18 minutes. 18 strands of spaghetti. 1 marshmallow and 1 meter of sticky tape provide the resources for one of the most well known team building exercises, The Marshmallow Challenge.
The first task for me during the introduction to the task was to describe what a marshmallow was, as they are relatively unknown here in Kenya.
The challenge is heavily used within team building and I was first introduced to it during my time in the Air Training Corps, to improve communication skills within a team.
There are several instructions that each team must follow:
Build the tallest freestanding structure
The entire marshmallow must be on top – the marshmallow cannot be sliced and used to hold the spaghetti together
The team can use as much or as little as possible of the given resources
Break the spaghetti and tape – the teams are allowed to break both of these resources
The team has eighteen minutes to build their structure
Over the past week I have given the task to two separate groups, delivering it to ten people in total. The two sessions we have delivered this week have been based around the Business Model Canvas, the ‘River of Business’ showing the route we shall be taking over the next five weeks and then the Marshmallow Challenge and problems that they could face.
One problem the majority of the groups faced was that their structures flopped after the eighteen minutes and we used this to tie in with the ‘River’ that we had been teaching. It has been proven that children have the greatest amount of success in that they have standing structures after the time. The main reason is because they test their structure using the marshmallow at a number of heights, whereas older groups over think the structure and don’t touch the marshmallow until the end.
We used the example of the children using the marshmallow throughout and related it to how we wanted the groups to work over our five weeks. We used the marshmallow in two senses, one pretending that it was the entrepreneurs’ consumer and they should look after them from day one and then used it to describe the risk of their projects.
In regards to risk I described that it would be better for them to test their ideas at regular intervals at differing heights. Using the marshmallow on a structure with a low height, using low resources would allow them to see if the idea would be worth taking to the next level. In their businesses it is important to use their resources as effectively as possible to see whether or not their idea which they are going to pitch for is viable, as in Kenya resources are limited in comparison to the UK.
I am going to try and test the entrepreneurs again in the coming weeks with the same challenge to see if they have learnt from their mistakes and use this to relate the overcoming problems.
With my trip to Kenya being under three weeks away I thought it best that I share a blog on my journey so far, which started in late February 2013.
Having earned an industrial placement with Bosch in June 2012, I was looking to continue to gain business exposure through the summer break before returning to Sheffield Business School in September 2013. Ideally I was looking to jump onto a large company’s summer insight scheme in London. However when looking through the various job sights I came across the Balloon Kenya Project.
Balloon Kenya select 48 students each summer (24 in June and 24 in August) to travel to Nakuru, Kenya to work with entrepreneurs to empower them to start their own business and lift their communities out of poverty. After a week in their intense Entrepreneurs School the volunteers then spend five weeks working with young Kenyans who dream of starting their own businesses. The last weekend sees the entrepreneurs pitch for micro-finance.
I could see a direct correlation between both what I had been doing on placement and my course at University (BA (Hons) Business Studies) and therefore was attracted to apply in late February. The application form had a focus around the qualities that you could bring to the project, your compatibility to working in a team and with others, what you considered to be your greatest achievement and a short CV. I looked at my seven year journey with the Air Training Corps, the experiences I had gained from working for Bosch and my degree, my Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award and my time as the Lord Lieutenants Cadet for Leicestershire. A competency and situation based interview followed before I received an e-mail whilst on an exercise bike to say I’d been successful.
Having saved £1,000 I calculated that it would cost me a further £2,000 to make it from Leicestershire to the Rift Valley. My drive and opportunities of the project compelled me to raise the £2,000 required.
The first place I headed for was the doctors and found out that I would need nine vaccinations before heading out to Africa – which isn’t ideal when you’re not a fan of needles. I am now vaccinated against Rabies, Yellow Fever and both Hepatitis’ and didn’t faint in the process!
In early April I met with Loughborough MP, Nicky Morgan to discuss the project and get some ideas on how to approach my fund raising. Nicky and her assistant, Jane Hunt had prepared a number of different pieces on ways of funding and where to gain further information on business in Kenya. Nicky spent half an hour in her surgery talking to me and pointed me in the right direction which was a good help. The Leicester Mercury and the Loughborough Echo took an interest and both published articles in their newspapers.
Following the talks with Nicky I was lucky to gain sponsorship from Leicestershire based charities the Sir Andrew Martin Trust for Young People, The Clarke and Summerville Foundation and the Soar Valley Rotary Club. I shall be exchanging the Rotary Clubs pendant with their fellow Rotarians in Africa and it was great to be able to meet with them, as they offered advice on working abroad and in Kenya. They all helped me towards my goal and I really appreciated it!
Before heading to New York for my 21st birthday I heard that my Cousin, Michael Londra would be running in Concerns Spring Run to raise money for their work in poverty stricken countries. I jumped at the chance to join him on the 6km run in Central Park and I now look forward to seeing how their money is spent in Kenya when I visit one of their programmes. Michael’s small team ranked highest in the sponsorship table, which was a great achievement due to the 1,500 competitors!
I opened talks with the University whilst I was in New York. I initially contacted the Head of Business Studies and also my placement tutor to see if the University would be able to help me in anyway. The University said that nothing was currently in place for this type of activity and I thought that it was dead in the water until I got an email from Hallam’s Student Union. The email came from the Student Development Unit who said that I may be entitled to apply for their Innovation Award that has been set up to help students working on social enterprise projects. After a number of telephone conversations with Vanessa Marshall at the Union and their application form I was granted the Innovation Award which really helped me close in on my target amount. I got the chance to go up to Sheffield a few weeks ago to discuss the project with the Union and it was great to meet up with them and talk about how I can help them in my final year.
Carlisle United Football Club added an article to their website entitled ‘Show Us Your Colours’ encouraging fans to send in pictures of fans in their shirts around the world for use in their programme. I’d spoken to somebody who said that he had seen lots of retro Manchester United shirts on a visit to Kenya. I had a brainwave and e-mailed the club to see if they would be able to send out a bag of shirts to Lalwat – a small village on the outskirts of Nakuru. Unfortunately they were unable to help as they had given many tops to ‘Kits4Causes’.
Away from the fund raising I wanted to gain a greater understanding of Kenya, its culture and its economy. I have also been reading up about the ‘Canvas Model’ for business planning, which is used in the programme. Fortunately my network allowed me to talk a number of different people. One of Volvo Cars Vice Presidents in Sweden and I had a good talk about working within different cultures and how to approach them. I had a long conversation with my Managing Director at Bosch about using the experience to develop me personally and how it would help in the future. Former Apprentice finalist Nick Holzherr also put me in contact with somebody that had worked on projects in Africa, who gave me some really good advice on what to expect about the business culture. The Business Show in June held in London also allowed me to speak face to face with people who had worked in Kenya. Using their hashtags on Twitter allowed me to capture the attention of people who were also attending the event.
Following the Business Show at Excel I managed to grab a telephone call with one of their headline speakers, Brad Burton. The highly motivational Brad managed to get a couple of hundred suit wearing people off their chairs and going mental when he took to the stage, even if it was for a copy of his book (Amazon search him – great read!). Brad and I spoke about motivating people in the classroom to ensure that their heart was set on the right project and to make sure they understood the problems that they could face.
I hope that my experience in Kenya will help me in my final year of studies and when I become the Finance Director for Sheffield Business School’s Enterprise Society, giving fellow students an insight into entrepreneurial spirit abroad. On my return I shall be working with the Student Development Unit to run workshops on social enterprise and international business and also with the Business School as a Mentor for those seeking a sandwich year, similar to what I did at Bosch.
Flights booked, Malarone prescribed and Visa accepted, now just the long 18 day wait until flight SN2104 to Brussels, before heading south to Nairobi.