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 and MNC 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:
- Urban Infrastructure
- 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.
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.