Martin Njuki is using his computing expertise to create a database of mentors to provide online mentorship to young people. He tells EDNA GICOVI about this creative and useful endeavour dubbed Opinion Kenya.
During his fourth year at Kenyatta University, his mother sold their only cow to buy him a computer. Martin Njuki, 26, was then studying computer science and had struggled through three years in campus without one. His area of study required him to have a personal computer, but a laptop his father had worked so hard to buy him had been stolen in his first year. He however did not let this become a stumbling block and used the computers in the university lab for most of his work. In spite of the challenges, Martin was always an ‘A’ student. That was a few years ago. Now an information technology (IT) professional with several promising ventures to his name, Martin treasures the computer his mother bought.
An affable young man, Martin has always been a hard worker. He grew up and went to school in Kirinyaga district where his family still lives. He was always a good performer a trend that continued at university. During college breaks he got internships at different companies where he gained much needed career experience. Upon completing his studies, he was offered a job at the Public Procurement Oversight Authority (PPOA) where he did his last internship before graduating.
Opinion Kenya is born
His stint at the PPOA did not last as long as he had expected and Martin joined the thousands of graduates searching for employment in the already saturated job market. With the high number of skilled graduates ‘tarmacking’, he often wondered if there was any other way university graduates could be of use to society while still searching for employment. He recalled his predicament after high school – a simple boy from Kirinyaga hoping to pursue a computing dream with no one to point him in the right direction. “I lacked a mentor,” he says, adding, “I remember being discouraged from taking computer studies. I did not know anyone with useful information on IT or any career options available. I was nonetheless lucky to have supportive parents who did not question my decision to pursue a career in IT.”
Martin’s website http://www.opinionkenya.com started out as a mentoring platform where graduates could mentor students seeking career guidance. “Just because a graduate is still job hunting does not mean he cannot be of use to other people,” he says. The name Opinion Kenya came from the fact that the site would also provide a platform for self-expression, which, he says, stems from one’s views and beliefs. The site also has a blogging provision where members are able to air their views.
So how does a website provide mentorship? Martin explains that graduates and professionals from different disciplines use the site to provide career information and advice to anyone who requires it. Organisations may also provide their own professionals to offer mentorship on the site. “Mentors must be registered members of the site and go through a strict verification process by a credible person or body to ensure their validity before being given a go-ahead to participate,” he says, adding the same criteria applies to organisations.
The mentors create a profile on the site that provides information on themselves, what they do and what organisation they belong to. This way, if there’s someone looking for a mentor from a specific body or organisation that happens to be on the site, they will find one. Martin is always on the lookout for people in different disciplines and from various organisations to diversify the mentorship programme and offer greater representation.
The mentors provide mentorship by giving career advice and providing information on changing market trends, among other information relevant to their careers. They also put up information on available vacancies for internships, jobs or training programmes in their careers. However, only their protégés on the site can access this information.
Anyone looking for mentorship also needs to register on the site. After this he or she may seek whatever kind of mentorship they need. “All registrations on the site are free,” says Martin. “I’d like these services to be available to anyone and everyone,” he adds. For instance, if one is looking for a mentor from a career they would like to get into, they may search the site and identify a suitable mentor. After this, they send a request to the said mentor and if accepted, become a protégé. The site offers other types of mentorship like spiritual and life mentorship.
Apart from mentorship, the site serves as a marketing platform for graduates searching for jobs. Here, they can display their skills and competencies to the relevant people, and get an opportunity to sell their products or services or find employment. There is also a platform for those with skills in arts, for example music, to market themselves through a multimedia plug-in on the site.
The site was launched in January this year amid several difficulties, the biggest being finance. Martin had conceptualised the site, worked on and completed it with the assistance of a few friends last year but had no funds to take it online where it could be of use to the masses. Opinion Kenya lay in his computer for several months as he looked for a job not only to earn a living, but also enable him to finance the site’s costs.
He was lucky to get a job as the head of IT at his church, Deliverance Church, Kasarani, but still did not have the finances required to take Opinion Kenya online. Neither did he have the time to further develop it now that he was working full time. Fortunately, a friend who was greatly impressed by the site offered to fund the operation, in addition to partnering with Martin. It was then that www.opinionkenya.com went online.
In June this year, Martin made a bold move. He resigned from his permanent and pensionable job at the church to focus on running and developing the site further. Currently, apart from running Opinion Kenya, he builds websites for various individuals and companies and offers programming lessons.
His site has gained a lot of mileage since its launch. “It became known through word of mouth. We haven’t really done any advertising,” he says. “We have over 500 registered members on the site, including mentors and protégés.” He has since put together a small board made up of individuals from different careers to help him run the different facets of the site.
Martin hopes to get more professionals and organisations from diverse careers registered as mentors. “We are hoping to get people to give back more than just tax to their country. We need to use our skills further than the workplace,” he says with conviction. “There are other people who need your skills. It does not take much to register and provide mentorship on the site. You are giving back to society when you give a few minutes of your time to answer a question from a university student who is taking a course in your field. You encourage and empower them and this helps them make the most of their education,” he says. He is currently trying to generate more traffic on the site so as to get more advertising, which he hopes will eventually make the site self-sustaining.
Privacy is always a source of concern for sites like Martin’s where personal information is posted, but he assures everyone that Opinion Kenya site is encrypted (information or data converted into a code to prevent unauthorised access) for security.
The future appears bright for this energetic and unattached young man. “I am single and searching,” says Martin with a chuckle. He hopes to settle down and raise a family once he meets Miss Right. He also has great dreams for Opinion Kenya. “In the future, every student in Kenya should be able to find career mentorship online,” he says. He plans to extend Opinion Kenya past Kenya’s borders and make it a site serving all of Africa.
“If young people could team up the way we have at Opinion Kenya and bring their skills together they could achieve a lot,” he says. “Don’t just wait for a job to land on your lap. Do something with what you already have. Money will never be enough so don’t let lack of it stop you from trying other things. It is your passion that will push you forward,” he states.