Training Entrepreneurs Through Sign Language in Kwale County, Kenya

August 28, 2023

People who live with hearing impairments have been given a more challenging hand in society. However,  it also means these individuals tend to be seasoned overcomers who possess grit and a mindset that finds alternative solutions to challenges — traits that are needed in entrepreneurship.

Recently, we celebrated the success of 21 deaf participants who completed our 12-week tailored Aspire course in the coastal settlement of Matuga in Kwale County, Kenya. Their graduation was the final event of a two-year GoBlue NOW partnership between Sinapis, GIZ (German Agency for International Cooperation), and the EU. It was also the start of an exciting entrepreneurial journey for this group of inspiring individuals.

Many of the participants already had skill sets and jobs in various sectors. Some were masons. Others were cooks. Others made and sold jewelry. Each hopes to one day start a business. Our 12-week Aspire course honed the ideas of these early-stage entrepreneurs and offered practical instruction on business essentials. Each week, two sign language interpreters conveyed lessons to participants on topics ranging from “Knowing Your Customer” and “Building the Model to Scale,” to “Discovering the Bottom Line” and “Planning for the Future.” Sinapis designed the class using as many visuals as possible and handouts for subsequent use.

A 2019 Kenya National Population Census estimates that there are 153,381 deaf people over the age of five in the country. Kenya Sign Language (KSL) is their predominant method of communication in two dialects — “Kisumu” in Western Kenya, and “Mombasa” in South Eastern Kenya. According to the Kenya Disability Resource, “People who are deaf and identify with the Deaf community see themselves as a language minority, not a disability group … .” In fact, all public broadcasting stations in Kenya are required by law to incorporate sign language into their television programs. We decided it was time to offer customized training to this capable segment of society.

What’s next for these graduates? Our partner, Somo Africa, has onboarded them to a digital platform called Digikua (translation: digi-growth) that will serve as a mobile solution to support digitizing business records. The Kenyan government’s Ministry of Youth Affairs is willing to provide interest-free credit to obtain capital and has offered additional training and venues where they can meet on a regular basis. As Sinapis Alumni, graduates join a growing coastal networking community that has access to coaching, mentors, referrals, and Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

Robert Wahome, Sinapis’ Coastal Program Manager, sees even more benefits:

“This experience really showed how we can intentionally reach marginalized communities through our training as well as broadcast to our Alumni network the need to hire such persons.”

Sinapis plans to utilize the lessons and outcomes of the course for future interventions in both Kenya and globally, sharing what we’ve learned with our partners. It will be a beautiful “circling back” to Bluefields, our network partner that sparked the idea for Sinapsis’ recent training after they offered Aspire to a cluster of deaf students in Brazil.