1 Year On Blog Series – Anna Rickman

When I look back over my year since Balloon Kenya I find it hard to see how I’ve fit it all in. It’s been a whirlwind, and I can see the influence of my time in Nakuru informing each turn.


One of the most rewarding insights I gained from working with youth groups (and a group of 70 year old widows!) in Nakuru, was that so often the most important element lacking in disadvantage is confidence. Some of my students picked up our business teaching quickly, it almost seemed like second nature. Many of the businesses we designed with our groups made use of resources which they already had or could obtain themselves albeit with a degree of risk, whether it be a bike or a room to rent. Why couldn’t they have done this without us? The business training we provided was vital, but it was the mentoring, the support and the belief we invested in our groups which was almost equally so.

I saw a link between aspiration and attainment. If you are born into poverty, are prejudiced against for being so (as one of my groups from Ponda Mali, a ‘bad’ part of town definitely were), disadvantage almost becomes an identity. Low self-confidence/worth can lead to low aspiration and subsequently low levels of attainment and success. The investment we provided, not only material but emotional also, and the belief that this demonstrated in the capabilities of our students, were what was missing for them to achieve their potential.

On returning home I was determined to continue to pursue the sort of work I found so rewarding in Kenya. Did you know that the UK has the lowest levels of social mobility in the developed world? I clearly didn’t need to search overseas for useful work to do.

I started off at The Challenge Network. One of their core aims is to increase empathy and understanding in young people. They believe that the severe stratification and fragmentation of our society by age, race, gender, economic status significantly contributes to the social mobility figures in the UK. They address this through social integration across a summer residential programme, increasing confidence and facilitating the formation of meaningful relationships between young people who might never have had a chance to interact.

It struck me that this idea could be powerfully employed cross-continentally. In a century of global citizenship and responsibility, cross cultural integration has an important role to play. I was inspired to set up a school twinning programme between a primary school run by one of my students on the Balloon Kenya programme, and a primary school in Tooting. Tooting Primary are sponsoring the installation of the necessary infrastructure for reliable internet connectivity at St Dominic’s Junior Academy in Nakuru. The partnership is designed to meet global citizenship curricula and increase cultural awareness in both schools through exciting and novel initiatives, such as peer-learning via Skype and email. It also aims to improve the infrastructure of a deprived area of Nakuru town through the introduction of broadband internet connectivity for the whole community. Hamisi, the head teacher at St Dominic’s will run the school as an internet cafe after hours so that the programme can become self-sustaining.

I moved on from The Challenge to Future First, where I managed the Back to School Week campaign. Future First aims to address issues of social mobility and educational disadvantage in the UK by harnessing the power of relatable role models. They facilitate alumni volunteer participation with state schools to provide current students with careers advice, mentoring, work experience placements etc. Over the week I coordinated 60 events across the country which saw 52 alumni went back to 18 schools to inspire more than 3000 students and led a social media marketing campaign generating 4.5million impressions.

Alongside my official employment, and my primary school twinning project I also volunteer for Acumen. Acumen is a fantastic impact investing fund which invests patient capital in breakthrough businesses, leaders and ideas that provide vital goods and services to the base of the pyramid. One of their initiatives to scale their impact is through open sourcing high quality content developed through their work in social innovation in the field over the past ten years. I manage the Acumen online courses and their communities of graduates in London, helping provide the training and networks necessary for Londoners to start building their own enterprising solutions to social issues in London. The training and experience I gained in human-centred design and lean-start up on Balloon Kenya equipped me uniquely well for this responsibility, from which point I’ve felt I’ve really been able to take ownership of the role and help advise and influence the strategic development of this Acumen initiative, including for example, our recent local partnership with The Hub and their new Youth Academy programme.

Written by Anna Rickman, Balloon Alumni