Students Thoughts

Students Thoughts

Student's thoughts

My thoughts about life and about my dreams and visions.

I would like to see the world moving to a better place

Think, Africa. Kenya...Think!

French_FreddyPosted by Fred Wed, June 13, 2012 04:35PM

As an idealist pacifist humanist with a barrage of flaws and contradictory ideas, running away from some notion of peculiar perfectionist ideals, I believe nothing is impossible. We think it and so it is. I think impossible, therefore it is.

Attitude is overrated and has highly been commercialized and sensationalized in the past odd decade or Kenya and Africa at large. We went from meek 'fuata Nyayoism' to overzealous 'Haki Yetu!isms' practically overnight, and in that way shifted the very tread-lines on the wheels of change.

All very well and good.

Where it became a problem was when, as is ever so blatantly obvious in Kenya and to a certain extent East Africa, attitude began being peddled as a commodity. As a brand that could be imbibed tele-kinetically without having to be practised and / or perfected.

I speak, good people and otherwise, about the Imagine This Nation campaigns, the Najivunias and Brand-Vision-Stimuli macho bravado we the chest-thumping buffoons and ignorance buffs have been drip-fed for so long now that even the smarter Kenyan / African - and I tread very lightly on the word smarter - has been relegated to an obliviously euphoric walking template convinced on premises of nonexistent Utopia.

This is not a script from Zombies™ ©, the reality TV show from your daily existence. Or lack thereof it. This is not about you. Neither is it about me, and especially not about me sitting here, cozied up in posh Kampalan Suburbia on the hospitality of a human who was a total stranger all of 15 hours ago. Much less about me poisoning you with lyrical logic.

It is about the Son of Africa. He may rise in the western bliss and dancing lights of hopeful horizons and fattening piggies and piggy banks, but he sets in the dingy dinghies in eastern docks, the cyclicly redundant errors of blissfully arrogant ignorance.

Think, Africa! Yes you are, you can and

are going to be alright.

All you need do, is think,


and actually,


"There is never failure, ever;

there is only ever feedback."

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Rising from The Hopeless Continent: The Business of Being Social

French_FreddyPosted by Fred Wed, June 13, 2012 04:30PM

Two weeks ago at Mindspeak, Bharat Thakrar said that ego and passion walk hand in hand; yet only when you learn to lead your ego and replicate your own successes in others can your truly be considered a leader.

Last week Thursday, at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, a forum was convened in which AIESEC Kenya Alumni were to discuss 'Social Business in East Africa'. Dubbed Innovation Cafe, the Business of Doing Good, the event coalesced student and startup, SME[1] and MNC[2] alike. Among the represented companies were Acumen Fund, Edge, Juhudi Kilimo, Growth Africa, Trademark East Africa and Taka Taka Solutions.

The event was a glorious success, and several key points are worth reiteration:

  • To solve huge social challenges, we need great solutions. This, simply, is the core value of Social Business (Social Entrepreneurship)
  • The structure of any social business must be permanent and self-sustaining. Think business modelling.
  • They must also be scalable
  • They cannot be inaccessible (Good Distribution)
  • Key sectors attracting funding today are:

- Health

- Urban Infrastructure

- Education

- Energy

- Access to Money and Financial Services

- Rural Innovation and Agribusiness

The panelists (Acumen Fund's Biju Mohandas, Taka Taka Solutions' David Paffenholz, Juhudi kilimo's Ghalib Hafiz) talked extensively about their social business ventures, and here are some of the highlights of what transpired:

Why do you do what you do?

Biju: About 10 years ago, The Economist published an article titled Africa: The Hopless Continent (actual date May 11, 2000). Recently, they published another article titled Africa Rising (actual date December 3, 2011). What they see now, we saw then.

How do you do what you do?

Ghalib: Our business model is one that finances productive income generating assets, as opposed to the old school of thought that finances working capital and consumption. As such, Juhudi Kilimo ensures that our clients' progression from poverty is one that is centralized on the new assets we finance, and not their pre-existing assets. In the event of default on a loan, the asset we financed acts as collateral, and in so doing our clients would not be left worse off. They are, in the event of such a scenario, simply taken back to their original state.

Paffenholz: Instead of simply transporting garbage to Dandora, we collect it, process it, sell processed goods, and take only 20% of the garbage collected to the dumpsite at Dandora. Therefore ensuring garbage is not simply relocated to a more convenient locale.

Why social business?

Biju: Because businesses have tried and failed to kickstart a resurgent Africa; Humanitarian Aid has faced similar constraints. We had to place ourselves in the middle ground. The increasing inequality, especially among the youth, has now resulted in Social Business becoming one of the fast emerging markets.

Paffenholz: There comes a time in a young visionary's life that they get bored building someone else's brand. Social business is the sexy business of our age, and it came naturally to me. I wanted to do good, and do it in a big way. You can build a fountain in one area and get to touch 500 people's lives, or build a water pipeline and touch a million's.

Ghalib: The timing has to be right. For me, after years in the corporate world, it felt like the right time when Juhudi started out in 2004.

Why is it that Kenyan citizens have not quite taken to Social Business initiatives, whereas in India, for instance, the people identify their own needs and come up with Social Businesses to address them?

Biju: Because we have more people in India perhaps? Really, though, Social Business takes a lot of time, communication and energy in getting the word out. The more exposure you can get, the better, before starting any Social Business.

What one idea do you have that is worth spreading?

Biju: Taka Taka Solutions. Their idea is truly innovative, which is why we as Acumen sought to partner with them.

Paffenholz: Survival, in any business, dictates that you be long-sighted. With the evolution that is Social Business today, you must be ready to weather the storm, and take on your business aspects academically.

Ghalib: It's not just about ideas, but execution. Be ready to take the idea to the next level.

What challenges have you had to overcome?

Biju: Money. As a changemaker you have to deal with the reality that it's not ever a matter of how lucrative the venture is. You also need to be at the right place at the right time, which once again means spending money you are not yet making. It's a delicate balance.

Paffenholz: Challenges already overcome? We're still facing them...ask me in ten years.

(10 years later, he continues...)

It takes blind belief at all times, because there will always be detractors in your way. As such, your highest intentions for the business must be clear at the beginning, and remain thus over time.

Ghalib: The rewards far exceed the challenges. If you believe in your vision, it must not always be financially rewarding at the startoff. I, for instance, saved for quite a while to come to Kenya, because I believed in the place...and the people.

How do you sell your dream?

Biju: Convince yourself. Then that ONE person will come on board eventually. You don't have to convince everybody. Out of 9.7 billion people maybe all you need to convince are 10. People, not billion. If among them you convince Obama, then [maybe] you can change the world.

Paffenholz: I agree with Biju. In addition, endorsements and awards also have a ripple effect: take advantage of them.

[Check out and apply for Acumen's East African Fellows Program here. Edge talents also have a business model competition ongoing, and there'll be an innovation conference on June 21st, as well as Acumen's 2012-2013 Fellowship Program Launch.]

Ghalib:Hard and soft skills must be part of your dream. Get your business model right, and court various agencies for fund generation.

Parting Shot?

Biju: We are all young. In this room, out there in the streets. We are a subsection of the future. Believe in yourself. Be ethical. Inspire.

Paffenholz: We are expanding and will soon be hiring. Get in touch.

Ghalib: I'm going to echo Biju and David...we are also hiring.

Credit to AIESEC Kenya's Rose Thuo, Bosibori Nyambane and the whole team (including Edge's Manuela Muller, an AIESEC Kenya alumni and good friend) for a job well done. Any highlights left out will be included in a future post.


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A Well Told Story | Inspiring Kenyan Youth

French_FreddyPosted by Fred Fri, May 11, 2012 11:57AM

A "text-savvy" continent. A superhero. The man; behind a mask of routine as a reporter, wielding superhuman ability to reach and change lives; telescopic vision, carrying the world around him on his shoulders. And...wait for it; he's not Clark Kent. This isn't Kansas, Smallville. He's African. This is Kenya, to be precise.

He got on stage with one goal in mind. To change the future with one story. That story. The same story relished by 62% of school kids in Kenya. A story of taking responsibility...of taking action, not tossing around blame. A story of courage. A story called courage.

As Rob Burnett got off the stage, it was hard not to think man this guy's good. Not just the fact that he totally demolished the stage with a crisp, timely, innovatively designed presentation full of well-balanced graphics. It was more the fact that he spoke about an idea already spreading more than the darkness seems to at Kenya Power.

From Well Told Story: A good comic makes you laugh or cry and it opens up your heart and your mind to new ideas.

Shujaaz. The Swahili version of a pre-antisemitic post-Mad Max Bravehearts. Maybe with a little less gore and tragedy; at least in the man-kill-man-in-senseless-close-quarters-rusty-jembe-acting-as-a-blade-combat sense.

Shujaaz is the story of a young Kenyan comic book character turned live action figure cum DJ. DJBoi, sorta like some Kenyan bloggers and tweeps I like to call Mass Anone (anonymous), airs his own progressive mindset change agenda from the comforts of his makeshift radio station. Where he beats many slacktivist citizen journos is in his viral self leadership initiative. Influencing the people physically around him to change for the better.

This reminds me of post I just read, from one of my students at True North Leadership College:

Excerpt from Nixon's post at Student's Thoughts

This despite all the trauma and hardship he faces, like many of his fellow students, living in the Nairobi slum. Like the creative team at Shujaaz fm, he has not let the world dictate his ambition; he defines his own purpose in life. This is a story bloody well worth telling. An idea truly worth spreading.

And a bright young man rearing to have a go at the world.

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With great Responsibility comes great Power

French_FreddyPosted by Fred Fri, May 11, 2012 11:50AM
Be clicked on the link to correct the error in my heading into "With great power comes great responsibility". No? Ok...then you must have known that I was trying to pull some wool over your eyeballs. That not it either? One last shot at it then...third time charm and all - you just knew that with such a title the post would HAVE TO be interesting. No?

Well in whichever case you'd be disappointed. Because it's not an error. Am not into the fabric business, so no wool here either. Maybe just a hint of fabrication. And of course I'm not here to tell you anything you don't know. So how could it be interesting?

She needed - and still needs - no introduction. Yet like the TED@Nairobi MC, I feel the need to introduce her. She shouldn't have had to - and still doesn't have to - care so much for the world YOU live in, yet she makes me want to share the sentiment. Every single one of the four times I have spoken to Paula Kahumbu this past month.

Calmly clenched fist punched the air at Braeburn, cool lull of nature filled the silence in the hall as she projected her passion for the ecosystem to a captured audience. All that was missing in the picture was a broom, preferably a Nimbus of Firebolt, perhaps an invisibility cloak and headless Nick or two red-haired troublemakers, et voila.

Paula's brilliance imbued the #TEDTalentSearch wavelength with such ferocity that I could bet you no-one dropped a gram of litter all day the next day. Her plea for a balance between mankind and wild-kind was so infectiously affectionate that I for one felt sorry for the lions killed in Maasailand. Much in spite - and malice - of the fact that they encroached on the morans's homesteads and got what was coming their way. Spears...and one man's poison.

"Lions are a National Symbol for Kenya," asserted Paula, during the TED@Nairobi talent search last Saturday, Braeburn High School Lavington.

See her talk at Pop!Tech in Camden, 2009.

I am certain she intended to complicate our understanding so - the understanding that there are two sides to encroachment on nature. That much as the lions were in the wrong place at the sharp pointedly wrong time, that land was once theirs to roam freely in.

My freshman year communication skills lecturer said, in 2007, that we as listeners should not be swayed by our perceptions of anyone as they give a talk. I have never begged to, but I feel the need to differ with her today, all of 5 years later. Because with Paula, it's impossible not to flow with perception when you lend her a stage.

See Chief Nyamweya's work as captured by @afromusing, TED@Nairobi

Because with Paula, it's not a matter of power coming with responsibility. She takes responsibility everyday...and everyday, her power to change the world rises to greater heights. She on many occasions calls former President Moi's burning of ivory in the eighties "a massive global political statement."

She is wrong.

How? Here's how. Paula Kahumbu is THE "massive global political statement". Even without trying to be. Because she does not try to be.

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'T' for Turere: A Story of Initiative

French_FreddyPosted by Fred Fri, May 11, 2012 11:15AM
Sometimes to err is human, and to human is to exaggerate. I've been guilty of many exaggerations in my posts, and a lot more take-my-head-off-and-smash-it-onto-a-drum melodrama. This, however, is no exaggeration.

Do you have an 11-year old in your homestead? Does he skate like Evan Doherty and drive you crazy like a Kenyan matatu with his occasional falls off his prodigious pedestal? Maybe your kid even says the times table to the nth power? Impressive, aye? Well meet Richard Turere and get a bit depressingly impressed.

At the age of 11, I had made out with - and told on - about 11 girls since kindergarten and gotten over them. At 11, Turere had faced LIONS; conquered, gotten over them and all!!!. I kid you not, Samson. And no, ladies and lions do not have any similarities. Save for the retractable claws.

Here's how the cradle of brilliantkind did it. Without any knowledge of electronics or advanced art in science, Richard faced the possibility of losing his responsibility and livelihood as a cattle-herder in the plains of Kenya to the Man Eaters of Kitengela. Impossible odds, no? How about learning that he actually cared about the lions almost as much as he did his cattle, and did not see them as expendable creatures? Impossibler odds?

Well if anyone embodies possibility, this idea worth spreading is the young Turere. He came up with a system of dancing lights using a car battery and bike indicators, strategically lined along his homestead's fence. All this from the observation that lions did not like [read 'scampered off like little kitties'] at the sight of a flickering torchlight. And in this simple innovative way, complicated as Kenyan politics for a kid who shoulda been doing his tortuously impractical 8-4-4 homework, Turere avoided this:

Lion project - The face of predation

He has now, at age 13, graced Brookehouse Schools with his presence: on a full scholarship to meet and interact with dozens of bright young Kenyans like himself - or lesser even - and have the same sort of impact but on a bigger scale. Kudos to Brookehouse for that, but even more kudos should go to Paula Kahumbu for finding the young prodigy, and the most kudos to Turere for taking initiative. Not for being a part of the solution; for being the ONLY solution that the neighbourhood he lives in has in the face of predation.

Food for thought, that, Mr List-all-the-problems-Kenya-has-NEVER-the-solution. And of course am not about to forget you, Mrs Oh-My-Nailpolish-spilled-over Oooh-that'll-make-a-cool-tweet!

So you say the 'T' in T-Pain stands for Teddy? No way! Turere patented #Winning long before we had the hashtag! He now also joins FabLab. Inspired yet? I'll hazard a guess it's either that or utter standing ovation while inwardly green as a pea pod. The time to act is NOW!

See Photos of Turere and the Lion Light at @PaulaKahumbu's post, WidlifeDirect

[Blogger @french_freddy's earlier posts can be found in the Diary of a Serial Schizo]

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