In January 2013 TBN took a team on an exposure trip to Kenya. The team visited a number of incredible projects including a HIV and disease testing clinic, a school, manufacturing ventures and more. We caught up with Gary, Hannah, Jon and Justin to hear their recollections about the trip and what their next steps are going to be.
Jump to questions:
- Why did you go?
- What was the expo trip to Kenya like for you?
- What stood out about the places you visited?
- What did you do with the business incubator group?
- What were some of the ideas that came out of visiting these projects?
- What are you going to do because of this?
- How else could TBN Partners get involved with these projects?
- Was the whole trip spent visiting projects?
- Some projects cross-subsidise between middle- and low-income group. How does that work?
Why did you go?
Gary: “I had to see first hand what I’d heard about for myself. I went with a completely open mind, not going to commit, but I was taken aback and overwhelmed emotionally about what was going and what TBN was doing and decided I had to be part of it. There’s a lot of work to be done out there!”
“I went with a completely open mind, not going to commit, but decided I had to be part of it. There’s a lot to be done out there.”
Hannah: “I’d been to Kenya once before helping out in different projects, so I wanted to go to find something I could do to make a difference. Since my first trip I’d been supporting a few families but I found that they’d come to be a bit dependant on me, which isn’t very sustainable. So I wanted to find something I could put my time and effort into that would create jobs.
Visiting the projects made me realise that we need to do something on the business side of things to make it sustainable in order to keep people in jobs, allowing them to build their own way out of poverty and the slums.”
What was the expo trip to Kenya like for you?
Gary: “You’ve got to be fit to do one of these trips! The itinerary was quite full — they’re pretty heavy days — but the trip was laid out brilliantly. It’s really nice to have the Maasai Mara safari in the middle and to reflect and debrief with the group.
On the first day we went into the Kibera and visited the Beacon Of Hope. I was worried about my emotional state after seeing the children there; I realised how lucky we are in the UK. But what always amazes me is that they have smiles, despite their living conditions. Every night I went to bed and tried to take everything in.”
Justin: “The trip was excellent. Eye opening, intense and distressing, yes, but so inspiring to see what people are doing about it. It’s great to see how TBN Partners could make an impact. Going on one of these will really will enrich your life.”
“It’s great to see how TBN Partners could make an impact. Going on one of these will really will enrich your life.”
What stood out about the places you visited?
Jon: “On the first we first went to see the school project on the edge of the Kibera. We met a smart, switched-on guy who had earned his MBA in the UK, came back to Kenya and, instead of engaging with the banking industry like lots of other MBAs, decided he actually wanted to run a social enterprise. In particular he wanted to do something to create hope for the kids as a bridge out of the Kibera.
He’d built a kindergarten and primary education for the kids which is heavily subsidised by some commercial ventures that he holds on the same premises, including a card making & export business and a uniform manufacturing business. The school trains and pays proper wages to the teachers so it’s very high quality education. He also had a strategy of bringing together mixed groups of kids from within the Kibera and outside so the kids aren’t only growing up with people in the same poverty trap and learned how to interact with other communities. He also cross-subsidised the groups; everyone had to pay something but the kids from the Kibera paid next to nothing.
It’s a really interesting mindset; someone’s given up a career which will would earn them lots of money and respect and had instead focussed their effort on something that will bring social good, capitalising their education to run a business and run it sustainably.
What was really exciting was that it was clearly at the seed level — it’s not a big operation — but I could see that the guy in charge was capable of scaling it into something bigger, so it’s going to be very exciting to come back there in 2 years time and see how he’s expanded.
The commercial part of the operation is profitable enough to finance the facility, subsidise the kids in school, and produce enough revenue to invest in more properties to expand. We particularly liked the uniform manufacturing arm because it’s quite scalable and he’s also using it to employ and teach skills to women from the Kibera.”
Gary: “The Beacon Of Hope is just amazing. It’s run by a really shrewd, sharp business lady and she’s held her vision for what she could do in mind for all this time. What we were seeing was what she had seen was possible 10 years. But for me TAPA was the real stand-out thing. He’s got such an amazing vision for the school he’s running; I realised that their doing this for love and for no other reason — that’s quite emotional.
We’ve got to get more people out there and expose them to this. I’d heard about it from others that had been, but you have to be there and you have to experience it for yourself. These expo trips are a vital part of what we do.”
“We’ve got to get more people out there and expose them to this. You have to experience it for yourself. These expo trips are a vital part of what we do.”
Jon: “The Beacon Of Hope really is a shining light of what a social enterprise can be. It’s run by Jane Wathome who’s from a privileged background, but she had a heart for helping women from the slums with HIV so she set out to do HIV testing and counselling. She got a single, small room on the edge of a slum and started just doing counselling. From there she grew to slightly bigger buildings, all along developing what she’s offering; adding testing, then a pharmacy, then training about how to use the drugs. Eventually she raised enough funds to buy an old house with lots of land and have developed a whole campus with a world-class diesase testing clinic; so good that the middle classes come to use it as well. This means she can subsidise the services to the very low income groups around testing, counselling, etc.
She has a mindset of excellence which has meant what they’re offering attracts paying customers. In addition to the clinic the campus also has a huge, high quality school that attracts middle-income groups allowing them to cross-subsidise low-income groups; a catering school providing training, which they also use for commercial work; and a clothing manufacturing outfit, similar to TAPA but on a bigger scale, which has shops in Kenya and also exports.
All this started off from a dirty little room 10 years ago that Jane was able to grow by making sure it was self-sustaining from the start.”
“The Beacon Of Hope was able to grow by making sure it was self-sustaining from the start.”
You also met with a business incubator group. What did you do there?
Jon: “Part of the expo group met with the Sinapis Group — a business incubator and seed capital group — who’ve spoken at TBN before. They had 5 of the entrepreneurs they were working with, each of which gave an investment pitch to us. We were able to use our business experience to give feedback, do a bit of due diligence and probe their business plans a bit. The pitches included a education software service platform that replaces expensive textbooks, a construction technology product that addresses the need for cheap social housing in Kenya, and a technology security company increasing banking and ATM security in the country.
There’s some big next steps for these entrepreneurs and I’m going to use my skills to continue the due diligence for investments, and we’re going to tap into TBN to seek investors, advisers and partners.”
“There’s some big next steps for these entrepreneurs and we’re going to tap into TBN to seek investors, advisers and partners.”
What were some of the ideas that came out of visiting these projects?
Jon: “Something really interesting was when our team looked at the costs of buying one of the looms they put together the materials with. We quickly found there was an easy, scalable model whereby a loom pays for itself within about 10 days of buying it because of the way they’re able to keep them going 24/7 through shift work, so we were very quickly putting together ideas about how we could scale this by getting TBN guys to invest in these assets — only £1000 for each loom — which repay very quickly. TBN could then market the uniforms to UK schools who would get cheap, good quality uniforms whilst also providing sustainable, desirable jobs for communities in Kenya.
We also talked about having guys in the Kibera owning the machines themselves but using the facilities to run them on and doing a profit share. You can see how powerful it is bringing a group of business-minded people together in these places, and already we’ve got a simple business model that TBN Partners can invest in at a low level.”
“You can see how powerful it is bringing a group of business-minded people together in these places.”
What are you going to do because of this?
Justin: “I’m looking to support one particular individual I met there who’s part of Lunchbowl. He regularly goes into the slums to provide food for low income families here. He’s been held at knifepoint but still sticks at what he believes to be the right thing to do for these children in the slum.
I’m also going to support the other business people that were on the trip, using my social media experience to show them how they can increase their reach and spread the word about what they’re doing.”
Jon: “I’m working with another Partner in TBN who’s a dentist and we’re looking to start a dental clinic, partnering with the people we met on the expo. We’ll start doing some research into markets, costings, etc. and then put together a business plan.
I’m also going to connect with Sinapis Group more closely to see how we can connect the entrepreneurs they identify with Partners in TBN.”
Gary: “What we’d like to do is help the communities we met become self-sufficient by tweaking our business model so we can go there, be self-sufficient ourselves and make profit share with these guys and keep revenue coming in. We work with people in Kenya to help us distribute the products we ship, creating income that way, and we can also work with them to create routes to market themselves so they can build their own businesses with us as well. We also want to be able to help the children with their nutrition, making them physically stronger. It’s about empowering them to become self-sufficient, to keep working and to work with them develop income channels through what we’re doing.
When we went to the Beacon Of Hope we could see that they had taken one room and done something incredible with it in ten years. We also visited Johnson in TAPA who was at the stages which Beacon Of Hope was at 10 years ago, so my main focus is to try and be part of that story, helping those children be self-sufficient.
We run an international business so we’re going build our business alongside something in Kenya, allowing us to fund ourselves but financially help what Johnson is doing at the same time and develop income streams for the people he’s working with.
“We’re going to build our business alongside something in Kenya, allowing us to fund ourselves and develop income streams for [the communities there].”
We can see that by building groups in different countries we’re able to build something that’s ongoing. Lots of people can write a check out and give a one-off donation, but building something with them and make them self-sufficient is the way forward.”
Gary runs a business with his wife which distributes products and also runs training and coaching at the same time. Gary & Helen are also thinking about how they can use the nutrition products they distribute to promote health and development with the communities they met in Kenya.
How else could TBN Partners get involved with these projects?
Jon: “The idea of working with the projects in Kenya to supply uniforms to UK schools has massive potential but also needs a lot of knowledge about the standards that need to be met. People in TBN that are involved in clothing retail or manufacturing could play a vital advisory role. Also, anyone in education — a head teacher, a schools supplier, etc. — could help immensely by setting up access to market for these ideas. This is where the network can be leveraged.”
Was the whole trip spent visiting projects?
Jon: “Not entirely. We had planned to visit a project run by Riziki — a group working with children and providing microfinance — but had to turn back because of a tip-off about some dangerous guys that had heard about our plans. So instead we went to the Riziki offices and spent some time going through their future strategies. The group on the expo gave some good feedback, and we had impact there and then. It’s not always about visiting something and coming back with our own ideas; expo groups can have an impact right away.”
“It’s not always about visiting something and coming back with our own ideas; expo groups can have an impact right away.”
A number of the projects you saw cross-subsidised between middle- and low-income group. How does that work?
Jon: “Well what they found was that you can just mix the groups and it works; no-one feels it’s unfair. In Kenya, interestingly, it seems difficult to get people to part with money just as giving away — possibly borne from a mis-trust of aid — but when the middle-income groups are in a situation where they can see their money is being put to work and the low income groups being served their attitude completely changes. If they know the service their paying for is of good quality *and* it’s serving the low income groups they’re happy — they want to see their country lifted out of poverty.
In some situations you might want to separate the groups, so the clinic we saw could have a day or two a week set aside to provide subsidised services, similarly to how private practices in the UK will have specific NHS days. Or they could have mobile clinics that are supported by the central, sustainable clinic.”