Working with Citi Volunteers to deliver impact

At Balloon a key aspect to our impact is the idea of ‘grow businesses, change lives’. We achieve this by working with micro-entrepreneurs with the aim of growing them into SMEs. After an entrepreneur joins us for their initial programme, if they are keen to keep working with us and meet our criteria they take part in subsequent programmes. These include access to greater amounts of finance, and typically more experienced volunteers to support them with more complex challenges.

In April, we ran our first Corporate Programme where all volunteers came from Citi Corporate and Investment Banking (EMEA). This was facilitated through VSO’s Knowledge Exchange Programme. Twelve analysts and associates from around the region joined us in Nakuru to work with some of our most exciting entrepreneurs. The team was trained by Josh (co-founder of Balloon) based on a curriculum co-created by Balloon and Bain consultants who had previously done externships with us in-country.


Solomon: One of the exciting entrepreneurs Citi volunteers worked with

Working in teams of three with their entrepreneurs, the groups analysed business opportunities, conducted rigorous market research and tested innovations. This involved handing out free samples of delicious sugar cane juice, testing out new fashion designs of various clothes, and selling cow feed supplements to various buyers. After four intense weeks working with entrepreneurs, the groups put together extensive business plans to guide the entrepreneurs moving forward.


The team visit Apolo at one of his sales meetings to better understand how he connects with customers

All in all, the feedback from the volunteers is that it was a wonderful opportunity to apply their skills in a meaningful way, creating impact; learn about a new country and culture; and develop soft skills like working in highly uncertain environments and leadership.

As noted by one associate: This will always be a highlight of my personal Citi experience and I highly recommend this program to any prospective volunteers in the future.”

You can read more about their experiences in this Citi blog.

The end of the programme was marked by a pitching event whereby each entrepreneur pitched to a panel for access to financial and non-financial support provided by Balloon. We were very grateful to have senior Citi staff join us for the event: Manolo Falco (Head of Corporate and Investment Banking, EMEA), Maria Diaz del Rio (Chief of Staff, EMEA) Joyce-Ann, Wainaina (CEO, East Africa), and MaryAnn Mwaura (Public Affairs, East Africa). The team were impressed with the entrepreneurs and their businesses and thoroughly enjoyed meeting them. Discussions about opportunities ran long over the scheduled time!


For our entrepreneurs the programme was a huge success. They greatly enjoyed it and received received a lot of value throughout the programme. Our monitoring and evaluation team will be following up with the entrepreneurs closely, but the initial post-programme assessment already indicates strong impact:

*SA = strongly agree; A = agree

  • 88% strongly agree (100% SA+A): The Balloon programme helped me generate business ideas
  • 75% strongly agree (100% SA+A): The Balloon programme helped me improve operations
  • 75% strongly agree (100% SA+A): The Balloon programme helped me understand finance
  • 63% strongly agree (100% SA+A): The Balloon programme helped me increase networks
  • 63% strongly agree (100% SA+A): The Balloon programme helped me increase customers

Every entrepreneur also reported wanting to enrol on further Balloon programmes. We have begun thinking about the next stage of our programming – stage 3 – where we want to crack how we help these entrepreneurs reach true scale.

As Apolo said: “in two years I’ll be a giant of Nakuru!”

We look forward to welcoming them back!