Extraordinary locations, inspirational conversations and fascinating assignments often boost my energy level. A location I constantly experience such a boost is Kenya.
During the second day of my visit to Nairobi this month, I went up in an elevator and looked out over the dusty and unorganized street life of this metropole. You can easily become despondent if you add up all the things that are not right in our perspective. But, my feelings are quite the opposite: I feel agitated because there is so much we can achieve here.
Impact solar panels for dairy farm
Earlier that day, I visited Classic Foods, a dairy farm in a remote area just outside Nairobi. The manager of this plant showed us the impact of the newly installed solar panels for his operation. The investment in panels was made possible by a loan from ICCO Investments. The entire milk production proceeds by solar energy, especially since it has been unusually hot and dry for months now. I was glad the investment paid off. But, the manager surprised me even more with his additional business plans.
He created a whole new cycle: When his trucks collect the cow's milk at farmers in the surroundings, in order to convert them into transportable and potable milk at the factory, the transport will bring flour and animal food to the milk suppliers. Products which these farmers seriously need. This trade ensures a healthy livestock, resulting into more milk production. And, the farmers who supply milk also receive training. For example: they learn how to test the quality of milk and get examples how to grow vegetables in alternative ways. A real boost for the chain of milk suppliers.
At the end of the visit the manager presented his newest idea: he now makes yogurt with pulp of 100% fresh fruit. A novelty in Kenya and really delicious. The manager is responsible for the marketing of the yogurt, and has to visit all supermarkets himself. We suspect it will be a success, but later that day, another thought crossed my mind...
Photo: Young entrepreneurs
Next stop that day was Nailab, located in the middle of Nairobi. This is a meeting place for young entrepreneurs, a so-called incubator. ICCO considers to support this company by our Agribusiness Booster program. Sam, who describes himself as a mentor, psychologist, priest and sometimes even a father, guides and helps young people with serious business initiatives that encounter obstacles starting up. We spoke to Joshua and Brian, who set up a moving company together: 'Kejamove'. With the help of Nailab, the company is a success and the enthusiastic entrepreneurs already think of expanding to other countries, such as Uganda and Tanzania.
Another young entrepreneur helped by Nailab is Leila. She founded 'Hired Help’. It is her dream to help women with well-paid household jobs. At this moment, twelve women are employed full time and another forty clean houses on a part time contract. Women are often the ones who maintain their families in Kenya. Layla invests in their skills with training and advice so their lives really improve. She foresees all kinds of possibilities for further expansion with, for example, cooking and childcare. Nailab helped her building a website.
Finally, we spoke to Derrick, an acquaintance from ICCO. With the support of Nailab and ICCO's iMPACT Booster program he founded www.Herdy.com, which is an online marketplace for meat, vegetables and fruit. He offers fifty different fresh products online and has established a permanent clientele of over 200 consumers within a year and a half, without marketing. A lot of the small farmers in the area benefit from this initiative. They deliver the products. Derrick found an innovative way to cumulate the products form these small farmers: he created an app. If he needs a certain product, for example fifty rabbits, he publishes the demand online, combined with the price he can afford for it. Farmers can decide to take the offer through one swipe and deliver the goods the same day. This way, the market is easily accessible to these farmers, which seemed impossible before.
Linking different entrepreneurs
Listening to all these stories, it dawned on me that ICCO can play a role in linking the different entrepreneurs. For example, yogurt is not yet available at Herdy.com, while Classic Foods has to peddle with these delicious dairy products at supermarkets. And Leila anticipates on a niche in childcare. A service that AAA Growers, the farmer we visited a day earlier, needs.
Being informed in these meetings, I did not want to leave Kenya. I wanted to stay longer to make connections and work out other ideas. Unfortunately there was no possibility to extend my stay. It eased my mind to know that we have stationed several very good ICCO colleagues in Kenya who will take care of the initiatives, based on their knowledge of the country and their relationships with a variety of companies.
What do these developments mean?
Driving through Kenya, we witnessed a lot of people working in the informal sector, in self-created individual businesses. We saw numerous merchandise stalls along the road, people selling bottles of water on the highways, risking their lives doing so. It's fair that all these people are creating work. However, one would rather see Kenya focusing more on improving employment in the formal sector. With fair jobs and decent salaries. The young people we spoke today are an inspirational example in this matter.
Anyone who still thinks people in Kenya do not initiate improvements should definitely enter in a conversation with me. That will definitely be an inspiring meeting, boosting both our energy levels.