We survived week 1!

We all successfully made it through our first weeks of work, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it feels great to start settling in – with our fellowships and with our new lives as expats! The crew here in Nairobi celebrated by hanging out with some baby elephants and giraffes on Sunday at the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Center in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi just south west of the city center. They were adorable!

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Feeding the giraffes!

By way of introduction, I am working for a company called The Growth Hub. It is an impact incubator and accelerator that supports early stage entrepreneurs and start-ups in the social enterprise space in Africa. The Growth Hub is backed by its consulting branch, Growth Africa, which has been working to facilitate economic growth and expansion in East Africa for over ten years. My role at the Growth Hub is multi-fold: first, I am helping the Hub recruit entrepreneurs for its upcoming accelerator program, which is beginning this August. This involves heavy outreach to entrepreneurs, investors / VC funds, and other networks to ensure there is a strong applicant pool and to secure investor support (financial and non). Second, because the Growth Hub is only running its 2nd accelerator program and is in itself a start-up, I am helping define the Hub’s operations and institutionalizing best practices around planning and running a successful program. Third, there are a number of entrepreneurs who share the Hub’s workspace, and although each start-up is different, in a nutshell I will be working with these entrepreneurs to help them scale or refine their business models.

This week will be busy with investor meetings, and I started off the week by going to a Climate Innovation Conference at Strathmore University’s Business School to recruit entrepreneurs in the energy / environmental sustainability sectors. Already I am getting a holistic view on what the start-up scene is like here in Nairobi, and there is a ton happening – it’s hard to keep up! The social enterprise space is thriving – investors are constantly looking for the next new business opportunity that will also positively change the world. In talking to some of the entrepreneurs who work at the Hub, I’ve even heard that it can be difficult for start-ups who are purely for-profit to find funding, as there are more investors here who are interested in social enterprises. The positive energy is contagious! As opposed to many places around the world where traditionally, people feel that it is difficult to “do well by doing good,” here it feels like the exact opposite. People really believe their ideas can solve social problems AND make money – the best of both worlds, right? Now all they need is an incubator to help them do just that… 🙂

Cheers for now!



Namaste from Delhi!

Happy Friday everyone! While Evanston and finals seem like a long time ago, its still been less than a week since I got to Delhi – the place I love to call home. It has been an incredible, though slightly jet-lag hazy, week. Luckily, the monsoons decided to come a little early, so it wasn’t quite as scorching hot when I got in on Sunday night – but that has definitely changed in the last few days as we quickly try to switch from fans to air conditioners. Delhi certainly benefited from the early rains, but the news these days is filled by those north of us who are trapped with raging floods and landslides in the mountains.

I am excited to start my journey as a CRTI fellow and will be spending the next 10 weeks working at the American India Foundation. At the heart of its mission, AIF seeks to catalyze social and economic change in India through its work in three main sectors – education, livelihood and public health. I was greeted on Monday morning by a very friendly team working in the livelihood sector. The program I will focus on is called Rickshaw Sangh – loosely translated to be a rickshaw association. The purpose of this program is to collectivize and help one of the most marginalized groups of people in the country – the Rickshaw pullers and drivers. Through a partnership model with NGOs and banks, AIF has created a program that allows rickshaw drivers to own their own asset and thus generate a more stable income.


It is estimated that there are approximately 8 million rickshaw drivers in the country each of whom have 4-5 dependents – so we are talking about a program that could impact upwards of 36 million people. That figure to me is mind-boggling, and I’m enthused to work in an area that has such a direct impact on a single person’s life. The project that I will primarily focus on is to figure out additional earning sources for rickshaw drivers. One key area is the possibility of advertising on the rickshaws – they are after all one of the slowest moving vehicles on the road, and weave in and out of the most congested parts of the city, catering to a very specific consumer. Understanding this consumer, their needs and aspirations is going to be my challenge.

This week I have spent time on getting to know the organization and program nuances as much as possible. I have also been doing a lot of research and reading on bottom of the pyramid marketing, products and services aimed at the low-end consumer, and gaining insight on other NGOs that are working on similar programs. The highlight of this week was an afternoon spent with a director of Smile Train (www.smiletrain.org), a NGO that provides free cleft lip and palate surgeries in over 87 countries around the world. After hearing a lot about their interesting operating model, we turned to business and the potential for Smile Train ads on our cycle rickshaws. An idea was formed – and I’m off to Agra on Monday to spend some time in the field and meet with some of the partner NGOs and rickshaw drivers that might support this advertising pilot. More to come on that next week!

Aside from work, it is good to be back home. I have not spent this much time in India for many years, and am excited to learn a lot more about the Indian work environment and the social-impact sector in the next 10 weeks!

A quick hello from one who is excited to have me home for the summer (as long as nap times aren’t disturbed):


Karibuni Kenya!

Jambo and Karibuni, Kenya fellow followers!

WOW, what an incredible country!  I was the last of the Kellogg fellows to arrive, but am starting to feel acclimated after only two days here.  The first thing that struck me (outside of the traffic and relatively cold weather) is the hospitality of the Kenyan people.  I was surprised to arrive to the Nairobi airport, expecting to be greeted by some random driver with a name tag; instead, John, the CEO of the company I’m working with had spent his Sunday afternoon at the airport, and his evening taking me to dinner and getting to know me.  To say I’m honored and excited to be working with him is an understatement!

Jordan and I are living together in Samra in Hurlingham, adjacent to Kilimani (the start-up area of Nairobi) where we’re working, and are together with several other Acumen interns in their fellow housing.  A few quick lessons learned: the water heater in the shower takes awhile to warm up, if someone moves nine apartments over, rest assured we will hear it, and despite living on a crowded street, we are expected to take drivers most everywhere – especially at night.  Our apartment is cozy and the company is great – all in all, very happy!

After a few hours of rest, I set off to work.  My job this summer is with Virtual City, a mobility solutions provider throughout Kenya and Acumen Fund portfolio company.  Specifically, I am helping to scale its new division, Hewani (Swahili for “in the cloud”), that focuses on creating and developing the market for mobile money exchanges at and within SMEs. Essentially, Hewani is a suite of product technologies that act as aggregator applications, bringing together product, customer, and order transparency with distribution and mobile payment (they are one of M-PESA’s three Kenya-based partners).  This is an incredibly innovative and lofty objective, as most of the mobile money transfers that take place in-country right now are P2P (person to person) and not B2B (business to business, which is what Hewani is looking to drive).  If successful, however, Hewani will help to alleviate a plethora of problems that exist in B2B business transactions today, including high transaction costs, inefficient distribution, limited access to financing and fraud.  So my task over the next ten weeks is to figure out – tactically – how to grow this business from the ground up.  Easy, right? (insert large eyeballs)

My first day included an in-depth orientation with the C-suite team, lunch and knowledge transfer with a former Global Fellow at Acumen who worked at Virtual City, and a meeting with a potential investor.  The day flew by, and I’m recognizing I will need to earmark time specifically to work instead of just meetings.  My favorite perk thus far: the mobile (Safaricom included, of course!) phone I’ve been equipped with chirps like a little birdie whenever I receive a message.  Perhaps a tad distracting to the rest of the office, but it makes me laugh.

Last night, all of the Kellogg fellows went to iHub (a Nairobi-based accelerator) for a speaker series on social entrepreneurship.  Along with meeting all the other interns and social movers and shakers who are here in Nairobi for the summer, we were able to hear firsthand from Jay Kimmelman, founder of Bridge International Academies, and Michael Hudson, Head of Innovation at One Acre Fund (founded by Kellogg’s very own Andrew Youn), on their experiences founding and leading social enterprises in Kenya.  An awesome night, and an overall well-lived day!

Stay tuned on updates from our #CRTI fellow crew.  We welcome your feedback and comments as we continue to share our experiences!


By Seth Engler

It’s now the morning of my third day in Nairobi and I’ve been woken up by the construction next to my apartment that’s “not supposed to happen on weekends” so I might as well kick off the CRTI summer fellows blog to the sound of men dropping metal poles onto other poles from various heights.

So far Nairobi seems like an incredibly vibrant and cosmopolitan city. In my short time here I’ve eaten the best Indian food I’ve had in quite some time and attended a dinner where the attendees were Kenyan-Indian, Lebanese-Irish, Egyptian, and Kenyan-British, and we ate amazing avocados and leeks fresh from the hosts’ garden. Nairobi feels like a city very much with its feet in two worlds. There is a luxurious new mall down the street but to get there I have to walk past numerous vendors selling furniture and puppies from the side of the road and napping in the forest. And just as I bite into an enormous oreo cupcake chosen from a plate of similarly enormous cupcakes, I am regaled with stories of the hosts’ dogs encountering spitting cobras in the garden. So there you have it: puppies and cupcakes but also cobras and enterprising forest nappers.

By way of formal introduction there are six of us Kellogg MBA students undertaking fellowships this summer in Nairobi and Delhi thanks to the generosity of Professor Mohanbir Sawhney and the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation at Kellogg. We are all working with different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social enterprise that are currently using technology or innovative business models to improve governance, promote education, create livelihoods, and enhance healthcare in the developing world. You will hear from all six of us throughout the summer but as I’m the first one to arrive I will kick us off.

My name is Seth Engler and I am working in Nairobi this summer with a local dairy processing company called Bio Foods and one of its investors, Willow Impact Investors. Like all of the other fellows I have just completed my first year at Kellogg and personally have a background in management consulting and more recently worked in marketing at Google. Bio was founded in 1990 with the goal of producing high quality and safe dairy products in Kenya – a market where it is not unheard of to add hydrogen peroxide to milk in order to improve its color. Bio works with smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya and pays above market rates in order to ensure quality of ingredients.

This summer I will be helping Bio enter the mass market in Kenya with a nutritionally enhanced snack. Whereas Bio’s consumers are traditionally more well-to-do, I will be helping launch a product aimed at children of families that take home about $3.50 a day. Product development will be just part of the challenge as we will have to design a distribution system that serves consumers living in slums with little or no access to formal supermarkets. Over the summer my challenge will be to understand the eating and shopping habits of this demographic that constitutes that vast majority of Kenya’s residents. I’ll be back with an update in a couple of weeks, hopefully with a lot more insights to share.