Interview: lecturer Maarten van Eeuwijk teaches entrepreneurship at Egerton University in Kenya
In September of 2018, Professor Rose A. Mwonya (Vice Chancellor) and Professor Alexander K. Kahi (Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs) at Egerton University in Kenya visited HAS University of Applied Sciences, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding and to strengthen the collaboration between the two institutions.
This collaboration stems from a Nuffic project to exchange knowledge and help establish the incubator: CoELIB incubar. The initiative is aimed at supporting start-up businesses and strengthening the Livestock Value Chain, and the agro-food sector as a whole. Maarten van Eeuwijk is one of the lecturers at HAS University of Applied Sciences who helped set up the collaboration. Before he returns to Kenya shortly, he tells us about his activities there.
How did you become involved in the project?
“At HAS, I’ve been involved in teaching entrepreneurship for several years, and I coordinate the Top-Class Business Programme. Within this programme, students are given the opportunity to set up their own business. At the start of 2017, I was asked by Q-Point in Wageningen to take part in the Nuffic project at Egerton in Kenya, on the recommendation of my colleague Gert-Jan Duives. In May 2017, I went there for the first time, to carry out a ‘capacity & facility’ assessment. As part of this assessment, we determined what would be necessary to set up an education programme within CoELIB incubar, in particular in terms of the staff’s skill set. I came back invigorated: Egerton was busy building an entrepreneurship centre on the campus for CoELIB incubar. The members of staff, the lecturers and the students I met all had an entrepreneurial mindset. I saw the potential and wanted to contribute to the project.”
What is your role within the project?
In principle, I go to Egerton once every 6 months for a week, to teach the centre’s staff. It’s a so-called ToT, or Training of Trainers programme, in which I teach the lecturers and coaches skills in coaching and entrepreneurship, and about competence-based education. The ultimate goal of this project is capacity building: Getting CoELIB incubar to a level that will enable us to bring 25 successful start-ups to market by 2021. To achieve this, the lecturers/coaches will need to be able to support and guide the young entrepreneurs properly.”
What’s Kenya like in terms of entrepreneurship?
“In Kenya, there’s an urgent need for entrepreneurship to boost the economy and provide the population with enough healthy food. Unfortunately, setting up a concept similar to Top-Class at HAS University of Applied Sciences isn’t possible at the moment. So, participating in CoELIB incubar is an extra activity for students, and is not part of their study programme. They often enrol after completing their bachelor, while saving up to pay for their master. I repeatedly ask the question why would you do a master’s if you already have a successful business? In addition, jobs in the government are really tempting, because they offer better working conditions and more security. In practice, young entrepreneurs often quit their business after a short while to enter paid employment, sometimes at the university itself, or they go on to take their master’s degree after all. It’s a shame, but understandable. This is why we’re working with Egerton to do everything we can to encourage them to choose entrepreneurship and to stick with it.”
What have you experienced in Kenya?
“It’s an awesome inter-cultural experience. I’ve been there 3 times now. Kenya is an upcoming country and the people I meet are really motivated. I think the younger generation are definitely making a transition and they’re keen to develop themselves further. This makes it really enjoyable to work with them. The Kenyans are also very welcoming. When I’m there, everything is taken care of superbly.”
What do you think about Kenyan culture?
Kenyan culture is rather complicated. There’s no such thing as a single Kenyan culture. There are more than 40 ethnic groups living in the country, each with their own traditions and customs. The entrepreneurship centre is a real melting pot of people from those various ethnic groups. This can make it challenging at times to truly understand each other, even if it’s just because they all have their own native language, and Swahili is their second language. English may be the language of education but, in fact, it’s their third language. However, Kenya certainly is a beautiful mix of people with unique talents. And we’d like to bring these talents to the surface. I teach the lecturers/coaches how they can coach students in this. In Kenya, the political situation isn’t very stable, so we keep an eye on the travel advice given by the Dutch government. So far, just one of my training weeks has been postponed, but I was able to go back in April 2019. Anyway, the project will continue for another one and a half years, and I hope to be able to go back a few more times.”