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.