets in their houses. Reason being most of them would have content, and pictures without their cultural gear and would be hesitant to have the phones repaired by male technicians, yet there were hardly any female technicians within the community other than Noor. Noor Yahya saw this as an opportunity to not only transfer skills in repair and maintenance but to also provide young women from her community and in the Mombasa community at large with the opportunity to work in a predominantly male profession.  This led to the start of NTECH Training Center, which she sought to grow through the incubation program.  

Ntech establishment

Noor's vision materialized as the ICT repair and maintenance program, a flagship initiative of NTECH Solutions—an ICT repair and training center for women, by women. Founded in 2020, its purpose is to create a safe space for women, empower them, and respect their cultural preferences by having female technicians handle their digital devices. Additionally, the program aims to raise awareness among clients about adopting secure and advanced technologies for their businesses. A critical factor in the improvement of the status of women is education which is indispensable for playing many of the modern roles.

Noor Yahya NTECH Founder

On completion of the incubation program, Noor learned that the BOOST project was working on repair and maintenance curricula with the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA), led by the Boost your Learning Pillar implemented by MDF Training and Consultancy. This led to a conversation on partnership due to the similar interest in training and curricular development on repair and maintenance as well as the focus on youth and women. NTECH partnered with Boost Your Learning pillar since August 2021, to successfully run the first cohort of the repair and maintenance program. Boost your learning pillar supports NTECH in the development of the curriculum, providing a trainer and technical advice to run NTECH activities. Further to this support, the Boost Your Learning Pillar built the capacity of the interns and staff at NTECH through the skills development track.

Partnership engagement.

NTECH in the past relied on the goodwill of different organizations to provide training space, equipment, and curricula. At inception of the program, Close the Gap hub hosted initial cohorts at Ratna square within The Televic room which is fully equipped with internet, training resources and computers. Boost your learning and Boost your tech have also made donations of tools and equipment to further the effort of equipping these women with ICT repair and maintenance skills. The ICT repair and maintenance program helps the trainees learn about specific computer skills such as Basic computer application skills, fundamentals of computer repair and maintenance, hands-on skills on hardware & software maintenance, troubleshooting tips & error handling as well as networking.

As technology advances and workplace strategies evolve, there is a need for trainees to align with these changes in terms of knowledge and skills. One of the best ways to enhance knowledge and skills has been to provide the trainees with relevant and consistent training to help improve performance and efficiency at the workplace. Boost your Learning also provided training on circular economy & greening the workspace, decent work, employability skills, work readiness, interview skills, CV writing skills, trainer of trainers, internship programs and coaching.

Internship program

The continued partnership with Boost your Learning (BYL) led to 2 participants from NTECH taking part in the internship program to provide them with unique opportunities for learning outside of academic settings. The program exposes the trainees to new tasks and provides real-world hands-on experience. The interns worked with BYL to support NTECH daily operations and train other participants with the lead trainer. Rahma and Iftisam both alumni of the program, currently serve as full time trainers at NTECH Training Centre in Mombasa.

Through this approach, NTECH and BYL empower young women, contributing to more female technicians. This aligns to Circular economy through repair and maintenance while providing decent work opportunities to young women. By gaining these skills they can contribute to the circular approach of using ICT assets more sustainably rather than the current use and store away approach.  

Cohort 4 poses for a photo after certificate issuance

Having skilled female technicians create job opportunities for women while also giving them a sense of belonging. Out of the program, 2 students have gotten internship opportunities at different organizations.

  • MDF through Boost Your learning also offered coaching to the trainees.
  • Rise of Entrepreneurs – one student doubles up as a baker and a repair technician.  

NTECH Partnerships

  • American Space (MEWA) sponsored NTECH’s training by providing a fully furnished training space with tables, chairs, screen, internet connection, storage facility for tools and computers.
  • Through the founder’s, networks, and prospecting NTECH secured a training space at The Arab Welfare Association of Kenya (AWAKE) building at Makupa – Mombasa to scale up its training. The space has a reception area, 2 training rooms, an office, 2 washrooms and kitchen area.
  • COMRED (Coastal & Marine Resource Development) through boost your learning donated computers to the program.

The program is being offered at a reduced cost to the ladies to help defray some of NTECH's costs. Also, whereas running a free program promotes dependency, NTECH's goal is to foster individual independence. When a student pays for the course, she is more likely to take it seriously, value it, and dedicate herself to studying. The fee has been subsidized to make the program more affordable and accessible to women who may not have high income.

Testimonial & personal reflections.

As an Equity Bank intern in Mombasa, I graduated from the ICT repair program. When a computer broke down at the branch, I stepped in to fix it, impressing my colleagues and branch manager - Rebecca
I discovered the ICT repair program through friends and supervisor. Ideal for my interest in fixing machines and tailored for women. Successfully completed the program, received job recommendation and software engineering scholarship. - Maryam  
I learned about the ICT repair program through a friend's poster on International Women's Day. Perfect fit for my IT background. Expanded skills and network, gained confidence in handling machines. - Becky
I received the ICT repair program poster from my brother on March 5th, 2022. Gained hardware skills through the program. Interned as a trainer at Ntech, improving problem-solving and networks. Mentorship under Ntech director fueled social and economic growth. - Rahma

NTECH was looking to reach more women to create impact by scaling up the existing training center and reaching out to more young women within Mombasa. As of June 2023, Ntech is now a fully licensed and accredited training institute, fully furnished, and can accommodate 30 students per cohort.