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.