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December 14, 2018

How Yali changed my life: Graduates share experiences

Yali graduates
Yali graduates

The Young African Leaders Initiative trains youths between the ages of 18 and 35 in one of three tracks business, civic leadership or public management .

On Friday, Yali RLC East Africa celebrated reaching the 2,000 alumni mark. YALI has three models: YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship, Yali Network and Yali Regional Leadership Centres (RLCs) across Africa.

Graduates shared their experiences.


Stella Sigana’s story

Stella Sigana, 35, developed a passion for entrepreneurship at a young age and started a soft furnishings business, but it did not do well because she did not have the acumen to sustain it. ”When a client bargained to zero profit, I’d still take up the job and this ended up draining my business.”

With a desire to learn more about entrepreneurship, she enrolled for a masters degree and later interned at Kenya Industrial Estate, Thika, where she interacted with other business people. Sigana then got an idea to develop a charcoal briquettes business, applied for funding and in 2016 was among the 1,000 young entrepreneurs who got $5,000 from the Tomy Elumelu funding programme.

In the same year, she attended the Yali programme which was an eye opener to understanding herself more and a boost in her leadership journey.

Her greatest inspiration in picking up the charcoal briquettes project was the desire to join forces with the many Africans championing the transformation of Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa records the highest number of deaths of mothers and children from indoor pollution mostly from smoke-emission while cooking.

Before making her first productions, she tested the market by selling briquettes she bought from people already in the business to women in Kibera and the response from the clients motivated her to get into mass production.

She now works with a team of six people in production department, about 100 people who collect the charcoal dust used and six distributors. She buys charcoal dust from households in Kibera, each going for Sh200. She is currently making 250-300 bags of charcoal briquettes every month.

The widest target market is households of Kibera.


Justine Abuga

“Growing up I saw how my mother struggled to provide for us, and being from a humble background, she would cook using paraffin or firewood, and the smoke had debilitating effects on her health. As I grew older, I grappled with the question of how to make it easier for my mother to prepare meals without harming her health,” Abuga says.

Upon graduating from university, he set up the Ecobora Company which focuses on making fuel out of sawdust. He says Yali presented a good opportunity to improve his business skills.

“Going through the design thinking session helped me refine my prototype and conduct a market validation study, improving my business acumen in the process. By the time I graduated, I was ready to rejuvenate Ecobora and take it to the next level. Before I enrolled in the leadership program, Ecobora was like a ship with a hole and steering it was a challenge. After graduation, I had acquired the right skills to not only seal the hole, but also steer Ecobora in the right direction.”

Within the first five months of graduating from Yali, Abuga said many opportunities came his way. The highlight was winning the CITI-USADF business grant competition worth $10,000 coupled with free business skills development support.

“This grant has enabled me to acquire a new efficient pelletizer machine and this has in turn has increased production to one tonne per hour. We were able to move to a bigger warehouse.”


Maureen Muketha

“Having grown up in a semi-arid area that has the leading cases of malnutrition in Kenya, food was always scarce, disease and poverty were prevalent; Women and children, being more vulnerable, were the hardest hit,” Muketha says.

This created a desire in Muketha to ensure future generations have access to healthy food. It is this experience that influenced her choice to study human nutrition and dietetics.

Before joining YALI, Muketha volunteered at Kenyatta National Hospital in the pediatric

department. Some of her YALI highlights include a session on The seven habits of highly effective people.

“Habit number 4 (seek to understand, then be understood) particularly stood out for me and since then, I practise listening to people with an intent of understanding them and trying to

see things from their point of view without necessarily having to reply, convince or manipulate.”

Muketha’s ambition is to become a leading policy maker in the area of food security and to run projects that contribute to healthy eating in many communities in Kenya and Africa.


If you are between 18 and 35 years of age and would like to acquire leadership skills, you can  apply for the next intake online through, www.yalieastafrica.org. The next application opens from May 21 to June 4.


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