Today, on the 11th anniversary of the United Nations (UN) International Day of the Girl Child, we shine a spotlight on the progress and persistent challenges that young women face.
This year, we focus on Kenya, which like many nations has witnessed increased awareness of the issues that matter most to girls, leading to improved opportunities to have their voices heard on the world stage. However, amid concurrent global crises such as the economic recovery from COVID-19, climate change, and humanitarian conflicts, investments in girls’ rights remain limited. While Kenya has made significant strides in promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, girls continue to grapple with various obstacles hindering them from realizing their full potential.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report is a longstanding index that monitors countries’ progress in narrowing gender gaps since its inception in 2006. The 2023 report positions Kenya at 77th place among 146 countries, indicating that there is room for improvement. Further to this, the representation of women in decision-making processes in Kenya remains inadequate, and gender-based violence lingers as a pressing issue. Women and girls continue to spend extensive hours on household responsibilities, such as fetching firewood and water, which not only hinders their school attendance rates and employment prospects but also impacts their overall well-being.
How can Kenya empower its girls and young women to overcome these challenges and achieve their full potential? One promising solution is mentorship, which can provide guidance, support, and access to opportunities that young women might not otherwise have.
Forging a Path to Empowerment
In Kenya, the youth (ages 15-24) unemployment rate hovered at around 13.35% in 2022, with little improvement from the previous year. To improve these statistics, mentors can serve as role models, demonstrating what is possible when women break down barriers and enter the labor force. Through mentorship, young women can gain valuable insights into various career paths, access networks, and receive advice on navigating the challenges they may face.
“At SAP, we believe that educating girls and women is one of the most effective ways to promote economic growth,” says Alexandra van der Ploeg, global head of Global CSR at SAP. “With this in mind, our Business Women’s Network joined hands with the Global Give Back Circle in 2019 with the aim to support vulnerable girls and young women based in Kenya. This initiative not only acknowledges the resourcefulness, creativity, resilience, and unwavering tenacity that girls embody in the face of adversity, but also actively harnesses these qualities. Through the impact of mentorship, education, and sponsorship, the program drives empowerment and achievement for these girls and young women.”
SAP employees volunteer as mentors, dedicating their time and contributing $1,000 annually, a commitment that is matched and directed by the company toward beneficiaries’ tuition, school materials, and exposure to industry intellectual property. The $2,000 covers a university scholarship for one year. At-risk girls require extra assistance to shift from a state of marginalization to one of empowerment. This support encompasses access to information, expanding their perspectives on possibilities, gaining 21st-century skills and life skills, as well as a caliber of mentoring that steers transformative leadership.
Operating in close partnership with local high schools and communities, the initiative pairs high school and college girls with inspirational mentors from across the globe. It provides them with a toolbox of skills, bolstering self-confidence and fostering crucial networks essential for success, both in the workforce and as budding entrepreneurs. Closing the gap between education and employment equips the girls and young women with knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce.
Collaborative Achievements Have Formed a Springboard for Success
The 2023 achievements of SAP’s mentor chapter for Global Give Back Circle are a testament to the commitment of SAP colleagues and the program’s vision. Monthly meetings, mentor-mentee pairings, financial support, and mentorship from 12 SAP colleagues have made a tangible difference in the lives of 12 young women.
When asked about what they enjoyed about the program, a first-year student at the University of Nairobi shared the following feedback: “Seeing how our mentors care about us and how they gave us much-needed advice in life situations really impacted me,” Another mentee who is currently a first-year student from the Coast Institute of Technology added that they liked the fact that they were encouraged to share their unique viewpoints, both on and offline: “The program taught me that I should not be afraid to air out my points of view in a public place. I feel enlightened on how to build my communication skills.”
The Global Give Back Circle also emphasizes the importance of bridging cultural differences, career development, and preparing mentees for the job market. As these girls and young women transition into the labor market, they contribute to the country’s GDP by bolstering its workforce and fostering economic development. In addition, Kenya’s GDP also stands to benefit further from the inclusion of a skilled and empowered female workforce. This mentorship initiative aligns with Kenya’s broader efforts to achieve gender equality, thereby contributing to a more equitable society and sustainable economic progress.
Mentorship can have profound impact on both individual lives and the overall prosperity of a nation. With the right skills and opportunities, these girls and young women can be the changemakers who drive progress in their communities.
The Future Looks Promising
In line with our purpose, SAP’s objective is to create positive economic, environmental, and social impact within planetary boundaries with a special focus on climate action, the circular economy, social responsibility, and holistic steering and reporting.
As we celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, SAP’s mentor chapter for the Global Give Back Circle stands as an encouraging example of the power of mentorship and investment in girls’ education. We hope that the success of this partnership will serve as a source of inspiration for nations to invest in their young women.
By empowering girls and young women with essential skills, education, and mentorship, we unlock the boundless potential of Kenya’s female population. Collaboration between the private sector and local communities not only changes individual lives, but also contributes to the growth of the Kenyan economy, paving the way for a brighter future for all.
Girls are not just beneficiaries of change, but powerful agents of progress who, with the right support, can shape a more inclusive and prosperous world for everyone.
Samantha Naidoo works in Global Strategic Initiatives at SAP.