Charity Wayua is a cancer researcher, but she has an unusual patient: the government of her native country, Kenya. The illness: cumbersome processes that prohibit new business growth.
After a scholarship in the United States and ten years of studies she returned to Kenya a freshly minted PhD, ready to take on cancer research, but landed in an unexpected job tending not to cancer patients.
“I found myself drawn to a different kind of lab, working with a different kind of patient — a patient whose illness was so serious it impacted every single person in my country; a patient who needed to get healthy fast. That patient was my government.”
Kenya’s government was ailing. There was 17 percent youth unemployment and Nairobi, the major business hub, was rated 177th on the quality of living index. The country fared poorly on the World Bank measure of “Ease of Doing Business Ranking”.
That was 2014 and that was when the President of Kenya walked into their lab to ask the team to help him to jump start business growth in Kenya.
He wanted Kenya to be ranked top 50 in the World Bank’s ranking. In 2014 Kenya was ranked 136 out of 189 countries.
In true scientific fashion, the team set about collecting data. They talked with hundreds of individuals who worked at government agencies, from the tax agency, the lands office, utilities companies to the agency that’s responsible for registering companies, and documented their processes.
They found that it takes 72 days for a business owner to register their property, 158 days to get a new electric connection, and a construction permit to put up a building would take 125 days. To settle a dispute to enforce a contract would take 465 days.
The logical conclusion would be that corruption must be at the bottom of such inefficiency, but that’s not what the team found. What they found was overwhelming sense of helplessness.
“Our government was sick, because government employees felt helpless. And when people feel stuck and helpless, they stop seeing their role in a bigger system. They start to think the work they do doesn’t matter in driving change. And when that happens, things slow down, fall through the cracks and inefficiencies flourish.”
To change this, the team met with everyone, even the guy whose sole job was to remove staples from application forms, and shared a common vision with them. The team made sure that everyone understood how their work and actions was helping the country to create jobs and to attract investments. And the team was able to implement changes that impacted service delivery.
What happened? People became excited about their jobs and ready to drive change. In just two years, Kenya’s ranking moved from 136 to 92.
“And in recognition of the significant reforms we’ve been able to implement in such a short time, Kenya was recognized to be among the top three global reformers in the world two years in a row.”
Now, that’s inspirational. And yet again we see that people need purpose. Once they see a role for themselves in a common goal, change is possible.