At the start of the 4th week in Kenya…

Hamjambo, marafiki!  (Hello, my friends!)

The past couple of weeks in Kenya have been pretty incredible.  The Kellogg fellows have done a lot of trips out into the Kenyan countryside, including a visit to Karen, where we visited an elephant orphanage and giraffe park, as well as Lake Naivasha, where we did a pretty aggressive climb called Hell’s Gate and were out in the open with different wildlife.  This past weekend, we all took a trip over to Rwanda to experience a new country – one that I have been dying to visit for several years now.

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Rwanda was such an aesthetically beautiful place with tons of dormant volcanoes and hills that are now used for farming.  No wonder it’s called “The Land of a Thousand Hills”- I think we counted more than a thousand just in our weekend there!  That said, I experienced parts of the country, like the Genocide Memorial, with a very heavy heart, given the atrocities that took place in Rwanda even in very recent years.  The highlight of the weekend was the golden monkey tracking hike that we did at Volcanoes National Park that shares a border with both Uganda and the DRC.  So much fun, and felt so great to be active and outdoors – check out a few of our photos! 

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Work is going well.  I’m finally feeling acclimated and have my role carved out in a way where I know exactly what I need to be working on when I walk into the office at 7:55am each morning.  One major work stream is the establishment of Virtual City’s distribution channels – mostly in the form of strategic partnerships with large mobile money operators, banks, and global MNCs.  The second major work stream is around change management, and getting the Virtual City team of 85 people to adopt a stronger sales culture.  While I don’t think they’ll ever really be “salesy”, the starting point is a team of incredible engineers that are accustomed to creating beautiful UI – and letting it sit there.  So a “sales mentality” in this sense means adopting a stronger degree of comfort in demonstrating the solution’s functionality to potential clients, speaking through the value it will add to SMEs and understanding how to customize technical requirements based off the customer needs.  One part of that is creating the tools and sales management protocols to create an infrastructure where people feel comfortable embracing sales, so I am just beginning the process of interviewing potential new team members to help strengthen this change.

I am also starting to feel like I have real friends in Kenya outside of the fellow group, which has been nice, and has made the evenings something to look forward to as well.  Everyone has such an interesting story, and it makes for incredibly worthwhile dinner conversation over a random variety of cuisines – check out a few pictures below from a friend’s birthday dinner we held last week.  Nairobi really does attract a ton of different types of people, but most of them are interested in pursuing a career in the social enterprise or tech innovation scene long term.

We have a dinner planned with Kellogg alums in the area tomorrow evening, and we’ll be sure to check back in soon!

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!