Let me introduce Jose Njuki-imwe, one of our coordinators, and how we came to work with him.
On a fateful day in 1980 when Jose was four months old, Jose’s nanny broke her routine of dropping off Jose at his mother’s grocery shop to go pick up his sister from kindergarten. The nanny decided to leave Jose at home and rush out to school to pick up the sister, but before leaving she decided to start boiling water. When the nanny returned home with the sister, she saw that the house was on fire and burst into the home (and in the process burned her arm) to rescue Jose. Fortunately, she did not leave Jose on the bottom bunk bed like she normally does, but rather left him on the top bunk. By the time she reached him, the bottom bunk bed was in flames which was reaching up to the top bunk. Jose suffered 3rddegree burns to half his body, particularly to his face and arms, and most of his fingers on his left hand were burned beyond saving. The nanny took Jose in a taxi to the burn unit of the hospital and over the next nine months, Jose’s mother spent every day attending to her son, helping him to heal, while the rest of the family helped run the shop. Incredibly the mother (and Jose) forgave the nanny for her mistake but the nanny felt so guilty that she resigned from her job.
Growing up, Jose found it very difficult in school. The other children discriminated against him for his disfigurement in such ways as always choosing him last in team sports and excluded him from groups. How did this affect him? His self esteem was so low in primary school that he developed a stammer and did poorly in school but with the unconditional acceptance from his family, he built up his confidence and most importantly, his kindheartedness. He ultimately saw this as a character building opportunity and used his natural social talents to win people over. Rather than allow this accident to fill him with bitterness and pity, he deliberately decided to transform the experience to one of deep meaning and purpose. Jose feels a deep commitment to bring change to his community. The meaning he finds is “what matters is what change you can bring and not what you look like” and the scars are a constant reminder to him to “value yourself and the people around you and not disrespect others”. Yet his worst moment to date was when he was asked by a stranger if he was a victim of the US embassy bombing back in 1998. He still gets asked frequently about what happened but he himself has never asked “why me?” Instead, Jose has asked “what’s my purpose?” largely due to his faith and family. Since his family never treated him differently or pitied him, he never pitied himself. His philosophy is that “you attract positive or negative to your life. If you pity yourself, you attract pity. You should not mourn yourself but rather find your purpose”. Not surprisingly, Jose feels no resentment or anger towards his former Nanny but rather feels she is the bravest person in the world for rescuing him. He is in fact looking for her now because “she is my hero for saving me”.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
In 1999 after completing school, Jose started distributing milk, bread, newspapers to his community. His true entrepreneurial spirit was unleashed when he set up a shop to distribute his goods. It became successful enough that he hired an employee to run it. After a five year detour as a cell phone technician for Nokia, he went back to his entrepreneurial roots. Two years ago he and two colleagues realized that his community (Kimathi) lacks proper access to information so he completed a comprehensive survey to assess what amenities/services does the community want to see. Aside from the need for a central notice board, his respondents also said they they wanted better access to the Internet. In particular, students needed to write papers and communicate with others, but at the time, they had to stay late in downtown Nairobi. While downtown is just 7 km away, the travel time could be up to 1 ½ hours. Furthermore, coming back to Kimathi late at night could also be potentially dangerous.
Seeing the need, he calculated that there are about 3,000 houses in his community with an average of two target market customers in each house for a total potential market of 6,000 people. The key issue for him was how to raise the start up funds of 250,000 Ksh or $3,600 USD, of which he only had 40,000 Ksh or $600 USD. For the 210,000 Ksh that he needed to raise, he approached Computers for Schools Kenya to sell the need of his community. They agreed to do a pilot program for which they contributed 13 Compaq Deskpro Pentium III computers and monitors. The remaining balance (210,000 Ksh) had to be paid off in installments. Hence the Kimathi Information Centre (KIC) was born. Part way through the debt repayment, Computers for Schools Canada, which works with the Kenya operation, saw the impact on the Kimathi community and decided to forgive the debt. KIC has expanded beyond a cyber cafe into a business training centre. He started organizing symposiums for youth, with the first symposium in March 2007 netting 237 attendees. His passion and vision is to empower his greater community with technological advantages to bridge the digital divide.
Social Entrepreneurship 101
But how did Jose get involved with SE 101? A Sauder School of Business graduate was working for IDRC (International Development Resource Centre) when she met Jose and promptly introduced him to Nancy. At the time, Nancy needed to pull together an SE 101 program in just three weeks because the organization that she was working with pulled out unexpectedly at the last moment. Impressively, Jose was able to line up 37 students as well as the required facilities and materials.
This year, Jose has organized the two sites, lined up guest speakers, invited government officials, and sourced program materials. He’s also been very helpful in helping me to organize my class by taking attendance, encouraging the participants, and making the class announcements. Jose is a gifted public speaker; he has a natural way of connecting with his audience that is impressive to watch. His passionate commitment to his community is even more remarkable.
Here is a link to his Kimathi Information Centre: