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Perceptions of Grassroots Urban Youth Entrepreneurs about Collective Engagement: an extensive case study in East Africa

Master’s Thesis in International Development Studies Graduate School of Social Sciences University of Amsterdam

Fernando Cesar Pires Baptista, January 2011

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Summary :

Based on the evidence that the general strategy of liberalization – and in particular neo-liberal entrepreneurship – did not prove to be effective at reducing poverty in sub-Saharan Africa throughout the past three decades, this thesis ventured to re-examine the concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ through the understanding of the perceptions of marginalized urban youth entrepreneurs in East Africa about a preliminary ideal-type model of ‘grassroots collective entrepreneurship’ and its potential to engender common wellbeing. Two perspectives were used in this endeavour. One draws from the theories and practices of ‘solidarity economy’ and its emphasis on democratic self-management and attainment of collective needs. The second emerges from the ‘wellbeing approach’ and basically considers that psychological and social needs are as important as material ones in terms of generating wellbeing. This study is an example of extensive multi-method approach employed to investigate a certain specific phenomenon, expecting that some of the findings could be extended to understand not only what a more general reality is like, but also to envisage how it ‘could be’. It was conducted primarily with groups of youth entrepreneurs in slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Subsequently, a condensed supplementary phase was carried out in informal settlements of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with the purpose of producing a comparative reference. The research’s results suggest that these marginalised youths are attracted to recognize their common condition of exclusion and social disadvantage and to associate themselves and take the bet of trust in solidarity as a means of possibly reaching fairness and emancipation, re-establishing the hope which was once lost, and improving their individual and collective wellbeing. In fact, the investigation identified a significant incidence of collective economic activities based on democratic self-management and expressed by means of ‘youth groups’.