When Business Strategies met International Development

Having spent almost six weeks in Kenya, while focussing on business development and improving our entrepreneurial skills, we’re starting to understand the Kenyan culture and build close relationships with the local people. Being based around the urban city centre of Nakuru or the so called ‘east side’, the hustling city gives us an impression of what is described as a ‘fast-developing metropolis’. Yet, a walk down the street reveals beggars, street kids and the homeless; the constant hassling when walking down the road is not directed at just mzungus but the locals who hand them a few shillings as they pass by, indirectly encouraging them to depend on this flow of income for sustenance.

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Nonetheless, while busy Nakuru hustles with energy, located a few minutes away and surrounded by the beauty of lake Nakuru is the village of Lalwet. Despite their many obvious pressing needs, the locals are constantly willing to open their homes to visitors and share what they have. In fact, in the first week of the program we were able to live with a host family in Lalwet for a night. While the food was beyond amazing, the welcoming atmosphere of the village made it difficult to leave at the end of the stay! However, one of the most interesting observations was the the difference between the topics of conversation and priorities of the villagers, to the locals in the city. Never was there an opportunistic suggestion requesting for a donation or mention of the lack of money in the community; Even though the financial situation of both the adults and kids from the streets of Nakuru, and those in Lalwet may have been the same, the outlook on life was distinctly different. With the little income they made, the locals were able to sustain their livelihoods and share the few resources that were available. Furthermore, through effective financing, the community was even able to create what was described as a ‘community welfare fund’ which, among other things, was able to sponsor the local children to attend secondary school, keeping them away from distractions and continue education. Even though there was no massive budget in the community, through effective leadership and planned investment, the community was able to sustain itself and tend for each other.

Most economists consider GDP growth as an essential pre-requisite for development; Completely ignorant to the damage done to the culture, morals and values of citizens. Governments undercut the welfare state, which to an extent inhibit children s’ access to education and prefer to focus their attention to developing the economies. While this reflects well on the international agenda, little do governments notice income gaps and deteriorating culture and values of the locals. Furthermore, Improvement projects treat citizens as a homogeneous entity, not taking into account different ways of life, leading to worsening income gaps.

This expresses the ever growing need for development strategies to be created from within communities and nations rather than trying to replicate the development process of the first world; Such strategies usually tend to lead to the creation of a larger income gap and ends up being ineffective. Yet, as Balloon Kenya has taught us, the customers come first. Therefore, if individual governments are able to identity the different customer segments (citizens), address their problems individually using innovation and effective planning instead of replicating the ideas of others, an effective development strategy could be produced. One that, instead of developing some citizens, will aid the development of all citizens, address their individual needs and most importantly help them retain the uniqueness of their culture. like the community of Lalwet and their attitude towards sharing and the general welfare of people they encounter.

Written By Manavi Perera, 2013 Fellow

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