Most Influential Projects 2022

13 Startup Lions Campus

Education | Sub-Saharan Africa
Startup Lions Campus

For nurturing Kenya’s next generation of entrepreneurs with a new school built for upskilling

Kenya is in the midst of a “youth bulge,” with more than 20 percent of its population between the ages of 15 and 24. The youthquake has brought a steady rise in youth unemployment rates (13.8 percent as of 2021), with a skills and education gap emerging as a central contributing factor. For every 100 students who start primary school, only 68 enroll in secondary school, and a mere six go on to attend a university or technical institution to earn the credentials needed for a competitive role, according to the World Bank.  

The situation can be especially precarious in rural areas, so Learning Lions is going straight to the source: targeting Turkana County in northern Kenya as an incubator for change. Recognizing that traditional job opportunities are extremely limited due to the region’s semi-arid environment, poor infrastructure and remote location, the nonprofit began training young people in high-value technical skills, such as web development, animation and graphic design. 

And now those students have a new upskilling HQ: an information and communications technology (ICT) campus designed by Kéré Architecture, a Berlin design studio headed by Diébédo Francis Kéré—a Burkina Faso native who recently became the first African to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. 

Situated on the banks of Lake Turkana, the campus provides free training, networking and housing, allowing budding entrepreneurs to “live a life full of (digital) opportunity, right from their home regions.”

The 1,416 square-meter (15,242 square-foot), five-building complex is a tribute to its surroundings and the local ecology. The buildings’ terracotta hue melds seamlessly with colors of the surrounding desert, while its trio of towers rising into the sky takes its cue from termite colonies native to the region. 

That insect inspo isn’t simply aesthetic: The structure incorporates a cooling system that allows warm air to rise as fresh air enters below through custom openings made from woven straw. The airflow also helps prevent dust from accumulating, protecting the costly IT equipment. 

“Finding solutions of this kind is imperative both for the sustainability effort, but also to keep costs manageable and maintenance possible,” Kéré told the RIBA Journal

Local materials—including rock gathered from the building site—were used to construct the campus. And to spur economic growth, the team hired local construction workers to complete the build. 

The buildings currently house two classrooms, three co-working spaces, two meeting rooms and administrative offices. And the campus is outfitted with multiple terraces shaded by creeping vegetation, providing picturesque gathering spots for meetings or group study sessions. 

With construction completed last year, project leaders hope the Startup Lions ICT Campus can serve as a template for future facilities across Africa. The move could be a gamechanger for young rural denizens who want to stay in their communities: Learning Lions reports its training programs have led to an income increase of more than 400 percent and an 80 percent employment rate among its graduates.