The Center for Research in Technology and Innovation (CRTI) at the Kellogg School of Management is pleased to announce the 2014 batch of summer Fellows of the Innovation in Development Fellowship program. Our five Fellows will be working with social enterprises and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India and Kenya from mid-June through mid-August. We wish them well and look forward to hearing about their experiences over the next ten weeks.
It’s 7PM in East Africa. As the sun sets over rural fields and farming villages, thousands of homes, schools and small businesses are plunged into darkness. 589 million Africans live without access to reliable electricity, 40 million in Kenya alone. In its place the majority of Kenyans rely on paraffin lanterns to provide indoor lighting, a costly and highly dangerous substitute.
This summer I’ll be working with One Degree Solar (ODS), a technology company that manufactures and distributes household solar products to improve access to clean energy and connectivity in Africa. Recognizing that access to reliable energy drives productivity and improves healthcare, education, and commerce, ODS was created to meet the needs of low-income households and businesses that demand modern lighting, phone charging, entertainment, and technology. Conventional alternatives in the micro-solar market require specialized tools, training, and spare parts, making after-sales support difficult and expensive for both suppliers and customers. ODS products are purposefully designed to be easy to maintain and serviceable using locally sourced materials (e.g. standard motorbike battery), extending the useful lifespan of the product and therefore its impact.
To achieve massive scale and marketing prominence in high-trafﬁc areas, One Degree Solar recently partnered with The Coca Cola Company in Kenya, where it introduced BrightBox systems at 100 sales kiosks in May 2012 as part of an initial pilot. These microenterprises drastically reduced their energy spending, extended their operating hours, and increased revenues by an average of 15% – all while reducing their carbon footprint. I was honored to attend a recent Pan-Africa gathering at Coca Cola’s Africa headquarters in Nairobi, where the BrightBox was exhibited to country managers and regional bottlers.
Like many emerging industries, solar too has suffered from low quality entrants, damaging customer confidence. In an effort to rebuild consumer trust, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank and IFC initiative, was born to independently promote quality assurance, supply distribution, and customer education. In November 2012 the BrightBox passed rigorous quality control tests, affording it access to distribution partnership across Kenya. Lighting Africa is targeting expansion to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and CDR, creating new avenues for ODS to continue to grow outside of Kenya.
As demand begins to outpace supply, ODS faces its first ever stockout this month (yikes!), and I am reminded of the lessons in Ops 430. It’s exciting to be applying those lessons – along with pricing, promotion channels, working capital, shipping costs, currency devaluation – in a real world environment, with real bottom line consequences. Hopefully we’ll make the right choices as we look ahead to August!
Hi everyone! Just wanted to share the blog post I wrote today for the Growth Hub. Our application deadline for the Hub’s newest incubator program is approaching on Monday, so we’re making some final efforts via social media to really spread the word, get entrepreneurs excited, and make sure people finalize their apps in time! Feel free to read some of my thoughts about the start-ups I’ve interacted with thus far.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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):
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!