Balloon Kenya Experience

My six weeks in Kenya have flown by. I’m sad to be leaving but am optimistic of the future of the Kenyan Entrepreneurs I worked with and am looking forward to returning and seeing the change to Nakuru, the fastest developing city in Africa.

We began with an intense entrepreneurial course which was completely different, and in my opinion more useful than the one I took at university. Tools such as the Business Model Canvas as opposed to a lengthy Business Plan demonstrated a quick one page sheet which included everything needed in a Business Plan. This tool was invaluable when used with the Kenyan Entrepreneurs the following week as we could quickly understand their current business and clearly show via the segments what could be improved.

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The first weekend was unforgettable as we got an insight into rural life in Nakuru; we stayed in a small but vibrant village called Lalwet. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into Patrick’s family. The 3 room house is home to Patrick, his wife and their 5 children. What struck me was that they had built the house themselves from the mud around them and used the plot to grow food to sustain their family, demonstrating a resourcefulness that I find so uncommon at home.

We helped Patricks wife to prepare dinner which took 3 hours; ripping meat with a blunt knife, separating rice, tearing wood for the fire and (attempting to) knead the Ugali. The kitchen also doubled as a chicken coop, equipped with a 3 hobbed oven made from hardened mud. After slaving over dinner, women would eat after men in a separate room under the light from a small lantern which choked the air. In rural areas, attitudes have slowly been changing about a women’s role in society. I was concerned if this cultural difference would affect my teaching the following day when I would meet my first group of Entrepreneurs.

I was nervous about the first lesson. I had four middle aged men with existing businesses. I felt that I had no credentials or experience to come to their city and advise them on a market I had only spent one week in. Prabs and I explained the BMC and we began to thoroughly analyse their existing business. Our differences enabled us to quickly spot the possible improvements. They thoroughly appreciated the first lesson and my apprehension quickly disappeared.

My second group were an intelligent bunch of young entrepreneurs, this lesson was far more challenging and at times uncomfortable. One disruptive member in particular highlighted my fear from the weekend. This lesson was challenging but is an example of how each experience is very different.

It wasn’t until that weekend when I visited the challenging group’s business that they began to respect and listen to me. I understand that some might find it patronising for a young Mzungu to stand in the class room and teach them about their business which they have been far more familiar with. For this group it was my on site facilitating which was most effective and this approach worked rather than a teacher student relationship experienced at school. Each group was different and so your methods have to adapt accordingly.

The second week of lessons needed more time to structure the lessons. What we found effective is doing a problem and solution exercise where the entrepreneurs would list as many problems they faced in their existing business and then another entrepreneur would give solutions. We encouraged them to think creatively and then refined the ideas down to a feasible solution. Finishing with working out how they could test this change with spending as little as possible.

In the second lesson that week, we tried the Marshmallow challenge. We gave our Entrepreneurs 15 minutes to build the tallest tower from 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1m of string, 1m of tape and a Marshmallow. At the time it seemed like a competitive fun game, but after demonstrated an important lesson in business. Where by the Marshmallow represented the customer. Usually the Marshmallow would be placed on the tower in the last minute and the whole structure would bend and fall. It demonstrates that we need to focus on the customer(Marshmallow) and build up from around it. Also that it is better to test with the customer earlier, rather than at the last moment, whereby it is too late to redesign the business.

On the third weekend we camped near Hells Gate, went hippo spotting and finished the night with beers round the fire. The next day we started with a rock climb up the side of an impressive rock face, then a long walk through a stunning gorge. At times there were scary climbs but this only added to the experience. Shoes will inevitably get wet from the hot spring water trickling down so I’d advise two pairs of shoes! The day finished with a magenta sunset to end a perfect weekend.

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By the third week we had visited all our entrepreneurs businesses and had begun testing adaptation and new ideas using a ‘Minimal Viable Product’. I would advise using the ‘ Island of Assets’ by this time. Simply writing down what they have now (qualifications, experience, skills, objects ie computer) and where they want to be in one, three and ten years time. From this activity we discovered a lot about our Entrepreneurs and started to come up with better ideas than their existing businesses using their assets. This activity also further motivated the Entrepreneurs and encouraged them to plan out their lives and pinpoint exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.

I couldn’t leave Kenya without going on a safari. I would liken it to “where’s Wally?” Only Wally was a lion and it was much more rewarding when we spotted them. I visited Lake Nakuru, “a bird watchers paradise” on the third weekend, which only whet my appetite for the famous Maasai Mara.

The penultimate week of lessons we introduced the cash flow and profit and loss template to show projections of their business. This part of the programme I was not looking forward to as I believed my lack of general business and accounting knowledge would prohibit me. However this probably worked to my favour as I could see which parts were more difficult and therefore explain them further. All the fellows came from different degree backgrounds and had different strengths and weaknesses. However I felt that Doug and Josh prepared us well so that our lack of experience never restricted us.

The final week was very busy with our entrepreneurs. It felt more stressful than a coursework deadline! Nearly every entrepreneur encountered problems or mistakes on both their cash flow and P&L and correcting them was a lengthy process leading to a rushed pitch. It was bizarre having only known our Entrepreneurs for 5 weeks to then become so concerned. For a few I was not worried; I knew that the work we had done, regardless of whether they got the loan, had hugely impacted their business.

Overall my 6 weeks in Kenya was a wonderful experience and I look forward to returning. Beforehand I didn’t know what to expect and dread that I might advise someone poorly, ruining their business and lives. The reality was that facilitating them came naturally to me but whenever I was unsure Doug and Josh were always on the other end of the phone to help. I am certain that myself and every other Balloon Kenya Fellow helped several Kenyans to grow a business. I couldn’t think of better way to spend 6 weeks. I enjoyed every part and felt that what I did made a long term difference.

Written By Amanda Campbell, 2013 Fellow

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