Life is about choices, which career to pursue, graduate school to join, or elective to select – all to achieve the goals some of us are fortunate to choose to set and attain. An elective Technology for Social Good that took place in Nairobi, the pulsing heart of Kenya is new on the MBA curriculum. We sometimes choose our electives by the expected learning scope, not expecting that we can be the living contributor to the course environment itself.
This exciting elective was a result of an ambitious initiative of Professor Alessandro Giudici, who connected his passion for impact entrepreneurship with enormous academic and hands-on knowledge in Strategy; and a masterful on-the-ground course organization by Koby Cohen, a Cass alumni and entrepreneur, to deliver an interactive full 6-day study tour in Nairobi – one of the most vibrant cities in the East Africa.
Our schedule was packed with site visits to tech hubs and coworking spaces – the thriving centres of social entrepreneurship and innovation spread out across Nairobi. One of them was E4Impact Innovation Hub, an accelerator that has been a nest for impact-driven entrepreneurs in sectors like agritech, social housing, and green energy. All of the startups had incredible community outreach and demonstrated social impact. How astonished we were to know that the hub even hosts Nairobi Space Days!
Kenya is tech-savvy. Today the country is home to more than 200 startups worth of USD1bn. With most of these headquartered in Nairobi, the capital has been unsurprisingly named ‘Silicon Savannah’.
Over the course of the tour, we visited successful startups that have over the past decade shaped Kenya’s innovation landscape – such as M-Pesa, an ultimate leader in mobile payments, BRCK – a revolutionary off-grid internet provider and Ushahidi, a crisis management platform. We learned how these success stories reinvented themselves by supporting the startup ecosystem and reinvesting their gains to support the new generation of leaders and entrepreneurs. My cohort and I were touched by the questions that were asked to us by the 14- and 15-year old students of the M-Pesa Foundation Academy, a state-of-art high school for high-potential young students from underprivileged backgrounds. They were bold and driven; they knew what they wanted and were unafraid to ask us why and how. In reality, we were lucky to meet these future leaders of Kenya.
One of the hubs, iHub, allowed us to attend a live pitching event for startups seeking seed funding. Kenyans and entrepreneurs from other countries presented to investors, often from a webcam! Their ideas were incredible and their pitches focused on how tech can enhance the lives of the communities, to make education, sanitation, health care and light accessible, or how to make farming more efficient.
I found the biggest benefit of the course was the opportunity to meet many young, passionate entrepreneurs who are thriving despite challenges. It was wonderful to witness how a moral choice to address the real needs and determination to find real solutions through application of technology can generate a tremendous impact for thousands, and millions of people.
A visit to Kenya makes you realise one thing – Africa has unlocked your mind and opened your eyes. And all you want is become part of this honourable journey that will change lives.
Anastasiia Liashchenko, Executive MBA in Dubai (2019)