An Afternoon with Sir Richard

A leather jacket, white shirt, jeans, wavy shoulder length hair and a well maintained beard, if you weren’t aware of Mr Branson he definitely comes across as just a ordinary man, however we all know that the multi billionaire is far from it.

On Friday for ninety minutes, Richard captivated and gripped an audience of 2,000 in Westminster’s Central Hall, many hooking Branson beards to their noses which had been included in the pack provided by the organisers. The pack also included a copy of his book ‘The Virgin Way’.

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I once gave a presentation on ‘Inspirational leaders’, holding up a cut out of Sir Richards head mounted on a wooden spatula, steering away from the traditional Powerpoint presentation. When the opportunity arose to listen to Branson, it is something that I jumped at!

The #BeMoreBranson event had a real flavour of ‘the Virgin Way’ at its core, with the world famous leader discussing how important both Virgin customers and employees are, to both himself and the brand.

‘Virgin – I wanted to create a collection of companies that do ‘fun things’ that can make a difference to people.’

Despite talking in the first person he used ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, it was clear that although he was at the helm of the multinational conglomerate, he remained humble and appreciated that he had not been able to get there alone. In an interview last year, Branson said his employees came before the customers, defying years of business theory.

On the subject of positivity, Branson advised the audience that if you think positively about those who surround you and always look for the positives in what you do, in return you are guaranteed to receive good vibes. Branson reflected this, as positivity radiated from within, impacting those in the audience. Despite being told two extremes by his childhood Headmaster: that he would either be in prison or a millionaire; it is evident that Branson hasn’t let struggles such as dyslexia and failing business like Virgin Cola hold him back, advising that he must have been born under a lucky cloud.

Branson discussed the traits in being a good leader, he stated that they should be good listeners, do not criticise people, find the value in their employees and simply, genuinely like people!

‘If you can successfully run one company well, you can run any company.’

Branson steers away from the ‘you’re fired’ approach, which can be seen in The Apprentice. Again using positivity and opting to help people find strength in their armoury, which may benefit other areas of the business. Branson does so by offering advice on ways for improvement, rather than dismissing them. Branson sees Virgin as an extended family to his own and stated that you would not fire a brother or sister, would you?

Not only is he an inspiring leader, but also a great story teller. The 1973 hit ‘Tubular Bells’ was rejected by many of the leading record producers, however Branson believes that it helped form the foundation to the brand. In regards to inspirations, he spoke of his Mother who made place-mats, amongst varying other hand made ventures, to provide an extra income. Branson enjoys being the David against the Goliath, ‘experiencing a buzz’ out of pulling the coat tails of the market leaders; speaking of the competition between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which is often referred to as the ‘dirty tricks’ campaign. A few years later when British Airways struggled to erect the London Eye, Branson pulled this stunt (see link), firmly with his ‘tongue in cheek’.

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Despite Branson being the grand age of sixty-five, he still has seventeen year old girls ‘throw themselves at him’, however I think most of us would agree that ‘Virgin Dating’ would not stand to compete against the likes of Tinder and Match.com.

On what legacy he says he wishes to leave behind, Branson simply replied ‘to be remembered for making a bigger difference…’

TATA Social Enterprise Conference – 7th December 2013

On Saturday I had the opportunity to travel to London for TATAs Social Enterprise Conference, hosted by NACUE (National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs) held at City University.

The hardest bit of the event was setting my alarm for 05:20, as our train was booked for 06:25 to ensure that we were ready for the 10:00 start in the capital.

Upon arrival at City University it was great to see the Balloon Kenya team who were exhibiting at the event, who welcomed guests with balloon shaped cookies. It was great to see Maxine too, who was another Fellow on my programme over the summer.

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The event started at ten with a welcome from NACUEs Head of Community, Amy Watson. The welcome was followed by Jaguar Land Rovers, Director for Corporate and Social Responsibility, Jonathan Garrett who spoke about the importance of preparing for 2050. The population will reach 9 billion and he spoke of how there is plenty of opportunities for social entrepreneurs to exploit the rise in population.

Arthur Kay of Bio-Bean, a company that recycles coffee grounds into biodiesel and biomass pellets introduced the keynote speaker, Robin Shelley. Robin who is regarded as a ‘Global Shaper’ by the World Economic Forum has worked as Chief of Staff to former President of Costa Rica Jose Maria Figueres, supporting international initiatives in climate change and energy. He currently works in investment banking and is interested in how finance can create economic development and social change. Robin spoke about ‘Social Intrapreneurs’, people working within large organisations that push for social good.

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Following the morning keynote was a panel of social enterprise experts taking questions from the delegates in regards to ‘Working towards a greater social impact’.

Coffee and networking concluded the morning sessions in which I was asked to speak to The Guardian in regards to the conference and about the work I did in Kenya, which I look forward to seeing.

Breakout sessions followed the networking break, with a selection of different topics being discussed in different rooms across the University. I chose ‘The Naked Debate’ hosted by Solitaire Townsend, the founder of Futerra, a sustainable development communications agency. Solitaire looked at making social enterprise sexy, how to win the status fight of social media and why you have power to change the world.

Lunch followed, allowing everybody to get some food and visit the varying stall that were available to view in the Social Enterprise Marketplace. I stayed with the Balloon Kenya team and shared my experiences with students who were interested in joining the project next summer.

After lunch was the presentation that I’d been looking forward too, with Rob Forkan the founder of Gandys Flip Flops and their investor Dominic List, a former Secret Millionaire. Rob went through Gandys interesting story, talking about how a family tragedy encouraged them to set up a business with social good – check out their story http://www.gandysflipflops.com/our-journey

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Unfortunately we didn’t have time for the last set of talks as we had to get back to Sheffield, however I did have an attempt at running into a wall.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the day out in the capital and thanks to Hallam Union for allowing me to represent them.

Balloon Kenya: Global Entrepreneurial Week

This evening I gave a presentation at Sheffield Hallam University for Global Entrepreneurial Week and it went really well!

Over 50 students and staff turned up from the University and there was a great deal of interest in the places that Hallam Union want to offer for students for next summer, which I would encourage them to sign up for!

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Other really interesting speakers included:

ARTICLE – Balloon Kenya: Out in Africa, Advising Its Entrepreneurs – Leicester Mercury Article

In January this year, mid way through a Finance Placement with German giants Bosch, I began to look at ways I could spend my summer. Many of my friends were heading to the Balearic’s for an alcohol fuelled summer, but I wanted to do something different that would help with my final year of University and also with the ever increasing competition in the graduate market. Whilst applying for internships with major banks I stumbled upon Balloon Kenya, a project based in Nakuru, Kenya that works with entrepreneurs in Africa’s fastest growing city. After an initial application form asking what I could bring to the programme and why I wanted to travel to Kenya I received a telephone interview. The interview was competency and situation based, asking how I would deal with certain problems in Kenya. Whilst on a treadmill I received an e-mail to say that I’d been selected to travel to Kenya to participate in the August programme.

Balloon Kenya was founded by recent graduates Josh Bicknell and Doug Cochrane in 2011. Josh travelled to Kenya in 2008 and based his Masters Degree dissertation on the political violence that the country had faced and witnessed a strong entrepreneurial spirit despite the struggles. Having struggled to find graduate employment themselves they headed to Kenya with six students (Fellows) from across the world in 2011. They had put together a syllabus for Fellows to teach to groups of Kenyans based around Osterwalder Business Model Canvas and also used small, but effective business principles such as Gross Profit Margins and Cash Flow Statements. The program has grown substantially and in 2013 sent 54 students to Kenya over two separate programmes and received over 400 applications, working with over 200 Kenyan entrepreneurs.

I’d saved over £1,000 from my placement year, I needed to raise a further £2,500 to be able to attend, however this target did not frighten me as I was determined that I’d be on a flight to Kenya. I was fortunate to be awarded the Innovation Award from Sheffield Hallam Student Union and also grants from Leicestershire the Andrew Martin Trust for Young People, the Soar Valley Leicester Centre and the Clarke and Somerville Foundaion. I also had full support from Loughborough MP, Nicky Morgan, who worked with me to reach my target.

I woke on the Wednesday, two days prior to leaving for Kenya, to see that Jomo Kenyatta Airport was ablaze. I kept cool and managed to re-arrange my flight to Entebbe, Uganda. Upon arrival in Uganda we were informed that we needed to take a seven hour bus journey to Nakuru, sixteen hours later we arrived at our destination. Although the bus journey took a while it allowed me to watch East Africa pass by the window, giving me my first encounter of poverty from the safety of the bus.

Although the first week of the programme was classroom based we spent very little time sitting down. We spent time sticking Post-It’s to walls and going out talking to Kenyans on the street. This is how they wanted us to deliver the program to Kenyan entrepreneurs, seeing us facilitate rather than lead. We didn’t want to force ideas into their heads, but encourage them to think outside the box. Steering them away from the ‘copy cat culture’ which see streets full of people offering the same products or services.

Weeks two and three saw me and a partner begin classroom sessions, working with two groups, consisting of eleven Kenyans in total. They had varying businesses from fruit stalls, shoe shops, Boda-Boda (Motorbike) transport service and another wanted to start an affordable recording studio. They all want to grow their businesses and improve their standard of living, as some earn as little as two pounds per day. Each of the two groups received ten hours of tuition over the first two weeks.

Testing and continued market research followed in week four and the beginning of week five. Armed with questionnaires the entrepreneurs took to the streets of Nakuru to gain opinions on their current service and their proposed change to see what their consumer would like. We also arranged meetings with people who had experience in the field they were venturing into.

Two days before my departure the individuals pitched for a micro-finance fund at Balloon Kenya’s partner Hope and Vision, who provide support for Nakuru based entrepreneurs. Each of them came out with huge smiles and said that even if they did not receive the investment, they felt that the education delivered would help them improve in business.

Balloon Kenya delivers welcoming news from Kenya, as the country has recently been at the centre of media attention. I am pleased that I have been able to attend a programme which has allowed me to work with people who may not be as fortunate as we are, but still have enormous smiles on their faces.

I now return to Sheffield Business School as the Finance Director of the Enterprise Society. Hoping to bring the Kenyan entrepreneurial spirit to the students of Sheffield. Away from my studies I shall be trying my hardest to attain a graduate position in either Consultancy or Finance, relating the skills I gained in Kenya to positions.

VIDEO – Balloon Kenya: Sheffield Hallam University ‘Global Graduates’ Presentation – Video

On Tuesday I had the pleasure to speak at the ‘Global Graduates’ event at Sheffield Hallam University.

The event saw students give presentations on extra-curricular activities that they had participated in all around the world.

I was invited to talk about my recent trip to Kenya. Apologies for the sounds quality:

 

ARTICLE – Balloon Kenya: Sheffield Student’s Advice Helps Businesses Blossom – Sheffield Star Article

Entrepreneurs in Kenya could see their businesses taking off – thanks to support from a Sheffield Hallam University student.

Dan Garlick, a final year business studies student, visited the Kenyan town of Nakuru as part of the global Balloon Kenya scheme.

The 21-year-old was one of 24 students from across the world picked to take part.

He spent six weeks working with a group of 11 local entrepreneurs whose businesses ranged from clothing stores and fruit stalls to shoe shops and motorbike transport services, while another wanted to start an affordable recording studio.

“They all wanted to grow their businesses and improve their standard of living, as some earned as little as £2 per day,” said Dan.

“We wanted to steer them away from the copy-cat culture that you see over there with stalls on every street selling exactly the same products.”

Dan later had the task of preparing his class to pitch their business proposals in a bid for funding.

http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/business/sheffield-student-s-advice-helps-businesses-blossom-1-6128055

ARTICLE – Balloon Kenya: Student Helps Business Balloon in Kenya – Sheffield Hallam University Article

Entrepreneurs in Kenya have had their business prospects boosted thanks to support from a Sheffield Hallam University student.

Dan Garlick, a final-year business studies student, spent the summer in the Kenyan town of Nakuru where he provided valuable business advice to local traders.

The 21-year-old from Loughborough, was one of 24 students from across the world picked to take part in the global Balloon Kenya scheme.

He spent six weeks working with a group of 11 local entrepreneurs all of whom had businesses ranging from clothing stores, fruit stalls, shoe shops and motorbike transport service while another wanted to start an affordable recording studio.

“They all wanted to grow their businesses and improve their standard of living, as some earned as little as £2 per day,” said Dan.

“Some had little concept of basic business principles like profit margins or cash-flow systems so we spent the first fortnight in the classroom getting them to think outside of the box and look at ways they could improve their businesses. It was important that we were there to be facilitators rather than leaders in this project and we wanted to steer them away from the copy-cat culture that you see over there with stalls on every street selling exactly the same products.”

In the latter part of the project, Dan had the task of preparing his cohort to pitch their business proposals in a bid for funding from the scheme’s partner organisation, Hope and Vision.

“One of my proudest moments was seeing them all blossom in confidence, in particular, Jackson. He was 44 and had a wife and four children and he sold suits for women. He was so shy at the beginning and lacked confidence. He only focused on selling suit jackets and skirts but after some encouragement, I got him thinking about increasing his stock and he became really driven. He came out of his pitch with the biggest smile on his face so I really hope he gets the funding.”

Dan is now back in Sheffield but his Balloon Kenya experience has resulted in the University’s Students Union providing part-funding for two places on next year’s scheme.

http://www.shu.ac.uk/mediacentre/student-helps-business-balloon-kenya

BLOG – Balloon Kenya: Warm Rotary Welcome

Back home in the UK I was fortunate to sponsored by Soar Valley Rotary Club for my trip to Kenya. As part of the sponsorship I was required to make contact with the Rotary Club in Nakuru to exchange a pendant and find out what projects they are working on.

I attended the first meeting, although I shouldn’t have as I was later told it was a closed meeting the discuss their AGM. Despite this I was welcomed with open arms by President Kahendah Vitalis and his fellow Rotarians. During the meeting I gave a short introduction to what I was doing and why I had come to visit the Club. I was fortunate to be placed next to the former District Governor for East Africa. Ken Joslyn moved to Kenya from his native Chelmsford in 1950, starting his own farming business as he came from an agricultural background, after joining Rotary he went on to become the District Governor for 12 countries in Africa. After the meeting I was asked if I would like to speak at the following meeting about Balloon Kenya.

On the Thursday I was invited to lunch with two Rotarians, Lorna and Michael at the local business school, Tracom College to discuss my project with local entrepreneurs. I am going to talk to their students before I leave about what Balloon Kenya is trying to do in their community.

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On Tuesday I took Balloon Kenya’s Co-Founder Josh Bicknell to the meeting with me, where we were both warmly welcomed by the members. Bromley Rotary Club were also guests, as they were visiting project that they had sponsored in Nakuru, so all the speakers flew the British flag. Josh followed Peter, the President of Bromley Rotary and spoke about how he had visited Nakuru following the post-electral violence in 2007/2008 and how Balloon Kenya was born from the entrepreneurial spirit he had witnessed here. I followed with a ten minute presentation about my background, why I had chosen Balloon Kenya, my Kenyan adventure so far and concluded with my plans for the future. My presentation was well received and the compliments afterwards were a confidence boost.

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Today whilst passing through the park I spotted the Rotary sign being packed away, so I went to investigate. I found President Vitalis amongst crowds of school children. He was stood at the heart of the Rotary’s School Furniture Project which has provided over forty schools with thirty desks and chair. I was also lucky enough to be invited into the official photograph and it was great to see the Rotary’s work in action.

BLOG – Balloon Kenya: Hope and Vision

In a packed alley that running parallel with Nakuru’s High Street you will find an army of young entrepreneurs. You can find shoes, photocopiers, second hand clothes, tailors and fruit salad sellers in this tightly packed row. Small talk of the English Premier League can be heard, with the different sellers challenging one and other about their favourite team. All of the members in Kenyatta Line are members  of the Best Run Youth Society in Kenya, Hope and Vision Youth Sacco, Balloon Kenya’s partner.

The six founding members were all refused loans and in 2003 decided to start a co-operative, with each of the founders contributing 1,000 KSH (£7.50) a month to their fund. As the number of members increased, as did the funding pot, with loans given on trust and character.

Now in 2013 the group has over 140 members from across Nakuru from varying diciplines. With a repayment rate of 97% the Sacco has proved to be a great success.

Mostly aged between 20 and 30 the members pay a 2,600 KSH (£19.50) joining fee and follow this up with a 1,500 KSH contribution per month to the Hope and Vision Pot. They offer 10 different loan products and are currently looking into home and health insurance packages for their members. Members are charged much lower interest rates than those offered by banks and micro-financing companies.

Balloon Kenya joined forces with Hope and Vision in 2011. Hope and Vision vet the groups before the fellows arrive and provide ongoing support after the Balloon Kenya team has departed.

The community spirit from the group is evident, with members watching each others stalls whilst they attend our training sessions and long may this continue.

BLOG – Balloon Kenya: Ten Sugars or Twelve – Rural Adventure

Tea served in the early morning sun in Lalwet, a small rural community on the banks of Lake Nakuru must have been the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted. The drink is so sugary that the area would be a dentist’s paradise. Kenyan ‘chai’ is renowned for being sweet, however.

Our trip to our rural retreat started early on Monday morning with a bumpy Mutatu (a small minibus), a journey that half of the group had to complete by motorbike as the driver refused to drive on the roads. We arrived to crowds of children swamping our exit from the bus. Our football was snatched, booted into the air and chased by around twenty children. They were excited by the ball as their normal ball was plastic bags squished together, held by a number of elastic bands. The large smiles made up for the snatching!

Our welcomes to the village were accompanied by the very sweet tea and Ndazi’s (Doughnuts without jam)! The welcome was a lengthy procedure as we were introduced to about half of the village. Although it was time consuming we felt warmly welcomed into their community and everyday life.

The second stop was to a mud hut that was undergoing an extension. The extension consisted of a wooden frame, which needed filling. Earth had been disturbed near to the extension and water was added to allow the fellows to get their hands dirty and help to construct the muddy walls. It was enjoyed by all and many of the girls would have paid a couple of hundred pounds in a fancy spa for a similar treatment.

After walking around further and freeing a Goat from a fence (our Welsh fellow sorted this) we entered a field full of kidney beans drying on plastic tarpaulin, we were handed sticks and told to beat the pods. When the pods are beaten the beans fall onto the plastic and can be easily collected, this is a job the women of the family carry out.

Lunch followed our morning of hard work and one of the ladies of the village ‘Muma’ had prepared lunch for the thirty hungry fellows. A typical Kenyan meal of beans, rice and potatoes and was enjoyed by all, fuelling us for the rest of the day.

Following lunch we took to a slightly overgrown field, littered with cow pat for a game of football which was labelled ‘Mzungus vs Lalwat’ – Mzungus being the Swahili term for white people or aimless wanderer. Many of the village turned up for the game that had a cup final feel about it. Away from the football the local children pestered the female fellows for sweets.

The football finished around half past five and we were then paired and walked to our host families house. I had been paired with Chris who I share a room with in Nakuru, along with Thach and Hymn. We were heavily welcomed by our family and our first activity was to milk the cow before dinner. The milking was good fun and something that none of us had done before. We later helped prepare Ugali (a mix of water and maize) and then sat down for a meal of beef stew that they normally only make at Christmas, so we were very honoured.

After lunch we sat in the living room and watched English dubbed Italian soaps and amazed the families children with our cameras. Kenyan children love digital cameras as they can see themselves on the screen after. A newly constructed room had been given to Chris and I, in which we shared a double bed and made a short video blog about the day’s activities.

We awoke to farm sounds of cows and chickens in the yard outside our window, unfortunately the cow had already been milked by the time we woke up. Breakfast was served with a less sweeter tea, similar to traditional English tea and Ndazi’s. Local rap artist Freddie met us to escort us back to the village centre to rejoin the other Fellows.

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After joining the Fellows we left the village for a hike up a nearby hill which provided great views of the neighbouring Lake Nakuru. After our decent we headed for lunch, which was the same as the Monday, but at a different household. Following the lunch we reintroduced ourselves to the village before saying our goodbyes and being given the invitation of being able to visit in the future and then shared a prayer before departing.

The community of Lalwat is united as one with a high level of trust between everybody in the community. Although some of the families may not have much they were willing to share what they did have with us, which was really nice to see.

The trip provided an insight into Kenya away from the hustle and bustle of Nakuru town and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.