Kenyan firms embrace Japanese Kaizen philosophy

By Christine Muchira

Kenyan businesses are quickly adopting the Japanese concept of Kaizen to improve local productivity and quality services, according to Kenyan and Japanese officials.

Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy, which refers to continuous improvement of productivity and quality based on a participatory process involving the entire workforce.

In September last year, with the support of JICA, the Kenyan government launched a training program aimed at empowering local Small Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) using Japan’s experience accumulated from the rapid economic growth of the giant Asian economy.

Addressing participants of a one-day seminar in Nairobi on Wednesday, 10th August 2016, Dr. Chris Kiptoo, Kenya’s Principal Secretary, State Department of Trade, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives said most local small businesses lacked the efficiency and competitiveness necessary for growth.

“In this regard, we requested the Japanese government for technical transfer of the philosophy and tools in management excellence accumulated in Japan over time,” he said.

Kenya’s economic development blueprint Vision 2030 aims at enabling the East African nation to achieve a middle-income status by 2030.

“For us to reach that level, we must grow by 10%,” Dr. Kiptoo said, adding that “to promote our economic development, it is important that Kenya develops its small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and boost human resource development in general.”

Ms. Keiko Sano, Chief Representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Kenya said the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) sector plays an important role in the socio-economic development and urged the need to enhance human resource capacities in order to spearhead the country to become a middle income economy by 2030.

“Actually the sector is a driver of innovation, wealth creation, employment, poverty alleviation, economic growth and regional development,” Ms. Sano added.

She spoke at the seminar organized by JICA and the Government of Kenya on ‘Promoting Industrial Development in Kenya through application of Japanese management excellence,’ as a build-up to the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) set to take place in Nairobi on August 27 – 28.

The JICA chief said with global forces at play sweeping across the world economy, African economies are being challenged to take proactive steps to reduce the high costs faced by domestic enterprises.

“JICA continues to support the human resource development in the SMEs and private sector in Africa, with key example being the cooperation with the government of Ethiopia in the establishment of the Kaizen Institute,” she said.

Dominic Mukubwa, Managing Director of Centrofood Industries Limited, a local business involved in making tomato sauce and fresh fruit juices said his company has benefitted greatly from the Japanese training.

“The most notable improvement [from the training] and the biggest impact [felt]was in production,” said Mukubwa, whose firm has grown massively from humble beginnings in 1980s to a 30-member staff to date.

“It’s more practical to see how we conducted business in production, how much we lost time and how we are able to stock our products,” he added.

With no requirement for huge investment, Kaizen is a low-cost approach to productivity and quality improvement.

Sajaad Alibhai, chief executive of Kikoy Mall EPZ, exporters of high-quality fabric products said thanks to Kaizen concept, the firm has witnessed significant growth, enabling it to employ more women.

“Starting in April, we increased the number of our employees to 150. Before that we had only 40 employees,” he said adding that 80% of the workers are women.

Pavit Kenth, operations director of Megh Cushion Industries Limited, manufacturers of automobile products, said the training enabled his company to improve efficiency and productivity.

According to Kenth, an initial audit highlighted significant shortfalls within the company, but the training in best Japanese manufacturing practices or Kaizen has ultimately transformed operations.

“Once the problems were highlighted, the JICA team provided us with an action plan to implement the required changes,” he said, indicating that the improvements made are evident.

In Kenya, the training and consultancy programs are conducted by Kenya Institute of Business Training (KIBT), a government institute, to support the improvement of business performance at selected pilot enterprises in the fields of Production/Quality Management, Marketing & Sales and Financial Management.



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