Ronald Osumba: the ‘organization man’ leading change

Until June 2019, Ronald Osumba was chair, Youth Enterprise Development Fund. Taking the reins in 2016 at a time the Fund had all but lost public trust on account of fraud and a failure to uplift the young people it was created to serve, the Fund has since recorded an impressive increase in monthly loan uptake, from Sh20 million in 2016, to some Sh100 million. Cleaning up the Fund, he says, is one of his proudest achievements. He holds a degree in Business Management from Moi University, a diploma in Biblical Studies and is certified with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants(ACCA).

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By Kevin Motaroki

What is your last great act as chair of the Board?

That would be cleaning up the Fund – and therefore. Its image – by instituting proper structures to facilitate its mandate and operations. I , however, wouldn’t peg that on a specific activity or item for, I think, it has been a continuous process. It is a team effort, of course. We have documented our achievements, challenges, lessons and recommendations in a report, the YEDF End of Term Report, 2019. It is an honest assessment of the Board’s work, which gives the public an opportunity to scrutinise the Fund and seek clarifications, as should happen in a modern, open, democratic society. The report will also act as a handing over tool to the next Board to ensure continuity of the transformation agenda. 

What or how does success look like to you? 

Success is when an organisation can be seen to be truly transforming the lives of the people it serves. How this is done then becomes a reflection of how the organisation values people and values results. At the Fund, our success is in seeing youth empowered to start and grow sustainable and profitable businesses. 

At the time of your appointment, what made the YEDF mission meaningful to you? 

My motivation was to give hope to young people, to build their capacity to create and earn their livelihoods. I grew up in poverty in Kibera slums and therefore experienced deprivation first hand. My secondary school education was paid for by well-wishers. I therefore know well what it means to reach out to a person in need. 

How well, in your own estimation, have you advanced that mission?

We have implemented measures to strengthen governance and accountability and to guarantee predictability and consistence of processes. The Board has also aligned the Fund to government policies such as the Big Four Agenda, reengineered loan products in tandem with the needs of the youth, and introduced modern products such as talent-based loans and asset financing. As a result the Fund has become more relevant to the youth, as evidenced by increased uptake. We have positively transformed the lives of thousands of our young people. I dare say, proudly too, that we have accomplished our mission successfully!

Is there anything you would have done differently?

We came in with big aspirations for our young people, and we have achieved many of them. There are, however, things we did not quite finish because of the nature of government operations. I particularly would have wanted to build entrepreneurship hubs across to the country to spur peer-to-peer learning and create an environment of creativity for the youth.

What is your legacy project?

That has to be digitising the Fund. We invested Sh100M on an enterprise resource planning platform that has significantly transformed the Fund into a world-class, responsive, open, transparent and accountable entity that embraces efficiency and customer focus. 

You took the reins at time the Fund had been rocked by graft scandals that put the organisation in the red, financially, and sapped public confidence out of stakeholders, particularly your clients, the youth? How has the journey getting back on track been? What are your highlights?

The Board and management went through a visioning exercise that identified key challenges. We set out on a transformation journey that was underpinned by focus on five principle areas; product, process, people, policies and partnerships – what I call the 5Ps.Each of these areas required massive re-engineering and a lot of heavy-lifting to redefine ourselves and the work that we for our customers. We are happy that we won the support of our staff and our clients. All indicators are now positive that we are out of the woods and reaping the dividends.

What can we do differently to realise a better translation of skills/funds transferred into actual jobs/businesses?

I strongly believe that to have more impactful investments, we need to refocus the mindset of our young entrepreneurs from viewing entrepreneurship as a ‘hustle’ to seeing it as a legitimate means of producing value and creating jobs for others. 

Although the creation of a government Fund has catalyzed the emergent entrepreneurial revolution – aided by the Board’s commendable decision to significantly reduce requirements for qualification – we are still held back by issues such as insufficient skills and some policy issues. What should the Fund’s next strategic report emphasize to address these challenges?

In the report mentioned earlier, the Board makes the following key recommendations: One is to enhance outreach and awareness especially in the marginalized areas. Two, it places emphasis on research and development to inform policy on and address emerging issues. This also entails a regular and participatory review of youth-focused programmes to help address the emerging needs and enhance sustainability of youth owned enterprises. Three is enhanced collaboration with other Government agencies, to strengthen public-private partnerships to leverage on resources and expertise that will enhance sustainability of the Fund as well as reach out to more youth. Lastly is to intensify resource mobilisation efforts. This is out of the recognition that with the growing demand for youth services, there is need for targeted efforts in lobbying and mobilising resources for growth and sustainability of the Fund.

What shift in Kenyan business environment would you like to see?

It would be nice to see more reform in the licensing and taxation regimes for small business. A lot of SMEs are struggling to stay afloat because they have the same set of rules as big business. If it were up to me, I would have legislated a Small Businesses Act with specific affirmative interventions. The start-up and innovation space is also opening up significantly. Three years ago when we took over, no one was talking start-ups; today Kenya has overtaken South Africa and Nigeria as the primary destination for Venture Capitalists and Private Equity Funds. I would like to see a better policy environment to encourage more of this.

Being successful takes a blend of the right combination of style, technical and soft skills and method, which vary dramatically depending on context. How would you describe your management style?

I would describe my style as participatory. We analyse issues as a team and generate solutions together so that everyone understands and owns what they are implementing. We identify individual strengths and weakness in a participatory environment that allows people to look themselves in the mirror and adjust accordingly. I believe that my team must be smarter than I am. I am therefore very open to multiple suggestions on best approach to a challenge. I believe my job is to guide the team through the various options and settling on one definitive way to addressing the challenge.

Successors to positions such as yours rarely tap their predecessors for their hard-won insights, information or advice. What unsolicited counsel would you like to give your successor?

First of all, this is why we have documented our tenure, so that those who come after us can learn from our experiences. But more importantly is for my successor to understand the people and the institutional culture so that they carry them along to achieve their vision. 

Have you ever misjudged someone? How did it affect you?

In high office you will always get different kinds of people walking into your office with different ideas and agenda, and it is natural to build defensive walls; unfortunately this means that sometimes you misjudge people and miss out on valuable input from them. I don’t have too many regrets in this regard though.

Is there a time you felt you dealt with a situation inadequately? How did that change you?

I have had a few situations I have thought I could have done better. Leadership is a very a demanding calling. But the greatest Achilles heel for a leader is to second guess themselves. There are always opportunities to reflect and think you could have done better, but one must always be decisive. I therefore try to be as decisive as possible to avoid regrets later.

How do you react when you find someone you work closely with dislikes you?

We don’t come to work to make friends. I am therefore quite oblivious to whether people like me or not. However, if someone’s dislike for me begins to affect the work output, then one of us needs to give way. Here’s a hint: it won’t be me since I am not the one with the problem.

Rank these in the order of importance: power, health, status, wealth…

You missed out on FAMILY. So it would be Family, Health, Wealth, Status, Power.(

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