Tag: Kenya

What makes you a social entrepreneur?

As part of my Executive MBA, I attended the Tech for Social Good international elective in Kenya. The study tour took us to Nairobi where we were not only introduced to some real-life applications of how technology is being used for social good but also gained a deeper understanding of some of the key drivers of social value creation.

Social value creation starts with the social entrepreneur, an individual who has made the conscious decision to focus more on value creation rather than value capture. A social entrepreneur addresses neglected problems in society, looks for sustainable solutions and operates in areas with underprivileged communities. We met several social entrepreneurs in Nairobi including Martina Taverna from Airfu, a mobile-based learning platform aimed at targeting learners of low-income status who have limited access to training and Erik Hersman, the founder of BRCK, which provides ICT related solutions and network connectivity to areas of Africa that currently have limited or no access.

Erik Hersman runs us through the technology behind BRCK

The second key driver of social value creation is scalability. As the focus of social enterprises is not on driving a profit but creating social value and finding a solution to a problem in society, social entrepreneurs need to seek alternative methods to capture value, otherwise, their solution becomes unscalable. Funding typically comes from public donations, the local government or the private sector. For Kenya, we learnt from the British High Commission that the UK government provides £300 million annually to the country.

Social enterprises must also consider the format of their business model as the traditional model doesn’t account for the focus on social value creation and therefore, needs to be developed. We were provided with a real-life example of business model innovation when we visited E4impact, who have developed a model focused on franchising. This allows them to provide higher-education to social entrepreneurs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa due to their partnerships with several international universities.

A summary of the range of services that E4impact are able to provide

It’s important to note that Kenya is already ahead of other countries in terms of technology use. The introduction of M-Pesa in 2007 revolutionised how Kenyans transacted and allowed them to skip straight to mobile banking, bypassing the traditional banking methods. Even now, Kenya is considered to be one of the top five countries in Africa that will experience significant grown in mobile phone penetration over the next six years; it is predicted to obtain nine million new mobile phone users by 2025.

It is this familiarity with technology that has allowed Kenya to be so receptive to solutions involving it and for this country, accessibility to the technology is imperative to it supporting social value creation. This holds just as much importance on a larger scale when considering how technology could be used to meet the UN’s Sustainable Developmental Goals. The UN already believes that technology will help, specifically stating that, “in order to eradicate poverty and reorient current unsustainable development trajectories over the period 2015 to 2030, affordable technological solutions have to be developed and disseminated widely in the next fifteen years.”

Kenya presents us with an abundance of social entrepreneurs using technology to create social value. Taking into account what they have done and limitations they have faced (e.g. scalability) will allow us to be able to apply their solutions on a global scale and address the challenges that currently present themselves in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Nil Sangarabalan, Executive MBA (2019)

Finding sustainable solutions through technology in Nairobi

I took part in the Technology for Social Good trip to Nairobi.

Technology provides many opportunities in creating these solutions to sustainability issues. We saw many innovative applications, both improving current solutions and developing and distributing new ones. Technology can be a key enabler in building scale and replication through standardisation, which in turn reduces the cost to provide the product. It can also play a pivotal role in accessing people who would otherwise be hard to reach.

M-Pesa, a phone app for money transfers, financing and micro-financing, is an inspiring example of this. Now, nearly 50% of Kenya’s GDP – of which 35% comes from the informal economy— is transacted on its platform and it has lifted 2% of Kenyan households out of poverty.

Technology can also be used to harness the power of data and analysis, whether it be in providing famers with better information about how and where to use fertiliser (Lentera), allowing micro-insurance to be paid on monthly rather than yearly (Blue Wave), or improving education provision (Whizz).

Technology needs to be carefully chosen to ensure that it maximises impact. Many of the businesses we met were not implementing the latest innovations but deploying clever applications of technology already in existence. As we often heard, it is important to consider the local context when determining the intended impact: start with the problem and find the most effective and cost-efficient technology to provide a solution for maximum impact. As Blue Wave highlighted to us, “innovate simply, and at the point of need.”

I was struck by some of the business models we saw, which play a key role in securing the viability of the companies and creating impact at the same time. Azuri is improving access to electricity by using a market hybrid model and offering payment terms on solar panels, lights and televisions to people too poor to afford the capital expense and factoring the receivables to fund its working capital. This is being operated on a commercial basis, even after receiving only 60c for every dollar’s worth of equipment provided.

These companies started out with a clear social mission and purpose and determined a business model to make it work. There must be a fit between the business model and strategic thinking, and so for those businesses looking for social impact starting with a definition of intended purpose and then innovating around the business model to create a viable business is more likely to be successful. It is unlikely that BRCK’s business model would have maximised the impact opportunity in focusing on value spillover if its only ambition was to provide internet access in Nairobi; it manages to offer free wifi to Kenyans by charging companies for using the data storage attached to the routers. It takes an impact-focused way of thinking to consider growing a viable business whose model is based on forgoing 40% of potential revenues as Azuri does.

Many companies were also using collaborations and partnerships as a growth strategy. This helps address obstacles to transactions by reducing distribution costs, improving access and bundling products to increase willingness to pay. Organisational theorist Henry Chesbrough explained the powerful network benefits of using open innovation for idea generation and go-to-market strategies, and we saw plenty of examples of this in action to maximise the social impact of the companies we met.

Freddie Woolfe, Executive MBA (2020)

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