From Waste to Work

Vulnerable communities disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental degradation caused by plastic pollution and other waste, and action is urgently needed. Research shows that the waste-picking community is a very entrepreneurial community and is in majority composed by young people and women (15 to 35 years old). In many cases, children as young as 8 years old also work as waste pickers. Waste pickers are organised in various shapes and forms. Some operate alone and collect rubbish on the dumping site, while most waste pickers work as waste collectors operating in loose formal or informal groups. They collect waste from households and sell or upcycle waste. A minority of the waste pickers operates as community buyback centres and are, besides buying, involved in cleaning, sorting, and shredding waste.

The problem is that young green entrepreneurs are vulnerable, not well organised. They have low social capital and entrepreneurship capacity resulting in an inability to start operating and grow waste businesses that generate revenue from waste recovery activities, contribute to the green economy and create decent jobs.

Together with VSO – Voluntary Service Overseas and Taka Taka Solutions, and with the financial support of the IKEA Foundation, we will pilot an innovative approach to creating decent green jobs in the waste management sector for marginalised men, women, boys and girls in Kenya. ICDI is responsible for the Research and Learning Agenda.


Our objective is to strengthen green youth-led startups so that they can create decent jobs through waste recovery and value addition. We will do this by supporting young green entrepreneurs (waste pickers and vulnerable youth) to organise themselves and strengthen their agency, leadership capacity and livelihood resilience.

The project will enhance the capacity of vulnerable youth so that they can sell, sort and process more waste and get a better price for their products by linking them to various buyers. Additionally, we will ensure that more waste is retrieved and promote the idea of recycling and transforming waste by preventing it from going into the landfill.

As we recognise that language contributes to stigmatisation, we prefer to refer to the waste-picking community as green entrepreneurs. The ‘From Waste to Work’ Project is designed to reach the most vulnerable youth active in the waste sector. 

The project also aims to prevent child labour in the sector and has special focus on support to women and girls as green entrepreneurs. To facilitate this the project will provide access to childcare facilities. 

We will pilot the project in three counties in Kenya: Kisumu, Mombasa, and Nairobi.


Our project is based on four strategic buckets:

  • The Mobilize Bucket is the foundation of the programme. It looks at the market demand and private sector needs. It mobilises grass-roots green entrepreneurs and supports them to self-organise in Youth Business Clubs to increase peer support, increase leadership skills, combine strengths, networks and assets and strengthen social capital.
  • The Spark Bucket supports vulnerable young people in starting their waste businesses. This bucket contains technical and entrepreneurship training through a blended learning approach combined with starter kits to generate innovation and offer new perspectives.
  • The Nurture Bucket is there for those front-runners ready for Business Development Services, and provides access to business networks and seed investments.
  • The Link Bucket is the bucket that enables sustainability of actions by expanding market demand, creating market linkages, and developing connections to formal finance and business networks.

For more information about our Theory of Change, click here.

Target groups

The project will target young people that are currently working within or aspire to work within the waste sector and will ultimately lead to:

  • 3,900 young people being directly reached through the project,
  • youth-led start-ups creating decent jobs for marginalised young people, including women (60% of jobs created will target women)
  • 6,000 tonnes of waste collected and 4,000 tonnes of emission savings.

ICDI’s role: Research and Learning Agenda

ICDI will support implementing partners, stakeholders, and beneficiaries (our community of practice) in developing a common vision, assessing the quality of the activities they implement while they implement them, planning for improvements and innovations and imagining possible upscaling pathways. To reach that goal, ICDI will employ a Research and Learning Agenda and set up Learning Spaces.

Facts and figures


‘From Waste to Work’ consortium (Partners)

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
Taka Taka Solutions (TTS) 


IKEA Foundation

Project Manager

Sarah de Vos