Fredrick Ouko tells us how Riziki Source is a convenience to both employers and people with disability
By Caroline Mwendwa
Imagine a scenario where a group of people sit in a lobby awaiting to take turns to face a panel of interviewers for a job. Each candidate crossing their fingers, hoping to make an impression that wins them the opportunity. Fredrick Ouko, a Political Science and Sociology graduate and certified social innovation manager with extensive experience in the field once found himself in this situation. But when his turn to face the panel came, he came to face with a reality he didn’t anticipate. Being a person living with disability, Ouko’s session was evidently short compared to the candidates who went before him. And this struck him as blatant discrimination. He was a graduate with experience enough to merit a hearing. This he says is the predicament of many people out there living with disability. Despite their competences, they are considered unfit for job opportunities, even when their type of disability does not limit their performance. This experience was an impetus enough to prompt Ouko to launch Riziki Source a social enterprise leveraging on technology to help people living with disability connect with job opportunities, while at the same time making it easier for employers looking to recruit them, locate them.
“Through experience, I realised that people have this perception about people with disability, that even though they look for jobs, they seek them not because they qualify, but because they seek sympathy,’’ says the social entrepreneur who is now pursuing an MBA in social entrepreneurship. His venture therefore seeks to dissuade this perception since there are so many people living with disability that have trained and acquired skills for the jobs they seek.
How it works
Riziki Source operates through a mobile phone application and an online option and seeks to serve both employers and job seekers. For the mobile phone application, an individual looking for a job sends an SMS ‘kazi’ to a short code 21499 and the app responds through questions about the identity, location, level of education, type of job being looked for and the type of disability of the applicant. On answering these questions, the team at Riziki Source opens an account for the person on the job seekers platform, with the details provided. From this platform potential employers can see the people applying for jobs their qualifications and nature of disability which helps them offer supportive measures for them if they happen to be a job candidate for their organization.
In the same way, employers post requests for various categories of employees they wish to recruit. “Some employers would like to recruit people with disability especially to fulfill the requirement of 5% job opportunities for the people living with disability in every organization but the challenge could be where to get them from. Through Riziki Source, we have been able to connect such employers with potential employees.
In case someone is not in a position to use the digital approach, there is a provision for them to drop their Curriculum Vitae to the office and from there the documents are digitized and uploaded on the platform. The Web based platform serves those that are in a position to access internet and send their details via internet.
Apart from connecting jobseekers living with disability to potential employers, Riziki Source also offers services such as training and facilitating the applicants. “We offer training sessions to our registered members and others including members of staff of an organization that wants to train its employees on how to coexist with a colleague or colleagues living with disability. For applicants, the main lessons entail how to best write a curriculum Vitae and how to go about interviews in order to secure jobs.
Riziki Source also provides services to do with disability audit, where institutions ask for this service to determine how they can offer a supportive environment to employees with disability in terms of building structures and technological support. Also, before interviews, potential employers are informed on ways to best prepare to receive an interviewee with disability so that the set up can be friendly and they can be able to undertake the interview without feeling limited by factors such as accessibility of the venue, and availability of the right technological mechanisms. For example, someone with a condition of blindness would need a different kind of interview set up from someone without, and this where we come in,” says Ouko.
The trainings also entail lessons about the legal requirements of the employer to the employee living with disability.
In addition to training, Riziki Source supports successful applicants who may have landed a job that requires them to have certain tools such as computers yet they can’t afford them immediately. “In such cases, we lend the computer, and an office space if required for the first few months until the employee can fully sustain themselves. Another alternative is purchasing the computer for the person to repay as time goes.
This being a social enterprise, as Mr Ouko explains, there is need for sustainability. “To achieve this every person who secures a job through our intervention pays the organization 50% of their first salaries.”
Riziki Source still being a young venture has connected over 20 people and conducted training for 200 others and still counting.
The journey has not been all roses and no thorns but a learning process. Just like every other start up, acquiring the first capital was an uphill task, but as Ouko recalls, he was lucky to get help through a government official who felt like this is an idea that ought to be supported. This he says took them two years. He also laments about the high cost of advertising. We need to invest in marketing but funds limit us.”
In addition to these are the costs of maintaining the tech component for which they have regular payments to make.
Save for the costs, one other major challenge, is getting employers to sign up. “This whole set up is totally dependent on employers willingness to work with us. The process of creating these partnerships can take longer than desired but we have to push for them,” explains Mr Ouko. One major way of doing this he says is investing in meetings because this is where one is likely to meet potential employers and explain why the partnership is a win win. “Winning over an employer can take as long as two years, but as long as you maintain the PR, this is doable.”
Finally, the discrimination against people living with disability is still rife. As Ouko puts it, it’s so engrained in people’s minds that whenever they see a person with disability, they instantly think of a beggar, oblivious to the fact that this person could actually be doing much better than they are. This is still a challenge especially for Riziki Source who are looking to get job opportunities for them.
In the pipes
“We want to build a brand that is recognized such that when employers want to recruit an employee and is considering giving priority to a person with disability, they have us in mind.” Secondly, Riziki Source hopes to have physical presence in all counties in order to reach all without the geographical barrier. “We get requests from various places and would like to be able to serve our clients from a nearer office.” Even beyond Kenya, Riziki Source has aspirations to traverse borders to other countries to provide this service to even more people.
Considering the advancing technology that makes it possible for people to work from different locations, Mr Ouko says that in cases where this is possible, there is need for people with disability to be availed this alternative of working from home and this is among the things Riziki Source is planning to advocate and facilitate for.
For him, the future of employment for people with disability is IT. IT makes life more convenient and this is what Riziki Source is all about. While it seems difficult for someone with a certain disability to move around looking for jobs even though they have skills, Riziki Source makes it a lot easier for them to link up with potential employers and even prepare them for a job.
“If indeed the government is working on poverty eradication, then they must have concern for people living with disability as these are considered the poor of the poorest.” The best way to cater for them, Ouko says is through employment since someone with an income can determine their future. Having them rely on hand outs is impoverishing them the more as these are short-lived and make them dependents while they have skills that they can use to earn an income just like anyone else.