After 8 weeks in Eldoret in Western Kenya, developing an MVP to test if social entrepreneurship training in hard to reach places can develop and launch social entrepreneurs, how did it go?
I arrived in Kenya on 25th October 2014, curious – could a group of muzungu females generate enough passion and energy to skill up a group of unemployed Kenyan youths to the point they could launch their own social enterprises? Equipping two international volunteers with the tools to facilitate their learning, while developing their own ideas along the way?
We didn’t launch social enterprises. We developed young people. Young people who developed their own MVPs (minimum viable products) of what will one day be their ‘big dream’ social enterprises. And they made money. So we’re extremely happy with that. It’s a great start.
The group – initially shy and introverted, so much so that we could hardly hear them speak over the energetic hubbub of a lively Eldoret cafe, celebrated their graduation yesterday, each taking it in turn to give a moving speech to around 25 friends and family. They talked eloquently about how the programme had given them a new way of looking at business.
How did we do it? Despite early challenges that we couldn’t have anticipated, and with serious illnesses falling on a few individuals at key times in the process, it was relatively touch and go right up to pitch day.
The group’s pitch documents that provided evidence of experiments and revenue generation.
The inaugural _socialstarters’ pitch session saw five determined aspiring social entrepreneurs deliver 10 minute presentations to a panel of Kenyan judges (and me) so impressive that some of them received offers of mentorship from our panel of experts.
Michelle’s been selling charcoal but she wants to solve the problem of children having nowhere to play that is safe. She wants to create a local playground that will mean parents won’t be fretting about where their children will have gone. On the side, she sees the potential in growing her charcoal business. She has already started networking, and is thinking about creating a pathway into events organising, where she might become a leader in children’s party entertainment, renting bouncy castles and providing catering (she loves to cook). Her network of safe play areas would be funded by her commercial business. She is currently building a partnership with her local church.
Christine, wants to build a fashion business that gives jobs to sex workers. But first, she’s focusing on what she knows – beadwork. Bracelets, mainly. Although due to customer demand she’s also moving into Rosary Beads, necklaces and belts. Her market testing got her over 30 pre-orders for her existing and new products. The big dream? To go to fashion design college (she’s already enrolled), and open a workshop that sees former sex workers tailoring and making unique, high quality African clothing.
Boaz, who won our Top Salesman award, tripled his turnover within one week of selling maize. He then moved to milk, leading to his big dream of owning a farm where he employs people with physical disabilities. He was commended by our judges as someone with a smart head for business, a man who took the experiments phase of our programme seriously and got out there, starting small, earning himself his first proper salary.
There are several more stories just as inspiring, such as the waste management group (Old Uganda Road) who is looking at new forms of creative recycling – but for now we’re just really pleased to see that our own experiment, that of creating social starters in hard to reach places – it worked! In the start-up world, you’ll hear lots about MVPs and prototypes – which in simple terms is where you build the smallest, cheapest, easiest way of testing if your idea works. We did our MVP with a team of 4. As a two-fold training programme for both the developed worlds and the developing, our plan was always to create social starters on both sides of the pond. We brought with us Melanie Akerboom, a photographer & social entrepreneurship blogger, and Jennifer Brandon a specialist consumer researcher, as trainee volunteer Social Enterprise Consultants. They mentored the young entrepreneurs through the process as well as designing learning sessions for community groups.
They return to Berlin and London, ready to tackle their ‘what next’.
You can buy Melanie Akerboom’s 2015 Wildlife Photography Calendar here. Check out her social entrepreneurship and travel photography blog What A Mission. And if you’re an organisation looking for social entrepreneurship training, Melanie has recently launched What A Mission Ventures.
If you’re a brand or organisation looking for a consumer specialist with a social edge who knows all about people, have a chat with Jen. She helps brands better understand their customers for projects, programmes and campaigns that are about more than just the bottom line. Jen also designs meaningful solutions, and has worked with some of the biggest fashion and retail brands in the UK such as Cath Kidston, Hunter and Pret a Manger.