A New Collateral (Final Guest Blog)
‘Fine, hypothetically our group of widows can solve “illness” as a group, but will it make money? I posed the question. ‘Will people pay for it?’ ‘Yes’ was the answer… I was looking for a “no” of course.
Again it took me a while to understand why this answer was valid and it was only after Mike Keter said to me ‘We will hold a meeting, come up with a business idea and seek assistance from our leaders on how to apply for such money.”
There have been numerous examples of recent governmental encouragement towards the formation of groups, with the express purpose of attracting grants from development agencies. I learnt that many of the group members were trying to come up with an idea in order to attract funding as a way of making money.
I believe the struggle which our groups faced in imagining business solutions that could be profitable is a direct result of the interference of foreign ‘Aid’ on developing economies. Because funding is stressed as the initial purpose and motivation of forming these youth groups, not profit, the business ideas they subsequently came up with were based on false foundations. The development of businesses built on these foundations cannot lead to sustainable economic growth; any discernable growth achieved will be short term.
It creates an economic model where there is little to no local responsibility, and it prevents the possibility of new profit driven and potentially more successful models from developing. Aid distorted my youth groups’ picture of business and entrepreneurship.
Our groups could not see that solving certain problems would not make money, as the evidence says it will. For example, EcoFriends from Nakuru National Park recieved funding to keep the National Park free of weeds, a worthy, but by no-ones definition a potentially profitable enterprise.
This last lesson was such a hard pill to swallow, particularly for myself. I talk about the decision I made in the end to not give Lucy the 3000 Kenyan Shillings she needed for the deposit for a place for her and her daughter to live, and the internal struggle here;
I saw first-hand the sort of damaging mindset handouts can lead to. And yet there is still a huge part of me that wishes I had just given Lucy the £26 she needed…
Two of my most gratifying moments of the program, one’s which revealed to me my final success in teaching entrepreneurship in a culture with a certain inertia towards the necessary innovation, risk, and profit seeking occurred at the very end of the program. Freddie from Mabadiliko offered up un-prompted to me the most valuable lesson he had learnt in the 6 week curriculum I had led him through – the importance of innovation. Many of his group initially resisted the idea of expanding into selling audio books and lectures from the mp3 music business they already had. They argued that as no one did that yet in Nakuru, there must be no market for it, Moses even offered up the maxim that “if you want to hide money from a Kenyan, hide it in a book!’. However, by the end of our teaching program, he himself noted and reported to me the general trend in Kenya for copy-cat business as I had observed to myself in the first few weeks. Now he was thinking like a true entrepreneur!
Finally, and most impressively, Ujirani got over their fear of someone stealing their idea, and actually incorporated the potential of such an occurrence into their business plan! They turned the problem into an opportunity. They were thinking like entrepreneurs too! They would sell their younger ‘fingerling’ fish, too small to eat, to seed other fish farms which might be attracted to establish, seeing the success of theirs. Thus they solved another problem with a business solution. They modified their value propositions also to ensure that their service would always serve their customers best to remain ahead of any competition.
The point of these posts is not in anyway to undermine the growing trend towards micro-finance lending in emerging makets. I do believe this holds the key to development in areas such as East Africa. However, I believe that this can only work alongside the kind of education offered by Balloon Kenya. And I hope future fellows will read this and learn from my experiences so that they remember to always challenge their assumptions and build empathy with their Kenyan groups. This in my opinion is the key to success.