Alumni Stories: Vincent Ogutu’s Social Innovation Lab and Youth Empowerment in Kenya

Spring 2018 Professional Fellows alum Vincent Ogutu, Head of Programmes at Cheshire Disability Services Kenya (CDSK), has had a busy year. He coordinates, advises, and evaluates programs across his organization, which seeks to ensure independence, inclusion, and equity for persons with disabilities, especially youth. Vincent’s proudest achievement in 2020 has been the Social Innovation Lab Project (SIL), a new landmark initiative that delivers business skills training, self-advocacy mentorship, and guidance to caregivers of youth with disabilities on empowerment and inclusion. The project has connected Kenyans with disabilities in many ways at an especially critical time.


Vincent, who spent his original U.S. Fellowship at the University of Southern Mississippi Institute on Disability Studies (Mississippi UCEDD), began the Social Innovation Lab Project after discovering that his organization’s disability employment initiative did not include youth with intellectual disabilities fully. He and his team corrected this by creating the project and engaged not just youth with disabilities and caregivers, but also Kenyan employers and vocational training institutions that offer guidance and inclusive opportunities.


The young Kenyans with disabilities who have participated in Social Innovation Lab business trainings have a wide range of experience and skill sets, so Vincent and his team have focused on building basic business skills. Trainees learn how to identify a market, set up and maintain a business, and manage bookkeeping. Many of the trainees are either looking to start their own small businesses or sustain an existing one. Additionally, SIL and others at Cheshire Disability Services Kenya help participants find microfinance loans for their businesses and support them with expanding their professional and financial networks.

The business skills trainings have been invaluable to many participants during COVID-19 and the unprecedented economic turmoil it has brought. Festus Maronga, who has epilepsy and runs his own soapmaking business, directly credits the Social Innovation Lab trainings with helping him stay afloat as others were forced to close permanently or worse. “The trainings helped me to know how to budget and save so during the Corona pandemic, it was easier to reduce expenses and know what to give priority. That is how I survived”.

Two beneficiaries of Social Innovation Lab Project trainings in Kenya: Festus Maronga, a soap-maker, and Jedidiah Kariuki, a baker. The lessons in business skills have helped some small entrepreneurs with disabilities survive during COVID-19, which has brought great economic hardship.


The Social Innovation Lab project also includes trainings on self-advocacy and youth leadership, which have been delivered to a pilot group of 30 Kenyans with disabilities. These issues are essential to building youth with disabilities’ understanding of their rights and their ability to champion themselves and win over employers. Self-advocacy trainings cover disability rights, how to speak up in the job market, and self-confidence strategies. The harmful impact of low expectations and low self-esteem makes this especially important. As Vincent’s colleague and SIL Business Skills Facilitator Michael Wambugu observes, “The number one thing that can help them is to boost their self-belief that they can be business leaders.”


Vincent and his team created trainings for caregivers in order to leverage the influential roles they play in youth with disabilities’ development and transition. So far, most caregivers have needed more guidance on how to help their family members with disabilities transition to employment, which gives Cheshire Disability Services Kenya useful information to bolster its massive range of programs and expand inclusion of caregivers. The trainings have left a useful roadmap for all future projects.

The Social Innovation Lab Project is funded via Voice, a grant initiative sponsored by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Far Left: Vincent Ogutu Far Right: Dr. Jerry Alliston, Vincent’s U.S. Fellowship host and Outbound Fellow Center: Vincent’s colleagues at Cheshire Disability Services Kenya