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12 Weeks of Somo Training: A Cohort’s Journey

12 Weeks of Somo Training: A Cohort’s Journey

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also take a community to build a startup. It takes  business partners, early adopters, investors, trainers, mentors, advisors, and most importantly fellow entrepreneurs to share experiences with. This is where The Somo Project comes in. Not only are entrepreneurs provided with the training to start their start-up, they are provided with space to develop their idea, and community of fellow entrepreneurs coming from different backgrounds and expertise and the potential of  investment at the end of the program.  Entrepreneurs part of Somo undertake a 12-week training program as a cohort.  These cohorts are a group of business and community driven entrepreneurs.  They collaborate, challenge each other, and support each other.

Leo, and Esther working with Somo advisor Loreen

All of the entrepreneurs agreed, that teamwork is an important element of the training. “We were always bonding over the work, I won’t forget the training we share together”*, said Nyabuto, founder of Vitacakes. Exchanging ideas, discussions, and learning to manage conflict between members of the cohort were well learnt lessons that will follow the entrepreneurs into their future businesses. Learning to manage conflict with classmates would help her manage conflict with future employees pointed out Leo from Pendo la Mama (Day Care and Play School). All could remember a good moment with a classmate, may it be a shared smile, a funny jokes, or even simply working together to find a problem.

Coming from background of shared experiences matters too.  Somo training is not the easiest, and asking entrepreneurs that have jobs and families to take care of to attend a whole day of classes once a week is a lot. Especially since it has been a long time since some of them have sat in a classroom. However, everyone interviewed feels that they have  come out with concrete business skills, financials, banding, and computer skills, and life lessons that will keep motivating them. “Whatever happens, you can apply the training the rest of your life.” mentioned Benard, founder of Vessels, a music school for underserved youth in Kibera, pointing out the important lessons he learnt at The Somo Project like the importance of starting small and not being afraid of failure.

Steven training on B-Model canvas.JPG

Such confidence is an important part of a cohorts journey through the training. May it be Elkanah, founder of DoubleServe, using his market research learnings to empower himself and reach new clients, or Rose, founder of Bountiful, an organic peanut butter, mentioning how learning how to be confident in herself, her business, and her pitch helped her talk about her business to more people and also grow her customer base, they all mention that learning to trust in the abilities they learn at some is important.

“When is was an Idea, I couldn’t imagine someone else giving an effort for that idea,” Esther will tell you with a smirk and a glimmer in her eyes as she holds her graduation certificate. Confidence was also an issue for her, but seeing the team at The Somo Project invest time into her venture helped her along the way. Rose also mentions the time and effort put in the Somo team. From the application to graduation day: “They took us step by step until we felt competent”.

Bernard and Josephine with graduation certificates

They all share a sense the Somo Project was helping more than just them. “When you impact an entrepreneur you impact his family, and a whole community” points out Meshack and Susan, founders of AfriKnit dolls. ”Somo is innovative and kind-hearted, because they want to see change happening in the slums,” Benard explains, “people don’t believe new things can come out of Kibera, Somo is willing to invest into people and their ideas. It sees beautiful people with potential, they don't see people who failed.” Lucy from Mfalme Biogas has her own way to put it: “Somo is a great future for Kenyans, because they help Kenyans improve themselves.”

In the end, may it be teamwork, self-confidence, and technical skills, all have completed the Somo Project training with a sense of having grown as a person. And they are thoroughly thankful for the opportunities they got during the 12 weeks. “Somo gave me a platform to help me learn how to do this, it was a need.” will tell you Leo. Nyabuto shared the same feelings: “Call it a success story, a success through training.”

By Dylan Hervé

*This article was written by collecting the thoughts of the participants through interviews following their graduation

Circular economy and product design: Improving waste management in communities

Circular economy and product design: Improving waste management in communities

Starting a business in Kibera or in one of Nairobi’s other informal settlements comes with it’s challenges that you won’t necessarily face elsewhere. However, savvy entrepreneurs in these areas know how to turn challenges into opportunities. Waste disposal for instance is a recurrent problem; often being found clogging water disposal systems, polluting water sources, or simply being burnt, releasing dangerous toxins in the air. The beauty of some of our entrepreneurs’ businesses is that they are tackling these issues in the design of their product!

Abraham Khayule’s Potter’s Briquettes, Susan & Meshack’s Afriknit Dolls, Josephine Kanini Mwangaza  Candles and David & Lucy’s Mfalme Biogas, all contribute to reducing waste from their surrounding communities while offering amazing products. Potter’s Briquettes produces briquettes from sugarcane waste that are not only healthier when burnt than charcoal, but are smokeless, odourless, and burn longer than traditional briquettes. Afriknit Dolls take the scrap fabric from making uniforms, while also collecting scraps from other tailors, to knit fabric dolls that represent African culture and heritage. Mwangaza Candles employs women to make candle out of industrial wax waste to provide non toxic lighting opportunity for her community. Finally, the Mflame Biogas is looking to recycle slaughterhouse manure into biogas and fertilizer giving a cleaner and healthier energy option to their community, as well as converting the waste they produce into fertilizer. These entrepreneurs all represent the many people contributing to the circular economy that exists in informal settlements.  

Waste management is an important issue for cities and urban areas, which produce 75 % of our planet’s waste, while only occupying 2 to 3 % of it’s surface area. A circular economy is an effective way to organize economic activity to reduce waste. It is often summed up with three actions, the 3 Rs: Re-use, Reduce, & Recycle, such reusing materials that were already used for the same purpose, reducing the amount of material used in the first place, and recycling waste.

The entrepreneurs all use the concepts in their own way, without necessarily adhering to the academic definitions of the circular economy, but they definitively practice the 3r’s. May it be reusing wax for candles, recycling slaughterhouse waste into biogas and fertilizer, re-using tailor scraps to make dolls, or reducing the amount of charcoal made from burning wood and replacing it with recycled sugarcane waste, they are implementing the circular economy at a micro-level, notably with the concepts of eco design and cleaner production as well as the recovery of resources and environmental impact prevention concepts. They improve the environment of their surroundings, the health of their communities, all while creating a living for themselves and their employees in areas which usually have staggering unemployment rates.

Starting a business in an informal settlements is difficult, but the same difficulties can lead to opportunity when businesses design their solutions properly and take into account the social and environmental needs that surround them. The Somo Project is happy to be there as a partner and help these entrepreneurs take their designs to reality!

Author: Dylan Hervé

Used for this blog post:

Ghisellini, P., et al., A review on circular economy: the expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems, Journal of Cleaner Production (2015)

Equitable Learning in Kibera

Equitable Learning in Kibera

Growing up in Kibera, Stanley Kagunza experienced the lack of access to information faced by people in informal settlements firsthand. He eventually left Kibera to attend university where he was first introduced to computers. He fell in love with technology and the promise it held for innovation and community improvement. Stanley went on to work in IT for a series of companies and institutions, eventually becoming a programming instructor. While he loved teaching, he realized Kibera still felt like home. “I could see what computers could do for me,” explains Stanley, “It gave me access to a whole new world. I wanted to give that same gift to my community in Kibera.”

He decided to join Somo’s training program and went on to found StanTeck, a computer training institute that offers programs for everything from computer fundamentals to advanced programming languages. “Our mission is to increase access to information for low income people,” notes Stanley. Now working with over 15 students at a time, StanTeck’s programs run two to four months depending on skill level. Most of the students are around 15-35 years old but Stanley says that he instructs a few older Kiberans as well. Together, Stanley and his other instructors teach four two-hour sessions a day. “In the morning, we focus on programming while our afternoon sessions cover basic computer skills and some design work.” The goals for each student vary, with some hoping to master a new programming language while others focus on increasing their ability to navigate the web or GoogleDrive. All StanTeck students, however, graduate with increased computer skills and comfort with technology.

Although other technology institutes exist in Nairobi, Stanley argues that most institutions are out of the price range of youth in informal areas. “I am here because I love to teach. Each day I work at StanTeck, I am living out my passion and dream,” he explains. StanTeck is also uniquely focused on supporting computer learning among low income, informal areas. Outside of StanTeck, many Kiberans are only able to use computers in cybers. Here they are restricted to web use and receive no instruction. “At StanTeck, our students are able to interact freely with the machines which opens up their brains to new ways of thinking.” Through his business, Stanley aims to create a world in which everyone has equal access to information as he believes this is the first step in building a more equitable world.

While StanTeck currently operates at a relatively small scale, Stanley hopes to someday expand to become Kibera’s Technical University. Having a dream this big, Stanley admits, is sometimes difficult. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel satisfied with where my business is at,” he notes. “Right now, I’m trying just to focus on the next two years and familiarize the Kiberan community with my business.” By 2018, he hopes to buy more machines and hire a few of his graduates as instructors. To do this, however, he will need to find more funds. “Somo’s grant was incredibly helpful in securing a space and buying our first round of machines. But to keep expanding we’ll need to find some more investors.”

Despite the stresses of entrepreneurship, Stanley is still overjoyed to be running his own business. “I love being my own boss!” he says laughingly, “Sometimes I look around and wonder, could it be? Could I really be in charge of all of this?” He admits that the ups and downs of business are exhausting but insists they are all worth it. “Owning my own business is empowering. I am directly helping to create a better world for my community.”

 

Stanley instructs his students on the basics of HTML. 

Stanley instructs his students on the basics of HTML. 

Although other technology institutes exist in Nairobi, Stanley argues that most instructors are merely in it for the money. “I am here because I love to teach. Each day I work at StanTeck, I am living out my passion and dream,” he explains. StanTeck is also uniquely focused on supporting computer learning among low income, informal areas. Outside of StanTeck, many Kiberans are only able to use computers in cybers. Here they are restricted to web use and receive no instruction. “At StanTeck, our students are able to interact freely with the machines which opens up their brains to new ways of thinking.” Through his business, Stanley aims to create a world in which everyone has equal access to information as he believes this is the first step in building a more equitable world.

While StanTeck currently operates at a relatively small scale, Stanley hopes to someday expand to become Kibera’s Technical University. Having a dream this big, Stanley admits, is sometimes difficult. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel satisfied with where my business is at,” he notes. “Right now, I’m trying just to focus on the next two years and familiarize the Kiberan community with my business.” By 2018, he hopes to buy more machines and hire a few of his graduates as instructors. To do this, however, he will need to find more funds. “Somo’s grant was incredibly helpful in securing a space and buying our first round of machines. But to keep expanding we’ll need to find some more investors.”

Despite the stresses of entrepreneurship, Stanley is still overjoyed to be running his own business. “I love being my own boss!” he says laughingly, “Sometimes I look around and wonder, could it be? Could I really be in charge of all of this?” He admits that the ups and downs of business are exhausting but insists they are all worth it. “Owning my own business is empowering. I am directly helping to create a better world for my community.”