My thoughts on Balloon Kenya

The next few blogs are going to come from one of our Alumni – Anna Rickman, who was on our 2nd programme in 2012. Anna has very kindly written some thoughts on the programme and her journey through it. We hope you enjoy!

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Having worked my way through an intensive business course in the first two weeks of the Balloon Kenya program, I considered myself decently equipped to impart this recently acquired knowledge to the Kenyan youth groups I was to be assigned. I felt even a little self-congratulatory of my quick grasp of a subject so far removed from the humanities/language based disciplines in which I already had experience. I would look around with my newly ‘educated’ perspective and immediately identify problems in Nakuru, things that seemed to me to make no business sense. For example, the way there seemed to be an inexplicable lack of diversity in types of business; new enterprises seemed to spring up only as carbon copies of whatever was already in existence.

Clearly there was a useful job for me to perform here. So I went off to my first lesson, secure in the belief that I had some enlightening to do.

It did not turn out to be so easy…

One of the first and most common difficulties all of us came up against in our first few lessons was the difficulty in getting our groups to understand our conception of “business problems.” One that a) had a commercially desirable solution, b) could be addressed by the resources of the group, and c) would be able to make money in the long term.

When asked to think of business problems in their area, groups frequently came up with what we would define as a Type 1 problem, i.e.  too large and difficult to be dealt with by the group, or ones that no one would pay for, or ones that would not make a profit even if the problem could be solved! Some of the most common problems suggested to us were unemployment, tribalism, illness/disease, poverty. This quickly became infuriating.

Identifying the right business problem for each group was the first and most fundamental step to design and develop of a successful business.

We seemed to have fallen at the first hurdle.

Anna and Tharira

What actually was the lack of understanding here? The fact that even the most educated Kenyan students among the groups so fundamentally misunderstood what we were looking for must be down to some underlying miscommunication.

Only after two months in Nakuru and many shared frustrations and breakthroughs have I come to the realisation of just how much more I had to learn myself before I could reasonably claim to be equipped to teach entrepreneurship in Kenya. Having a good academic understanding of business and entrepreneurship is an essential but not sufficient condition of being able to teach it in a foreign culture. Especially in a culture for which the developed economic framework upon which my own understanding hinged was still alien.

Not ever having studied economics, or having had any prior experience of living in an LEDC, the conclusions I have drawn about my ideas on the economic/cultural/social sources of these teaching difficulties arise purely from the empathy I built up with my students, and my own very limited experience. However, the fact that I felt my teaching to improve incrementally, and the ultimate success of the vast majority of my groups, indicates that the thoughts I have had might not be entirely misguided, and may at least I hope be useful to future Balloon Kenya fellows.  So for what it’s worth, my two cents on the subject are as follows in a few blog posts.

Anna

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