By Carolin Averbeck
Can fostering social media and digital marketing skills development improve international trade? In May this year, more than 40 young Kenyan women successfully graduated from SITA’s Social and Digital Marketing programme – a pilot initiative implemented in collaboration with the Kenyan social enterprise Kuza Biashara.
Following an intense three-month training programme, 34 young women interned for a further three months in companies across various sectors, supporting the development and implementation of their employers’ social media and digital marketing strategies. Some graduates preferred to focus on the development of their own businesses, applying new skills and knowledge to strengthen their own companies’ digital outreach.
I had the opportunity to interact with these young women at various stages of the programme. At the end of their internships, I wanted to catch up with them and get a first-hand report of their experiences. I sat with some of the young women at Kuza Biashara, listening to their stories.
Soon, a silent room turned into a cacophony of voices. Terms like “Google AdWords” and “web analytics” echoed from each corner of the room. Only a few months earlier, I was sitting in the very same room, observing these young women who were trying to follow their trainer’s explanations on the principle of search engine optimization. It was technical, theoretical and very detailed. I could see many questions on the faces of the young women. Now, these very same women were proudly sharing their success stories on how they had managed to secure new clients or more business deals for their employers through social media and digital marketing. One of the young entrepreneurs had even managed to export her products to international markets for the very first time. As a result, her sales have quadrupled.
I was very impressed. But I also wanted to hear what their employers had to say. When we designed the initiative, to help bridge the gap between industry and education, we were looking for that one technical skill that employers in the IT industry urgently need but often fail to find. We launched an online survey to identify this high-demand skill across the Kenyan IT industry. Social media and digital marketing skills ranked high on the list, and hence became the focus of the training programme. What we found was that this skill-set would also be in high demand for companies beyond the IT sector.
Over 75 per cent of our graduates opted for the post-training internship and were placed in various companies, from small to large-scale business, from a security company to a steel manufacturer. Employers paid these interns, which is not yet a standard practice in East Africa. We asked some of the employers if the internships had made a positive impact on their business, and if so, how? According to the feedback we received, with the support of our interns, companies were able to strengthen brand visibility, gradually improve the success rates of their digital marketing campaigns, identify new clients and save costs for services they would normally outsource but could now do in-house.
“I was impressed by the knowledge and skills that the intern brought to our organisation. I would definitely be willing to take others,” said the director of a leading manufacturer of packaging, disposable products and food services in Kenya.
Today, 55 per cent of graduates have confirmed full-time employment – their employers either extended their internships, offered them an entry job or the graduates opted to pursue their own business ventures. We expect the numbers to further increase over the course of the coming months, and we will continue to monitor the career prospects and progress of these young women.
So, what are the lessons learned from this pilot programme? From the perspective of a development specialist, I would argue that there several key factors determining the success of such a training initiative:
I personally believe that SITA’s pilot initiative is already a success, calling for scaling up across the region. There is a high demand in East Africa for young people with talents in digital media and social marketing skills. Also, the skills required for digital content preparation (e.g. video editing) are in demand across the region. I expect that this demand will continue to grow. Many companies still need to realise the opportunity of digital media and social marketing, helping them to access new markets in the region and internationally, which remains a key challenge for them.