Kenya’s social entrepreneurs have risen fast to leave a mark especially in the city of Nairobi after years of waiting on the government and foreign NGOs to change people’s lives.
A report led technology firm Ericsson observes that Kenya has a relatively mature scene for social businesses in the world.
Compared to cities like Medellín, Colombia where social entrepreneurship is a top down approach championed by government, in Nairobi, there is an existing grassroots community of social entrepreneurs and technology startups addressing social issues around them.
With about 45 percent of Kenyans still living under the poverty line , the government, traditional businesses and NGOs are perceived to have failed in addressing the basic needs of the country’s citizens.
In this context, a grassroots movement of social entrepreneurs has emerged, who use and adapt technologies to local needs. This empowers Kenyans to develop solutions that meet the critical demand for basic services.
Global success stories
“The scene for social businesses in Nairobi has reached a certain level of maturity,” says Ericsson Networked Society lab.
Meeting spaces, like the iHub, have played an integral role in creating a welcoming environment and supportive atmosphere for young entrepreneurs. Additionally, local role models for social innovation, such as Ushahidi, a
crowdsourcing tool that originated from post-election violence in 2008, has shown that it’s possible for Kenyans to develop global success stories.
Another reason for the growth of social businesses is that Nairobi has a history of social work. International organizations and NGOs have been present in Nairobi for decades, making it a center for non-profits in Africa.
Right outside the city center, the United Nations alone has more than 15 offices and is accompanied by other institutions like the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The impression is, however, that there has been very little sustainable impact considering the millions of dollars invested.
Overall, a belief in the possibilities of technology has led to many high-tech products and services being remodelled to the local context, such as mobile routers (BRCK), microfinancing (Branch), or vaccination services (M-Chanjo).
Social entrepreneurs in Nairobi also recognize that technology and digitalization of data have the potential to increase transparency – which
is highly sought after in a country with a history of corruption. For example, Stella Ngugi created the online application Smart Ballot to add
transparency to elections and the voting processes.
Maji Milele distributes prepaid water meters to public water points and for domestic connections. It uses a digitalized revenue collection and online monitoring system to improve maintenance, quality and transparency.
The social impact proposition is to provide clean water to all Kenyans at an affordable price.
Spatial Collective uses geographic information systems (GIS) for community development. Through data collection and visualization, it supports communities in identifying available resources and applying this knowledge to the development of initiatives.
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A key issue that they deal with is land ownership and different types of borders in informal settlements. They use information collectors, who have been elected within their community, to provide the information via a GPS device
By installing high-quality, low-cost toilets, and educating local franchisers to run them and remove the waste, Sanergy’s social impact proposition is to build healthy, prosperous communities by making hygienic sanitation accessible and affordable in urban areas.
Gained over 400 franchisees Installed over 800 active toilets in 8 informal settlements Gained 250 team members Created over 800 jobs.
BRCK creates rugged, self-powered mobile routers to increase connectivity in areas with poor coverage. Believing in the importance of equal and open access to technology and information, BRCK keeps developing devices that give
people a platform and a voice, with a clear social impact proposition: “To get the next 800 million Africans connected”.