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Back in Africa, Part 3 – “Preparing for the Start of SE 101”

     The Social Entrepreneurship 101 (SE 101):  Africa program is a three year old program that is not just about entrepreneurship, but it is also about social entrepreneurship. The program helps people start business ventures that help strengthen their communities. This could be done through providing employment to other community members at fair wages, minimizing harm to the environment, and/or providing products and services that their communities need. Professor Nancy Langton, the head of the program, is working with various local groups (government, schools, and businesses) not only to deliver entrepreneurship training, but also to provide support once the training is completed.

What is unique about SE 101 that is collaborative in its delivery. This year we have employed some local university students from the top local business school to help deliver the eight workshops such as marketing, financial management, operations, and strategy. More importantly, we provide a collaborative environment in which students, instructors, and facilitators teach and support each other. Traditional Kenyan education tends to emphasize a unidirectional approach in which the teacher/professor tells and the students just listen. There is little to no opportunity to engage in dialog to ask questions and to share information. Someone referred to this as “off the textbook” type learning. That said, it will be important for us to ensure that the students feel comfortable with this collaborative format.

On the weekend, Nancy and I met with Jose Njuki-imwe to finalize details. Jose has been instrumental to the success of the program and he has a fascinating story that I will tell in a future BLOG. He’s one of those rare people you meet in life that make such an impression on you that, well, you cannot forget. Nancy holds him in high regard, and now I know why. I think you’ll find his story, provided that I can do it justice, compelling, thought provoking and inspirational. Jose has been organized a group of 71 students to attend our workshops. This means that Nancy and I will have to split up the group into two sites. We’ll each be working with our own team of university students to facilitate the program. The two sites will be Kibera (the largest slum in Nairobi) and Kimathi (at a local church). I suspect that I will be working in Kimathi since Jose will be there to help me, and Nancy will be working in Kibera.

I went into downtown Nairobi with Jose as my guide to buy a cell phone, SIM cards, school supplies, and to make 70 copies of the curriculum and homework booklet. Since landlines are not reliable or common, cell phones are pervasive. It seems everyone has one. After buying the cell phones and school supplies, it was off to find a copying place. While there are many such places, few can handle the quantities that we needed. The resource book is 184 pages and the homework booklet is 37 pages so we needed 15,470 copies, which as 1.30 Kenyan shillings (ksh) each, cost a total of 20,111 ksh or about $310 USD (we also needed to bind the books at extra cost). Jose and I scoured a section of downtown Nairobi until we finally found someone who could do it but in the end they subcontracted it out to two other businesses next door. Given that they were making copies of a business plan training manual, I could appreciate the irony. Of course, things happen and in this case the large photocopier broke down but credit to their teamwork and perseverance, they distributed the job across several smaller photocopiers and then delivered all 140 booklets to the hotel.

While we were able to get a lot accomplished, I’m starting to feel anxious because I do not know what to expect once the program starts. Since the students are not yet familiar with the curriculum, Nancy and I will be teaching the first day and I have not really delved into the material of the first workshop. Right now, I’m too tired to look at it so I’ll wake up early to review the material more carefully. I think I’m a good facilitator/teacher but since I do not understand my audience that well, I’m getting nervous about doing a good job. Above all else, I’ll need to be flexible to adjust my style to give them what they need. Jose had said that many of the Kimathi group may lack confidence so I will be certain to set the tone that this is a safe and supportive group to make mistakes and learn. I’ll continually state that we (the university students and I) are here to help them succeed but that we’ll also challenge them to think critically about their business ideas. I hope it goes well…

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  • Hi Kirby:

    You wrote… “Since landlines are not reliable or common, cell phones are pervasive.” 

    One interesting thing you will note is that even outside of Nairobi in the Serengetti or Maasai Mara, the Maasai people, who wear traditional clothing (essentially, blankets tied around themselves) and who carry spears and clubs for hunting and defense against aggressive animals (lions! buffalo!), and who sleep in homes (domas) of sticks and dung, carry cell phones as their one single piece of modern technology.  It’s quite a juxtaposition! 

    Good luck in your work. We’re following your adventure. Thanks for sharing with the community.

    Mark Yolton