By Account Manager (Africa) Rita Musyimi
Approximately 25% of Nairobi’s population lives in the informal settlements, also known as slums. Most of the people moved from their rural homes in search of job opportunities in the city. However these jobs proved elusive and they found themselves living here. Even so an entrepreneurial spirit is ever present in these settlements. There are money making opportunities that could be leveraged to increase economic activities and strengthen the communities. Private social enterprises have come to the rescue of these communities. As a social lender Shared Interest falls under this ‘’rescue team’’. On day three, we visited an existing handicrafts producer and a potential new customer based in these settlements. In the former case opening up a line of credit for the producer has meant that they have stayed in business for several years and grown their business to compete globally. In the latter case, recycling and reusing of materials was the mainstay of their operations. The youth involved were not only working on a project that is eco-friendly they were also carving out a decent living. The quality of the products produced right in the middle of an informal settlement where ventilation is a big problem is amazing. From this seemingly nonplussed environment the youth do have a computer and internet connection. It is also clear that their customer care standards are unrivalled by most big companies. It is difficult to fathom the source of these quality products especially when you see them displayed in exclusive stores in Nairobi. With a little bit of help, with better ventilated premises, these youth can do wonders.
Youth and Ingenuity
Some of the producers visited in Nairobi and its environs were quite young. They are using their creativity and innovation to earn a decent living. How do you fancy running a business in the shell of an old bus? Yes, a potential customer is doing just that. There are two such bus shells on their premises. After the bus company decommissioned these buses the young man and his family moved them to a rented location in the outskirts of Nairobi. He saw an opportunity in them and created an ‘office’ and ‘factory’ from them. He also does not pay for some of the raw materials. Overgrown bamboo trees are a nuisance to a nearby school as they are a breeding ground for snakes. This man offers to cut them down. The school is happy to have this done for free. For this young man the bamboo is used to create wonderful gift items. When not using bamboos, they prune overgrown branches from cypress and jacaranda trees in the compound and surroundings. What he saves in the bamboo, he has to pay for the pruned cypress and jacaranda.
Brace yourself for the location of his board meetings. This is where we were invited to discuss all matters financial. It is right under a tree shade and the seats are tree stumps carved out to make a very comfortable sitting area. With such ingenuity it would be unfair of me to ask how he makes his power point presentations. I reckon he would provide another very innovative answer. Actually, wasn’t his power point the whole tour from bus to tree? Successful and environmentally sustainable businesses are made of stuff like this, we can all agree.
Moving on to another producer…How do you provide quality assurance training to women who have minimal or no formal education? It is happening right in the heart of Maasai land. The two educated project managers tailor the training around the practical things that the women do on a daily basis, like buying lessos (clothing used by the Maasai). Lessons on quality are derived from this. No written manuals (they can’t read them in any case) and the associated costs. Talk about keeping costs at a minimum, how clever is that!
In between and at the end of the official trip are two weekends. This is time well spent with family and friends
As the trip comes to an end, I recap the whole experience and realise that indeed I soaked it all in very well. And yes, I remember some more words of the song:
‘’My Land is Kenya
So warm, wild and free
You’ll always stay with me
Deep in my heart, deep in my heart…’’
As I return to my adopted home in Newcastle, I say Kwaheri ya kuonana (So long) to ‘Enkare Nyirobi’*
*The name “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyirobi, which translates to “the place of cool waters”.
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