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Muthoni  Kanyana wants to demystify Sustainable Development Goals for young people and spark their interest in solving local challenges

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

Some people think of Sustainable Development Goal as complex. Others think they are mundane. As such, taking time to grasp them has not featured as everyone’s regular cup of tea three years after they were launched. The level of awareness of SDGS in Kenya is, especially low among the youth.

A survey conducted by Trends and Insights Africa (Tifa) in partnership with MK Africa, a sustainability marketing  firm, shows SDGs awareness among university students in Kenya is at 45 per cent compared to 54 per cent globally. 

But while the awareness is low among this energetic, creative and enthusiastic demographic, it’s widely acknowledged that the youth are key players in achieving the global goals.

Muthoni Kanyana, Chief Executive Officer MK Africa, shares this view. A marketing executive with over 12 years of experience, Muthoni has worked with many established businesses and start-ups. Muthoni, who is passionate about sustainable marketing, is especially keen on helping small and medium enterprises grow and have huge impact.

Since young people form the bulk of upcoming entrepreneurs, Muthoni saw an opportunity to increase awareness on sustainability by launching #mylittlebigthing universities sustainability innovation challenge last year.  “As MK Africa was involved in growth and longevity of brands, we sought to find out where the growth potential of sustainability was.

We realised that we needed to look at the future, which lay in young people in institutions of higher learning,” says Muthoni. The challenge encourages students in institutions of higher learning to develop homegrown solutions to the continent’s sustainability problems. Inspired by Wangari Maathai’s little thing of planting trees that ended up having far-reaching impact, the challenge encourages youths to come up with innovations to solve challenges related to any of the 17 SDGs. 

The top three youths who demonstrate the potential to grow their ideas and solve challenges in the areas of health, environmental conservation, poverty eradication, fighting hunger, peace and justice, among other SDGS, are taken through intense and elaborate sustainability training.

MK Africa has partnered with Cambridge University Sustainability Leadership Institute, South Africa to offer the training. The challenge winners also benefit from paid internships in select Kenyan companies and also become SDGs ambassadors in their respective institutions.

The challenge, which is in its second edition, has sparked interest in SDGS among youths in the country giving optimism that the country is on the right track in making the ambitious goals a reality.

Steven Odhiambo, a student at Kenyatta University pursuing a course in population health and Brian Were who is studying renewable energy and environmental physics at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) are part of the positive transformation.

The two third year students who, are among the finalists in this year’s innovation challenge, are championing sustainable solutions in their respective universities. Steven runs a public health start-up that offers preventative health awareness on non-communicable diseases.

Losing his two close relatives to stroke and cancer in 2014 and 2016 inspired him to start the organisation. “The death of my relatives made me conscious of how widespread Non-communicable diseases were.

Sadly, they did not die because they could not afford care, but due to lack of relevant information,” says Steven. The organisation founded in 2016, has been addressing the information gap about non communicable diseases through sensitisation campaigns in schools, villages and in chief’s barazas and online.

We provide information on cancer, hypertension, stroke and cardiovascular diseases in a simple way.  Through his work, Steven has been raising awareness and promoting SDG 3 touching on good health and wellbeing.

Impact

Brian Were saw an opportunity to provide alternative packaging after the plastic bag ban last year.  This opportunity presented itself in form of used and dumped diapers that were an eyesore in his neighbourhood in Juja. “After the plastic bag ban, most of the alternatives were costly.

I wanted to offer a cheaper and environment friendly alternative,” says Brian. His venture serves to provide affordable packaging while also ridding the environment of waste.

MK Africa has partnered with the Ministry of Planning to promote adoption of SDGs in the country.Through #mylittlebigthing initiative Muthoni hopes that heightened awareness on SDGS among the youths will become the norm not the exception.

She is optimistic that the small ideas generated by youths will grow to have profound impact and accelerate momentum towards achievement of SDGs by 2030, the Kenyan development blueprint vision 2030 and the Big Four development agenda.

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