Posts filed under ‘Innovation’

Young Kenyan Entrepreneurs at the Forefront of Tech Innovation

        Young Kenyans are harnessing their country’s growing tech prowess to go into business for themselves.  For example, Jamila Abbas and Susan Oguya, created a mobile application called M-Farm. The application allows Kenyan farmers to access real time market information, buy farm inputs from manufacturers and find buyers for their produce, all through SMS.  Lorna Rutto started EcoPost, a company that turns plastic waste into durable fencing posts, an environmentally friendly alternative to timber.  At Strathmore University, Kenya’s leading institution for business and accounting, many students are interested in pursuing traditional career tracks like joining the ranks of major financial firms, but quite a few are just as eager to start their own enterprises like Jamila, Susan and Lorna.  On a recent afternoon on campus, I sat down with Asha Mweru to discuss Chochote, an e-commerce platform that she launched with her classmates Ivy Wairimu and Victor Karanja.  Chochote, which is the Swahili word for “anything,” started as a simple classroom assignment.

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The Chochote Team: Asha Mweru, Ivy Wairimu and Victor Karanja
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

        The team of 4th year Strathmore students sought to connect buyers and sellers on a platform based on excellent customer service, discounted prices and home delivery.  Currently, it targets consumers between the ages of 18 and 48.  Chochote’s tagline is “not just anything.” It’s transitioning from offering a wide range of products like electronics, cosmetics and clothing to a narrower, more particular supply of unique crafts, jewelry and fashion items, similar to Etsy. Ivy explained that, “Kenyans are very specific [about] what they are buying.  So, we [investigated and] found out what the specifics are,” then decided to re-brand.

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        The project has received support from the IDEA Foundation and ilab Africa’s business incubation center at Strathmore.  Currently, they get between 600 and 900 hits a day and hope to reach the likes of popular Kenyan e-commerce sites like Uzanunua and Online Shopping. Their foreseeable goals include increasing their suppliers, expanding to reach consumers across the region and establishing a Chochote mobile application.  After all, Kenyans are just beginning to warm up to the idea of online shopping. “Since everything is going virtual, why should Kenya only shop at Amazon? Why shouldn’t we have our own thing here? Kenyans between the age of 18 and 48 have accepted that the internet is here, it’s here and sure to be used. They’re accepting it, so let’s grow with them,” said Asha.

        Nonetheless, online shopping is a very new concept here.  “Kenyans are still quite skeptical towards e-commerce and this is a challenge we’ve had to take head-on,” said Asha.  Other challenges faced by the team include accessing seed capital, establishing relationships with reliable suppliers and remaining abreast of clients’ changing preferences. On a macro level, the team points to the current state of Kenyan primary and secondary education as a hurdle to overcome too.  In conversations with Kenyans, I’ve personally heard that there’s more of an emphasis on memorization than critical thinking.  According to Victor, “Someone once said that our education system is meant to produce employees not employers.  Notable, however, is the number of Kenyan entrepreneurs that circumvent these challenges therefore making it easier for the rest of us.”

        Despite these challenges, the Chochote team would not have it any other way.  “Honestly, I’ve never liked the idea of being micro-managed, and solving a problem and actually seeing the solution being implemented gives me a thrill,” said Victor. The team explained that the most exciting part of entrepreneurship is the ability to create employment opportunities rather than compete for limited slots that are already there. Ivy’s dream is not only to see Chochote become profitable, but to ensure that it expands enough to generates jobs. “Through our work with Chochote, [we’d like to] build a successful e-commerce model that can be replicated within Kenya and Africa at large.”

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The Chochote team at Strathmore University Business School
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

        Perhaps, the team’s experience will have them avoiding 9-5’s forever.  They’re part of a new generation of Africans who are inspired by the likes of Muhamed Yunus, public intellectual Dambisa Moyo and the founder and CEO of Open Quest Media, June Arunga, among others.  Both women were chosen by Forbes Magazine to be among the 20 Youngest and Most Powerful Women in Africa.  In addition to the rise of visible role models that they can relate to on the global stage, their immediate environment is more conducive to innovation than ever.  In Kenya, sky’s the limit.

5 April 2013 at 09:57 1 comment

Kiva’s Investment in Non-Traditional Loan Products

Water and Sanitation may not be the first issue that people associate with Kiva.

Continue Reading 27 December 2012 at 09:37 1 comment

Grameen Foundation and Kiva: Partnering to Bring Life-Changing Agricultural Information to Rural Communities in Uganda

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

CKWs training for their new roles

CKWs in Masaka practice using their new equipment (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Kiva recognizes the unique power of the interest-free capital it provides through its lenders. The zero-interest aspect of Kiva’s loans enables its partners to act boldly and to try new things, to go the extra mile to reach new groups of people, and to fund loans that Kiva characterizes as highly catalytic. Kiva uses the term highly catalytic to describe initiatives that not only help to provide financial independence to the poor, but also produce far-reaching effects that transform the lives of the people in the borrowers’ communities. Such loans may contribute to green energy and solar power endeavors, education initiatives, water sanitation projects or even agro-technology advancements.

Grameen Foundation is an organization that is going above and beyond to bring highly catalytic programs to Uganda. For this reason, Kiva has chosen to make Grameen Foundation AppLab its first nontraditional partner here. Starting this week, participants in Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program will be featured on Kiva.org.

The CKW program is made up of a network of peer-nominated “farmer leaders” across Uganda who use mobile devices to share expert agricultural information with their small-holder farmer neighbors living on less than $2 a day. Community Knowledge Workers use the information provided by applications on their smartphones to help their fellow farmers improve crop yields and to reduce the costs of adopting new agricultural practices.

The CKWs also collect information from the farmers in their communities through phone-based surveys. This information is then used to help other poverty-focused organizations that Grameen Foundation works with, including government organizations and NGOs, improve and expand support services for farmers. The CKWs are paid small monthly salaries based on the number of information searches and surveys they complete. These salaries supplement – and sometimes even double – the amount that the CKWs earn as smallholder farmers themselves.

What a CKW might see on his or her phone

As a Kiva Fellow working at Grameen Foundation, I have had the opportunity to observe the mechanisms of this project first-hand, and to see just how much work goes into the maintenance and expansion of this incredible program. Over the course of the past five weeks, I have accompanied Grameen Foundation field officers on multiple trips to the central Ugandan district of Masaka. During these trips, I was able to see the various steps taken while selecting and preparing a CKW for his or her new role.

1. Community Mobilization

During this critical phase, Grameen Foundation field officers first meet with community leaders in the area and explain the CKW program to them, as well as the positive change that it will bring to the community. After obtaining buy-in from these influential people (which is absolutely imperative to the success of the program), a time and place are then identified for a village meeting, which takes place about one week later. The village meeting can last anywhere from a few hours to the entire day. A Grameen Foundation field officer explains the CKW program to the attendees and ensures that the program will have adequate support from the community. After confirming this, a date and time are set for a recruitment meeting, during which a CKW will be selected to serve his or her village.

Grameen field officer Ian explains the CKW program to a group of villagers

Grameen Foundation field officer Ian Mubiru explains the CKW program during a village meeting

2. Recruitment

The recruitment meeting should be heavily attended. If enough people fail to show up to constitute a fair vote, the meeting must be rescheduled (this is quite common since time and information are managed in a very different manner here than you readers may be used to – I must say, the Grameen Foundation field officers are some of the most patient people I have ever met!). If enough people attend the meeting, then the nominations can begin. The Grameen Foundation field officer lists the prerequisites that an individual must have to effectively serve his or her community as a CKW, and also explains what kinds of additional qualities voters should look for in their candidate (someone who has served the community in the past, someone who is reliable and can be trusted, etc.). The nominees each make a speech touting their qualifications, and then the voting commences. Things can become quite heated at this stage, as people may have starkly different opinions on who should be selected for the position. After voting takes place, a winner is announced. A Grameen Foundation field officer then visits the CKW’s home to discuss the details of the position with his or her family, since the role is time-consuming and family support is essential.

CKW candidates make their speeches

CKW candidates make their speeches during a recruitment meeting

3. Training

After the CKWs have been selected by their communities, a training session is held for each district. I went to the four-day training in Masaka, which was attended by 47 CKWs from the surrounding villages. During training, CKWs are shown how to operate and take care of their materials (the smartphone, solar charging device and weighing scale). Innovative farming techniques are discussed and participants are prepped for their new roles as information agents and community leaders. The Grameen Foundation training team is absolutely extraordinary – they spend weeks at a time on the road, teach sessions late into the evening, and never lose their enthusiasm or patience. Since this is the first group of CKWs who are to be funded by Kiva loans, I also had the opportunity to give a presentation on Kiva and its backing of the CKW program. The response was incredible and the CKWs warmly showed their appreciation for Kiva’s support by giving me a wonderful handwritten letter on the last day of training.

CKW training in Masaka

CKW training in Masaka (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Explaning Kiva to the Masaka CKWs

Explaining Kiva to the Masaka CKWs (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

CKWs practice using their new equipment

CKWs practice using the smartphones (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Some dedicated CKWs even brought their children with them to training

A few dedicated CKWs even brought their children with them to training                          (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Masaka CKWs express their thanks for Kiva's support

The Masaka CKWs express their appreciation for Kiva’s support

On the last day of training. Excitement is in the air!

The last day of training. There was so much excitement in the air!

The CKW initiative is a program that is truly in line with the broader mission of Grameen Foundation: to enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty. Information is power, and by creating access among rural farmers to information, Grameen Foundation empowers them to create better economic conditions for themselves, their families, and their communities. You can be part of these efforts, too – lend to a CKW today on Kiva.org!

~~~

Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation in Kampala, Uganda.

12 November 2012 at 10:14 2 comments

Expectations, (harsh) realities, engagement and innovation

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

I’d like to think the title of this post sums up my experience in Burkina Faso – perhaps even both professional and personally. I’ll focus on the former here and try to take you through my journey.

Expectations: As a Kiva Fellow, it’s likely you’re a Type A (if on the quirky end), dedicated, well-traveled, highly educated young person, perhaps an experienced professional looking to Pivot (see Patrick’s post for more on that) or mid-studies in a Masters program. Whilst maintaining the flexible state of mind necessary for the field – many in our class were paired with new Field Partners, some in countries where Kiva staff had yet to visit – there are naturally certain expectations or goals set for this commitment. For me, having done research and proposals from a London office, I wanted to see how microfinance programs were actually implemented on the ground.

Ouagadougou street

Walking to work in my first week in Ouaga…

(more…)

9 October 2012 at 08:00

My Week with Premal – Kiva’s President visiting borrowers and partners in Nicaragua

Luan Nio | KF18 | Nicaragua

He is named Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum and is on the Fortune’s 40 under 40 list for the most influential people under the age of 40.
It is easy to become impressed, maybe intimidated by a person that holds such accolades. But Premal Shah, president of Kiva, is the last person to become intimidated by. However, impressed? Yes, highly. And he was coming my way to Nicaragua.

Premal Shah’s lender page on Kiva. Note that he made over 300 loans.

(more…)

24 September 2012 at 20:46 2 comments

Technology in the Field: the Future of Microfinance

Varick Schwartz | KF18 | Kenya

Kiva profile photo from mobile app

When I applied to the Kiva Fellows program, I knew I’d be spending some time ‘in the field’, but I didn’t know I’d be out there transmitting Kiva profile information from a mobile tablet to Google’s Open Data Kit (ODK) platform!  After writing an automated survey interface and configuring the Android device, next I was on the farm with a loan officer collecting borrower responses, which were uploaded straight to the internet, Kiva photo included. Well done Juhudi Kilimo (my assigned MFI) for the foresight and motivation to put this in play, well done Kenya for providing the comprehensive mobile platform and welcome to the future of microfinance! (more…)

12 September 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

Credit Scoring in Kenya: observations and comparisons from the field

Varick Schwartz | KF18 | Kenya

My Fellowship workplan has been focused a little more on the technical side of things, with more application programming and appraisal analysis than borrower verifications. From such projects, and also because I come from a banking, lending and risk management background, it seems fitting to at least put forth some observations regarding the use of credit scores across the Kenya micro landscape. However, the way we approach credit scoring in the USA is almost opposite from current practices here, where aggregated financial data at the individual level could still be years away. (more…)

30 August 2012 at 09:00 2 comments

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