Dispatch from Kenya: A change of pace

College of IST Dispatch from Kenya Series

A group of students from seven Penn State Colleges are spending part of the summer in Nyeri, Kenya to work on three humanitarian engineering and social entrepreneurship projects, Mashavu, WishVast and Eco-Village. These projects seek to bring technology to people in this region and demonstrate how it can affect their lives in positive ways. In this excerpt, College of IST alumnus Matt Prindible (Wishvast Team) reflects on reaching a milestone.

Matt Prindible: A Change of Pace

Weekday life in urban Nairobi is far more chaotic than anything rural Nyeri has to offer, the entire town is abuzz with vehicles crawling through the overcrowded urban roads, sidewalks, and medians where man, machine, and animal could and do occupy the same space at any given time. Productivity takes on a new form as farms are replaced with office buildings, one room houses are replaced with apartment complexes and the people walk the sidewalks with a bold sense of urgency.

We recently met the owner of a Nutri-business cooperative to understand the supply chains, social networks, economic networks, and all the gaps and frustrations in between.

The first meeting of the day was with Tei, a marketing agent of Azuri, a Nairobi-based Nutri-business cooperative that produces nutritious foods and snacks sold in supermarkets. Tei’s goal within the business is to find existing groups of farmers and help strengthen their internal production capabilities as well as their capacity to take on more business. Azuri uses the collective efforts of farmers across Kenya to produce all the necessary ingredients, and this particular business model (a highly interactive and dispersed economic network), affords a potential application of WishVast.

Essentially, factories in the community purchase agricultural goods from agricultural cooperatives and large scale farmers to process and sell to the Nutri-business company. The remaining portion of the necessary produce quota is purchased from local markets for a substantially higher price. With an implementation of WishVast and after managing the current supply chain, small scale farmers can be added to the current supply chain to fill the gap that the markets currently fill. Both parties win in this case because Azuri can buy at a lower price from small scale farmers, and small scale farmers can reap the economic benefits of a new, formerly unknown business opportunity.

The second half of our day was a user group meeting with the folks from FrontlineSMS (an open-source SMS gateway tool that has become incredibly useful and popular in areas with high mobile subscriber numbers and low Internet penetration).

After talking business, the conversation shifted to entrepreneurship and business development within Kenya. Champions within the community, those individuals who possess not only the technical knowledge, but also the vision and plan to set ideas into motion are easily found across the community. When asked about their daily lives or success rates, Tei added that champions are constantly used and abused, that they’re stretched so thin because people in the community flock to them for immediate needs. There is a great need to connect champions with other people relevant to their value chain and mute some of the other noise from daily life—WishVast, perhaps?

Last Updated June 18, 2009