At just 2 years of age, Fredrick Ouko contracted polio. The disease left both of his legs permanently paralyzed, but it also left him determined to ensure that people with disabilities get equal opportunities.Today, Ouko now forty identifies with the 2.2% of his countrymen and women living with some form of disability.
“I have known nothing else save for my physical disability. And that is why I clearly understand the potential my kind possesses,” Ouko stated, adding that “routinely they are denied employment opportunities because of their disability,” the founder and director of Riziki Source revealed.
Riziki Source is a Kenyan social enterprise that leverages technology to connect persons with disabilities with job opportunities.
The initiative was born in 2016 out of the frustrations and challenges Ouko faced while job searching after completing his undergraduate studies.
"Getting around Nairobi while dropping my resume to potential employers was an uphill task. There were many rejections, which included being hounded out of offices by guards who believed people with disabilities should only beg for handouts. But my goal was finding employment," said Ouko.
Determined to create a solution, Ouko began developing an online platform to match job seekers with employers. He named it Riziki Source, using the Swahili word for "livelihood".
Through the organization's website, users are able to input their qualifications, skillset, location, and disability and are then matched with potential employers. Users' qualifications and skillsets are visible to businesses but not their CVs. Should an employer express interest in a specific candidate, they connect with Ouko and his colleagues at Riziki Source.
The enterprise has also developed a mobile app that helps people with disabilities find job opportunities locally.
In addition, the app also provides users with information on employers that are committed to hiring people with disabilities, as well as information on accessible transportation options and other resources that can help them to secure employment.
"We usually post syndicated job opportunities from other platforms, or employers send us job opportunities directly, which are then posted internally. Thus all registered members on the database have access to these vacancies, and they can apply directly or request help to apply since we don't conduct interviews ourselves," said Ouko.
A report released in 2020 by the Public Service Commission in Kenya showed that only 1% of employers had disabilities - way below the constitutional threshold of 5%.
The report further showed that denying equal employment opportunities to disable persons singularly contributes to the poverty afflicting the group.
Statistics paint a dire picture of people with disabilities or PWD's in the Kenyan workplace. But there are rays of hope and Ouko's startup is a shining example.
Stella Mwangi, 25, was involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed 5 years ago, since then, she always uses a wheelchair for mobility.
"From my experience, the Riziki resource platform is handy because of bridging the gap between PWDs and a lack of employment. They are the connection between employers and us," says Mwangi, who was assisted in getting a job at a telecommunications firm, by the social platform.
She is now the Personal Assistant to both the Network and IT directors and the Human Resources Administrator for both departments at the firm, where she supports 55 employees.
“I heard about Riziki Resource from a WhatsApp group where the members are PWDs. The firm has been of tremendous assistance to me and other PWDs because of their major efforts to push for the employment of people from our community,” she said.
The enterprise also trains and advises employers on measures that need to be implemented to make the environment conducive for physically challenged people, according to Mwangi.
James Obonyo, now 31, suffered a spinal cord injury while in school.
"I was referred to Riziki Resource by a friend, and I later researched more about them on the Internet. Riziki provided guidance on having a professional resume and interview skills in preparation for the job applications," Obonyo said.
Today, he's a financial analyst at the Capital Markets Authority, the statutory body regulating capital markets within East Africa's largest economy.
"Riziki Resource is an ingenious idea that solved the fundamental issue of moving around in search of a job, bearing in mind mobility is a challenge," added Obonyo.
Ouko bankrolled Riziki Resource with his savings and despite several global awards - including the Innovate Now Disability Employment Award in 2022, which came with a cash award of £15,000 - he has yet to break even. However, he remains hopeful that the organization will be able to capitalize on the exposure it has received and grow across the region.
In 2018, the organization was shortlisted for the African Engineering Prize, and in March this year, the organization won the Now-Us! Awards. The award honors inclusive initiatives from Africa and Asia that empower otherwise excluded groups.
"In five years to come, we see ourselves as the go-to experts on matters of employment for persons with disabilities in Kenya and the region. We will be looking at employment from a 360 lens. We want to stand out as a dependable brand on matters of employment for persons with disabilities," Ouko said.