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In English, a blaze is simply a fiercely burning fire. That is all you need to remember when you hear about the Safaricom sub-brand that goes by the same name.

As a product offering or a youth movement, Blaze is simply something meant to keep the fire of the youth going. At least that’s what comes up when you’ve spent quite some time looking at it from both what has happened so far and what the team behind the product says of it.

What is Blaze?

From the start, Blaze was just too complicated, to be honest. Was it a new tariff targeted at young people, a new product from Safaricom, what was it?

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If you’ve at one point or another asked yourself any of those questions, then you are not alone. Many have been there as well. And other than the young people of Eldoret and Thika who, at the time of writing this are the only ones to have been lucky to see the other side of Blaze that we did not get to see right from the start, most still have these and more questions.

I also had a lot of questions about the entire thing and, until, that Blaze Shark Tank-like TV show airs later in the year, some of those questions may remain unanswered. To satisfy my curiosity, I’ve been to a few Blaze events. I followed the launch online since I couldn’t make it to the venue on time then attended an “experience” session organized by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) at the NaiLab to better understand it. Last week, I went to the Blaze Summit in Thika to get to see firsthand what happens and what Blaze is all about.

*555#

First things first, there’s Blaze the tariff plan. Well, the people behind Blaze don’t want you to think of Blaze as a tariff (because it is not) but, being the platform that it is, Blaze does have a tariff-like component in the various plans one can create. You can read more about the plans here.

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The plans happened to be the most visible Blaze byproducts up until the countrywide summits began. Most of us, at first, thought that they were all there was to do with Blaze. Our ignorance should be forgiven because, after all, what have we known Safaricom all along other than for airtime, data, SMS, calls and the like?

There’s a reason why *555# and CYP (Create Your Own Plan) are some of the first things everyone got to know about Blaze. According to Andrew Riungu, the manager for consumer insights and research at Safaricom, there was a need for a product of such a type. Here’s why: the entire mission of Blaze is to inspire and motivate the youth to make good use of their talent and empower themselves – be their own bosses. But, and this is a big BUT, how is this going to happen if Safaricom keeps on charging these same youths whom it is trying to empower the same rates as their parents or older members of the society?

So, yeah, there you have it. The whole reason why only young people under 26 can access the special rates is because they are the target group of the wider Blaze mission and there was cognizance of the fact that they may not have the same access to financial resources and opportunities as older people. Even the create your own plan site that you need to access after registering using the shortcode is zero-rated.

That you can’t actually do much about creating your own plan outside the preset parameters is Blaze’s biggest weakness

Even then, Blaze doesn’t give us (as young people) all the freedom to create our own plans. The Blaze team acknowledged as much when this was pointed out to them during the “experience” meetup. They are well aware of this. In fact, according to them, they thought about providing more options in the Create Your Own Plan including even making it totally open but they settled for the current limited options because they are just starting out and simplicity is key. Going forward, they say, this may be revised. This is something I really hope happens since I am one of those left out in the current setup (I am more accommodated in Safaricom’s normal data plans) but by then I will probably have stopped being a Blazer, the young person they have in mind.

BYOB

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We are living in interesting times where careers that would have been frowned upon by our parents a few years ago are more rewarding than most of the traditional careers. There are entertainers for instance – dancers, disc jockeys etc, painters, cooks and more.

For youth that are stuck between teachers and parents that grew up in an era that cherished and glorified fixed jobs and assured career paths like in law, medicine, engineering, teaching etc that guarantee a steady stream of monthly income or deemed prestigious, it can be hard breaking out of the mold and following their hearts and eventually actualizing their dreams.

The Blaze manifesto says as much:

BLAZE celebrates the young
Those on the road not taken
Who in spite of the critics are now our
hope…

The Blaze team has assembled an entire entourage of successful young entrepreneurs, entertainers, photographers, media personalities and many others to inspire, motivate and mentor young people in the Blaze summits that are being held throughout the country. There are even partners like Centonomy, Brighter Monday and Google’s Digifybytes to train youth on how to create and manage their wealth, to provide career advice and dos and donts when entering the job market and how to equip themselves with skills at low or no cost online. At least this is what I came face to face with at the Blaze summit in Thika.

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Young people attending the summits get a chance to interact with these mentors in Spark Pod sessions before gathering together before the end of the summit for further talks. It is in the Pod sessions that young people get to ask questions directly to the facilitators of the various talent pools identified. In these summits, young people also get a chance to enroll for the upcoming Be Your Own Boss (BYOB) TV show. It is this TV show that will be the climax of Blaze, at least for now. If you happen to be into tech (or deem yourself a techie), even better. There is the Tech for Good initiative that the Safaricom Foundation is sponsoring through Blaze.

Below: Migwa Nthiga and Mutua Matheka, renowned Kenyan photographers, talk to young people about what it takes to be in the photography world as part of the mentoring at the Photography Zone of the Blaze Summit Spark Pod sessions in Thika last Friday.

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So what happens after all this? The Blaze team assures us that Blaze is here to stay but we actually have no clear picture of what becomes of Blaze next year, the year after that and so on and so on – only the assurance that it will always be there. And those joining Blaze and then outgrowing it (read really growing old fast)? Safaricom is working on products (yet to be made available) to cater to them other than just going back to its existing product portfolio which is the only available option at the moment.

For now, though, if you are under 26 years of age, I’d advise that you go for one of these summits when they are at a town near you. There is so much you can learn. I sat through an entire session myself and I was shocked at how much is on offer. If you can, try your luck at the opportunities up for grabs like the chance to secure funding for your innovative ideas. Lastly, if the Blaze plans work for you then by all means take advantage of them, if not, just like some of us have done, give feedback to the Blaze team about what doesn’t work for you and how they can make it better. If Blaze is here to stay as Safaricom says then it will need all the refinement it can get in order to cater for youths across the board and stay relevant as times change.

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