Al Kags

#OdeToYouth Special: Why I choose to boycott University of Nairobi graduates


Last week, I posted a notice on my Facebook page, stating that in the companies and organisations that I have influence in, we shall be biased against employing graduates of the University of Nairobi. I noted that I am establishing such bias against them because it is my position that we cannot continue to reward – or indeed condone – the destructive behaviour that the university students have exhibited in the course of their protest.

This notice has elicited very many objections – mainly from the university’s students and graduates. The objections generally were that my statement was tantamount to a blanket condemnation of all of the students, including those that do not participate in the destructive protests. It is, unfortunately. 

Sitting at an airport many kilometres away to Nairobi, I decided to talk more about the thinking that lends itself to my decision. And I decided to have this blogpost as part of the #OdeToYouth series because I am primarily speaking to the university students and this is driven by the person that I have grown to be all these years. Here they are:

  • BRANDS MATTER: The University of Nairobi is a brand that you wear personally – all your life.

The University of Nairobi is a brand. As a University student, even one taking Engineering, Law or Accounts (which are perceived to be non-marketing oriented courses by the ignorant), you must understand what a brand is. Here’s what its not: the logo/ emblem of the university.

The brand is a collective of all things I see, hear, experience about the University of Nairobi. Every well or badly written application letter that comes across my desk, every CV that says University of Nairobi on it, every stone that is thrown at my car, every time I am stuck in traffic because Uhuru Highway is a no-go zone because of rampaging university students, every time someone resignedly says, “ah, you know those UoN students…”, every time I hear a Masters Student at the university has farmed out his project to my younger brilliant friends to do, every innovation I will hear was developed  by the University, every groundbreaking research I will read that was produced at the University… all these things positive and negative make up the brand.

And these experiences are the associations I shall predominantly make when I think of University of Nairobi. And every time I will meet you and hear that you came from UoN, you will carry this baggage, whether it be positive or negative.

All  brands have negative and positive attributes. When the positives outweigh the negatives in my experience, I continue to buy/subscribe/use the brand. When the reverse is true, I move away from the brand. This is what has happened with me. All these destructive protests over the years, the lack of restraint, the bad behaviour, the all-too-close associations with negative politics have taken a toll. 

  • CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES. How you act or don’t has an impact on how you are perceived and treated.

“But I don’t protest and in fact in our campus, we have never thrown stones at cars or closed roads down,” some have said to me.

My response is two-fold. Firstly, I repeat: every time I will meet you and hear that you came from UoN, you will carry its baggage. Secondly, I would ask what you have done about improving the brand that you are saddled with. You know who is responsible for the violence and destruction. You elect them every year to lead the university students union/association. You do not report or testify against the students you know were on the rampage, you allow the circumstances to continue. In the same way that as a country we deserve the leadership we elect, you deserve the reputation you carry.

So when you come for an interview at which I am on the other side of the table, you will have to move your own brand from the negative UoN brand to a positive one. The burden of proof is on you. I don’t have to cut you slack because I don’t have proof of you being on the street. It is not my responsibility to give you an opportunity, it is your responsibility to earn the chance.

Harsh? Unfair? Tough.

  • WANTED: GLOBALLY COMPETITIVE PROFESSIONALS. Who are you competing against?

This morning I became aware that the managers of the legendary Whitney Houston’s estate are planning a hologram tour of the star this year. That she will perform in 3D as if she were alive. A video was actually leaked of Christina Aguilera performing with Whitney.

The future is here. Holograms were the stuff of science fiction movies in the eighties when I was glued to a black and white TV watching Star Trek. The thing that occurred to me this morning was to wonder who is doing the research on hologram technology. I discovered this things are being researched and developed in Universities – See this. I did a casual search for holography scientists and fond these two profiles:

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 10.16.20 AM Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 10.15.42 AM

What research is associated to University of Nairobi? I searched for that. I found this page and this one. I am sure there is some great research that is associated with the University of Nairobi. I just don’t know it and I couldn’t quickly find it.

Impact: If I have a couple of lose million shillings that I wanted to allocate to research, it is harder for me to find interesting futuristic research to support, wouldn’t you agree?

But wait, there’s more.

Closer to home, in companies and organisations that I work with we grapple with many challenges that make demands of our imagination and innovation muscle.

At the Open Institute, for example, we grapple with the effort of trying to imagine transparent public service systems that engage and involve citizens and the ways that we could change our secrecy culture in public service. We research behavioral nudges and experiment with technology all the time.

At the Goode Group, we grapple with how services to the bottom of the pyramid could be innovated and marketed better, how social organisations could have the same brand impact or more than businesses like Safaricom – without having to spend the same amounts of money. How does customer experience improve radically without huge marketing budgets?

At Kipenz films, a company that primarily does videography for weddings and such real life love stories, we grapple with what videography is going to look like in the future and how will stories be told in this increasingly social world?

At Considr, a research and M&E company, we try figure out how to redefine impact and how to present impact reports in such a way that people actually use the reports to improve their work. The team there grapples with innovating visualised reporting and social research practices to suit the Kenyan/ African context.

And these are the low end of the spectrum of thinking  that we spend our time on. What assurances do we have that you, at the University of Nairobi, are exercising these same brain muscles and that therefore you would be  good fit for us?

The world is flat because of the advances in technology. Even now, University of Nairobi students and faculty could research and develop completely new things that could automate life for many of our people – from mkokoteni pushers and loaders, farmers, matatu drivers and conductors… you could find ways to make RFID technology more accessible to nomads in Pokot and Turkana and end cattle rustling. You could research materials that can be used to make roads cheaper to build.

I have had cause to wonder why so many of us young people are hustlers without substance. There are many opportunities for us as a continent and the universities should be at the front of helping us access them – especially the University of Nairobi. Alas, this is far from the case.

This is not to say that the other universities in Kenya are much better in this respect. But the University of Nairobi people have, because of their actions, moved us further from considering their competitiveness to to thinking more about the basic suitability of their character – a sad reality.

Impact: when you come to interview where I am, you have to prove harder that my predisposition relating to your character is first of all unfounded and then prove the suitability of your professional capacity. People from other institutions, may not have the same baggage as you.

I work with small companies and the impact of my decision may not be felt by most University of Nairobi graduates. But it is small individual responses that become big movements.

 BTW: Sending Applications enmass to business leaders in bcc does not help you get a job. If you can’t be bothered to personalise an email to me, expect no response.

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