Mr Simon Gicharu, CBS Founder , Chairman Board of Trustees
Mount Kenya University (MKU), the largest private, Chartered and ISO Certified institution of higher learning in East Africa has scored another first with the launch of the Enterprise Academy. This one-of-a-kind initiative will seek to cultivate entrepreneurship among young people, as a way of creating jobs, propelling self-sustenance and boosting the country’s economy. It comes hot on the heels of the signing of several academic linkages meant to enhance training and industrial partnerships. SIMON GICHARU, CBS, the university’s founder and patron of the Academy spoke to EVANS ONGWAE.
ONGWAE: Unemployment - in Kenya is very high .Of the 40% unemployed, 70% are youth. Why should Mount Kenya University continue training for the various certifications including PhDs Degrees, Certificates and Diplomas?
SIMON GICHARU:Our emphasis is not exclusively on pursuit of gainful employment upon graduation, but on training innovative minds that will produce generic or creative ideas with a potential for value addition to existing enterprises. We especially want to enhance the devolved systems of government at County level and support growth and prosperity in rural areas.
ONGWAE: What is the Enterprise Academy?
GICHARU: The Enterprise Academy is a three-month intensive residential programme conducted by our Research, Enterprise and Innovation Development Centre. It seeks to whet entrepreneurial skills among our alumni. Fifteen candidates will be admitted to the Academy through a competitive process. They will then undergo an enhanced and intensive training on entrepreneurship for a period of three months. The 10 best contestants will receive KSh8 mil- lion to convert their business ideas into realistic commercial ventures. The Academy, which will run every year for five years, underlines our commitment to ensure our students actualize their entrepreneurial dreams. As you know, the most common barrier of entry into business for young people is lack of seed capital and adequate skills on starting and managing a business. The Enterprise Academy, like the Uwezo Fund by the government, seeks to bridge this gap, albeit in a different fashion. The KSh40 million Academy kitty will complement the Vice- Chancellor Research grant, awarded annually to the tune of KSh10 million. We want them to think outside the box, to be inspired, and to aim to become self-reliant through innovation and entrepreneurship. That’s why the Academy’s motto is “transforming students to job creators”. You must have seen the report that Kenya is ranked fourth among countries with the most millionaires in Africa, with 8,400 millionaires. Well, America, which credits most of its economic success to entrepreneurship, has five million millionaires. It’s true what Michael Stolper writes in his book Wealth: An Owner’s Manu- al: There are only three ways to become wealthy-winning the lottery, saving money over a long period of time or starting your own business. We want the next survey of Kenyan millionaires to include a good number of MKU alumni. Besides the Academy, we have also established the Workforce Transition Program to equip our graduates with adequate and relevant skills to make them competitive in the job market.
ONGWAE: What is your vision for the future growth of MKU?
GICHARU:I envision every MKU Campus to have its own infrastructure supporting teaching, research and community outreach functions in the next five years. Currently, we have 12 Campuses in East Africa.
ONGWAE: Recently, the university achieved milestones in various collaborations including that with the University of Cincinnati, USA. How is the progress?
GICHARU: The University of Cincinnati is a leader in research and we aim to co-operate in various aspects of research including joint publication. A team of Professors and researchers visited our Thika Main Campus last July to keep tabs on the progress of this partnership. Later this year, we will send a delegation to reciprocate this visit and chart the way forward for the exchange programme implementation.
ONGWAE: We have seen the setting up of various state-of-the-art facilities to support training at the university. What is your budget since developments require a lot of money?
GICHARU:We have invested over Ksh 4 billion in the last three years at our various Campuses to enhance teaching and research. Our goal is to ensure that learning resources are not constrained as student population grows.
QUESTION: You have established various campuses employing a large number of academic and non-academic staff. In fact, MKU is the largest private university employer. Do you get support from the Exchequer or grants to support this?
GICHARU: As you know, we are a non-profit making institution. The most important thing we need from the government is a level playing ground and an enabling environment for us to operate. We are playing our part in developing human resource capital for the country and we acknowledge the government’s approval of our high quality training through accreditation of all our professional courses.
ONGWAE: What are your future plans on sustainability of the university?
GICHARU: Currently, the university has invested and will continue investing heavily to ensure there are proper systems and governance structures. Institutions should not basically survive because of the founder’s physical presence but should have the vision carried on by generations.
ONGWAE: What are you doing in making MKU a world-class university?
GICHARU: There are deliberate efforts to continuously upgrade infrastructure, and improve quality as evidenced in the recent commissioning of the Chancellor’s Tower, the tallest building in Kiambu County, and acquisition of the ISO 9001:2008 certification. In terms of quality, besides adherence to the regulatory requirements of all government bodies for our approved courses, we have established a Directorate of Quality Assurance to always ensure our standards are at par with the best. We are also continuously expanding our ICT facilities, since this is at the core of teaching and research.