Acquiring knowledge from Africa: The best lessons learned!

Written by: Linda & Kaline – Professional Rebel & Crosswise Works

Nairobi, 7th of June, the moment we had all been waiting for: the start of the Social Impact Trade Mission: a full week impact expedition, business rollercoaster and a deep dive into the vibrant startup community of Nairobi.

10 Dutch social enterprises joined our first underground mission. The group was a perfect blend from various sectors, such as water tech startup Susteq, TTC, expert in interactive mobile solutions, an innovative platform for BoP consumers called RafikiSoft and legal services for the poor XS2Justice Network. We gained insights from successful Kenyan social enterprises like M-Kopa, Sanergy and Koneksie; we organized lunch meetings & field trips with SNV, Rabobank and Philips; we attended events & pitch events with Nailab, GrowthAfrica, Strathmore IBiz & Kenyatta University; we enjoyed the networking opportunities at the reception at  the Embassy of the Netherlands.

A few weeks after our return, we mark down the score. The startup scene in Nairobi is booming. New insights gained, many contacts acquired and numerous opportunities ceased. We would like to share our lessons learned.

Data, data, data. It’s all about (big) data. Understand human behaviour and take the lead. You can hire a market research institute or collect your own data. The latter was probably what Philips was thinking when they started with the Phillips Community Life Center: a sustainable innovative center inside a slum were thousands of patients are treated in a safe environment. Their profit is not made by the small financial compensation they ask from their patient, but rather from the data they collect. Through this method they can determine the needs of people and adapt their products to create more added value.

Sell an experience. Even though many Kenyans earn around 2 dollars daily, you should still anticipate on creating an experience. Why does Apple products are so attractive while products for people with a lower income lack this appeal? The creators of M-Kopa developed a light, radio and mobile phone charger for people in rural areas with the help of solar power. They believe in the power of experience and want to create a feeling of joy from the very moment you unbox their product. Just like Apple.

Focus on the positive. Have a look at social enterprise Sanergy: they sell toilets to small business owners in the slums. They believe their success is due to the fact that they advertise with bright colours and positive slogans. Instead of big campaigns around hygiene that focus on negative things. Yet Sanergy is solving a big issues as leftover excrements can create a cesspool of diseases. In addition many women can now safely go to the bathroom without having to walk too far.

Pay as you go. Daily income in Kenya is not extremely high. People have some money to spend on a daily basis, but saving is hardly possible. This demands creative business models and the Pay as you go option is a popular one. Most of the time the hardware is delivered for free and the user charged for usage. For example the sanitary start-up Sanivation doesn’t charge it’s users for every toilet they deliver, but aks for a small fee to collect the feces.
Re-use human waste. During our trip we met 3 impact startups which reuse human feces to monetise on it. Sanitation produces briquettes which are highly flammable. The sanitary facilities are poorly organised in the slums. But the feces produced by humans and animals alike contain a lot of phosphate and hence are highly valuable energy resources.

Take care of yourself. The Kenyan ambassador in The Hague told us at the beginning of the trip: “Enjoy yourself and do business. Make yourself happy and your business with flourish.”

This Social Impact Trade Mission was made possible by Crosswise Works, Inclusive Business Accelerator and Professional Rebel.