Sauder students help Kenyans turn dreams into business


“Before SE101, I was running my bar and restaurant the way other businesses were run, and I was struggling. After SE101, I took a different turn and started running my business the way my customers would appreciate,” says Sammy Masheti.

Masheti is one of about 225 impoverished, but entrepreneurial Kenyan youths who have received training in business planning, thanks to Sauder’s Social Entrepreneurship 101: Africa initiative. Project development started in 2005, with the first training session held in 2006. Nancy Langton, Associate Professor, Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources Division, has led the project since the beginning.

“We wanted to build on Sauder’s expertise to make a difference in Africa,” says Langton. “Business planning seemed an area where we had some comparative advantage, since I had worked on a similar project in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. We ended up in Kibera, just outside Nairobi, through a student who had connections there.”

Kibera is East Africa’s biggest slum, with over 1 million inhabitants living in just 2.5 square kilometres. Youth unemployment exceeds 80 percent.

Students graduate with draft business plan

From just six students in 2006, the program graduated 85 students in 2009, at three sites in the Kibera area.

Helping Langton lead the project is Kirby Leong, a Sauder MBA alumnus who serves as Project Coordinator. The rest of the Sauder project team consists of the “traveling faculty”— two MBA graduates, five MBA students and five UBC undergraduates—and a Vancouver-based volunteer team of five undergraduates and MBA students.

The traveling team spends three weeks teaching young people how to make a business plan, profile customer segments, and manage cash flow. The students “graduate” with a draft business plan.

“The Kenyan participants come from a range of backgrounds. Most have graduated high school, and some have been in university or graduated from a technical school,” says Langton. “About a third have a business, but are struggling with it. Our program helps them preserve and grow the business. Most of the rest want to start a business or gain inspiration for how they could.”

Since 2007, the Sauder team has been joined by a team of business students from Nairobi’s Strathmore University.

“Sauder leads the project, but we are fortunate Strathmore is involved. The Strathmore team provides local context and support to make sure we are helping participants develop appropriate business plans. The Strathmore team also helps the Sauder team understand local conditions and culture,” says Langton.

St. Aloysius: true social entrepreneurship

This past year, SE101 took an importnt next step into social entrepreneurship by running a pilot project for the St. Aloysius Gonzaga School, a Kibera school for AIDS orphans. Barlet Jaji (a local SE101 team member in 2007, and now post-graduate training director at St. Aloysius) suggested bringing SE101 to St. Aloysius, even though doing so would require some adjustments to the program.

“This was a new approach for us. The students were younger than we are used to, and had to work in groups, instead of as individuals,” says Langton. “On the other hand, their focus was on building business plans to solve social problems such as garbage collection, water distribution and recycling. This is important work given the scant public sector in Kibera.”

Realizing the budding social entrepreneurs needed a different sort of help and advice, Langton and Leong agreed to choose some MBA participants with technical backgrounds for the 2010 team to help the student groups think about working with such areas as solar panels and water distillation.

“We can see that working with this aspect of social entrepreneurship will require the SE101 team to have more engineering or technical skills, so we are going to expand that,” says Langton.

The St. Aloysius project differs from other SE101 projects because it is ongoing. “Barlet Jaji and the Strathmore team are continuing to work with the St. Aloysius groups, helping them refine their business plans,” says Langton. “The best of these will be sent to Sauder to help attract project finance from micro-financiers, charities and Sauder alumni.”

Langton believes financing “in kind” is preferable to direct investment.

“Direct cash handover is probably not the best way. We would seek to invest through infrastructure and equipment.”

Goal: Centre for Sustainable Entrepreneurship

Langton has ambitions plans to make the program a sustainable, year-round enterprise.

“We believe the present program is highly effective. But we know that 70 percent of our graduates, while possessing entrepreneurial potential, need further guidance we cannot deliver in a three-week course,” says Langton.

“Kirby and I sat down last summer to sketch out what the program should look like going forward. How do we grow it? How do we make it sustainable?”

Leong developed a five-year plan and vision that envisages a full-fledged Centre for Sustainable Entrepreneurship in Nairobi. The Centre would be a partnership between Sauder and local universities, and would fund itself by providing consulting services and executive education programs.

“Our first step is to raise funds so we can create a year-round drop-in centre. The centre staff would guide students as they complete their business plans, then help support the business—through cash-flow monitoring, for example—once it is running,” says Langton. “We would expect to have some paid staff, supplemented with volunteers from the Strathmore SE101 team.”

From this base, Langton and Leong hope to develop the Centre for Sustainable Entrepreneurship.

“Once we have a year-round centre, Sauder students and alumni would have a way to provide mentoring and support to the students,” says Langton. “We have so much capacity in Vancouver to mentor, give advice, support, finance, consider cash flow strategies, et caetera.”