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Teaching web design for a better future

Teaching web design for a better future

Elkanah is a web designer from Kawangware, one of the informal settlements in Nairobi. In 2016, he started DoubleServe to train youth in web design, helping them  acquire necessary skills to find jobs. Elkanah grew up living in an informal settlement in Kericho. After finishing high school in 2006, he decided to come to Nairobi to look for a job, a feit he found much more difficult than expected. He then joined college studying IT but wasn't able to finish school because he didn't have enough money for the school fees. After working in several odd jobs, he was able to join college again since he earned money as a web designer, which allowed him to pay for his school fees. Because of his own experience, Elkanah is passionate about training youth from the informal settlements to help them identify their passion and improve their personal situation. DoubleServe is not only a place where youth learns more about IT and web design but also a place they can receive mentorship, coaching and personal development.

At the moment, eleven students are being trained at DoubleServe on a daily basis. As a first step, they are trained in MS Office before moving to a more specialised program about web design. Currently there are eight students who joined the second part of the program. For his students to get practical practice, Elkanah is engaging with companies to acquire them as clients for DoubleServe. For the ones who stop after the basic training, Elkanah tries to connect them with companies which are more suitable for them. The main challenge DoubleServe faces at the moment is the consistency of the students since the training is free of charge for them. He is creating a model whereby his students learn the web design skills for free but then join his company and work off the training costs through lower salaries when starting.

Elkanah was part of Somo’s Cohort 4. He especially benefitted  from the financial management training and how to plan and track daily business activities. After finishing the training at Somo, DoubleServe got officially licensed as a business. At the moment Elkanah is providing the training in Kibera but he wishes to open a branch in his home area of Kawangware at the beginning of 2018. In three years, he envisions DoubleServe as an established company for web design and youth training and mentorship at the same time.

AfriKnit Dolls bring African dolls to life

AfriKnit Dolls bring African dolls to life

Susan and Meshack started AfriKnit Dolls to design and manufacture African dolls at an affordable price. Their idea was to create dolls with African hairstyles and Kitenge fabrics that Kenyan children can identify with. These dolls not only fill a demand gap in the local market but also have a positive impact on environmental pollution, using leftover fabrics for stuffing and making the bodies and clothes of the dolls. 

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Afriknit dolls joined Somo’s Cohort 4 training. During the training, they gained knowledge about business modeling, learned how to pitch and networked with other trainees and advisors. The received feedback allowed them to refine their idea and start their own business. 

Up to now, Susan uses a manual sewing machine for manufacturing the dolls. Since it requires a lot of physical energy, she is limited to a production of 5 dolls per day. For this reason, a major share of Somo’s investment has been spent an electrical sewing machine, more than doubling the production output per day. This is an important step to reach their vision of selling one hundred dolls per month. In that regard beginning of this month they also started renting a place to have more space available for production and storing materials. The place also offers enough room to start their training for interested individuals and the youth on how to make the dolls. 

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One of the first questions people normally ask Susan and Meshack is how they actually came up with this idea since they have never seen a similar doll like this before. The answer is they designed the dolls because they had extra fabric from their uniform business and found that there were no affordable dolls that their kids could relate to on the market. In general, people love the dolls since they are softer, more flexible, more affordable, more durable and less harmful than the plastic ones out in the market. Currently, their business is mostly based on local sales but they have begun to market to schools to introduce their dolls to their programs and parents of kids in the school. To this day, the dolls have not only found new homes in Kenya but also around the world in Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Peru, UK, and the USA.

If you want to get your own doll, visit our PopUp store in person or online:

Music as a means for change

Music as a means for change

Starting Vessels Music School in Kibera was something Bernard has been dreaming of for years. Born and raised in Kibera, Bernard really struggled, loosing his parents as a child and having to be moved around between many homes which was not always easy. He started engaging in illegal activities such as pickpocketing to secure his living. During his last year in school he discovered his passion for singing and found that he was gifted with an amazing voice. As he practiced singing around his community more and more people encouraged him to keep going, assuring him that he had a skill worth pursuing. Soon Bernard started to learn playing the piano as well. He found a teacher who was willing to teach him twice a week for little money. As he improved his singing and piano skills, he started earning money from playing at weddings or in schools. Over time, Bernard started to ask himself how he could reach out to the community and help other people reach their musical potential. So rather than teaching individuals, he decided to open up a music school in Kibera, where people could learn music without qualitative drawbacks at an affordable price compared to other music schools.

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Bernard joined Somo in Cohort 4 to learn how to run his music school. During classes he gained a deeper understanding for his business by learning how to better evaluate his potential market and tell his idea and story through his business model canvas. One of his main takeaways from the training was to prioritize on specific aspects of the business at a time, such as scheduling and identifying his start-up costs before focusing on other aspects. With the investment of Somo, Bernard started his registration process and now is in the process of setting up his sound studio. Other than that he mainly engages in marketing activities (social media and mouth-to-mouth advertisement) at the moment to increase awareness about his music school and attract students. He also is in search for different music teachers who can offer different music lessons to expand the offer. For advising and general support, he got the chance to connect with Sauti Academy which is a famous music academy in Nairobi. One challenge Bernard may see in the future is attracting students from outside Kibera which will be important in order for him to subsidize lower costs for the youth he trains within the community.

Bernard chose the name Vessels because he regards each person as a “vessel for change” who can contribute to change in Kibera and touch others with his passion. Bernard is convinced that “change has to start with yourself and not with the person next to you” and that people should stop relying on others or the government but become proactive. This thinking is what keeps him going even in difficult times. Bernard’s vision for Vessels Music School is to change the life of people through the “universal language of music”. In the long run, Bernard hopes that his music school will also be a production studio for local artists and that he can expand the school to different places.

In case you are close by, make sure you drop by Vessels Music School and listen to the amazing voice of Bernard, it is definitely worth a visit!

Healthy peanut butter from BountyNut

Healthy peanut butter from BountyNut

Rose Atieno is the founder of BountyNut, a local business from Mathare that produces and sells organic peanut butter. She is part of Somo’s 4th Cohort and we are excited to see what she is able to do now that she has qualified for Somo investment!

Starting her peanut business was by coincidence. One of Rose’s family members was sick and the doctor gave them the advice to eat natural peanut butter. Checking several supermarkets, Rose and her family could not find any natural ones available. Rose remembered her grandma who used to make natural peanut butter and how she produced it and decided to give it a try. Her family loved the peanut butter so much that even  when everyone in her family was healthy again, Rose kept on making the natural peanut butter. Then some of her neighbors got interested and so Rose and her family decided to start selling the peanut butter to the community, providing people with an affordable, organic and delicious protein source.

To produce the peanut butter, Rose first roasts the peanuts together with salt for a couple of hours. This is done manually without any support of a machine. In the second step, Rose grinds the roasted peanuts with her own grinding machine. Due to the current political situation in Kenya, sales are lower compared to previous months and so she is only producing peanut butter about three to four times a week. In times of high demand, however, she produces peanut butter everyday. These changing demands are her main challenge in the business at the moment. With the investment of Somo, Rose plans to buy a roasting machine which allows her to increase production further and react faster to changing demands. To expand her business, Rose is in the process to get an official permission by Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), verifying that her peanut butter fulfills Kenyan food standards. This will allow her to sell her peanut butter in supermarkets and local shops. Rose also wants to open a shop in Mathare. At the moment, she still sells her peanut butter from her apartment, since people in her community know her peanut butter by now and many may drop by to get one. So she always make sure “to have a sufficient supply at home”.

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Rose not only produces peanut butter but also offers training to other people who are interested in making peanut butter. So far, Rose has shown three people how to make peanut butter. She did these trainings for free to give back to the community. Since these people don't have grinding machines, they come back to Rose's place. Rose charges them a little fee for using the machine, providing her with an additional income from BountyNut. 

Asking Rose if there is anything she may regret about her business, her prompt and clear answer is: “Yes, I wished I would have started BountyNut earlier”. Her business contributes to a stable income for Rose and her family making her an equal contributor in the household as her husband.  

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If you want to try Rose's Bountiful peanut butter, come and get one from Somo's PopUp store or place your order online with us:!


Light for the community

Light for the community

Josephine’s journey in starting “Mwangaza wa Mathare” started 2 years ago when a friend taught her the process of candle making. Prior to this, she went from one house to another selling T-shirts struggling to earn enough money for her daily living with her two sons. She feels it was an easy step for her to take, giving up her old job, and up to now she is very happy with her decision since “it is definitely a more profitable business”.

Josephine uses recycled materials such as yogurt containers and wine bottle tops to shape the candles. She produces about ten candles a day together with two  other single mothers from the community that she has employed. At the moment, the candles are mainly sold to churches, massage palaces and individuals. Also her community has started  to acknowledge her candles. In Mathare, most houses are without electricity and so Josephine’s candles provide them with a crucial light source for a couple of days at an affordable price.

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Josephine was part of Somo’s cohort 4 from May- August 2017 and is right now in the progress of registering her business. With the received grant, she wants to buy a machine which allows her to produce a variety of candles.This will allow her to cater for different needs and demands and in the future increase her customer base. Her aim is to incorporate more women in the long term, help them to be financially independent and have a long-lasting impact on her employees, their families and her community. On a personal level, she hopes this business will allow her  to have a good life with her two boys without worrying about their education.

A challenge arises with the purchase of a new machine to increase production. Right now Josephine is producing the candles on the rooftop of her apartment building. But once she has the machine, she requires a bigger and more secured place.

Josephine learnt a lot about starting businesses through Somo’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. In particular, she learned a lot about cash management. The most important takeaway for her is the importance and power of Social Media when running a business in an informal settlement. She now wants to promote Mwangaza wa Mathare using Facebook for special occasions such as Valentine’s Day in order to gain new customers and increase her sales. Once helped by another woman, Josephine is inspired to share her knowledge of candle making with other women of her community, who are eager to learn and start their own business. Josephine’s advice for other people in her community is to “wake up, be committed and work hard”!