Transforming the lives of Kenyans

“Transform lives, give dignity, and expand opportunities for the socio-economic prosperity of the people of Africa.”

“Changing the arc of history is what motivates us.”

“Connecting the next 800 million to the internet.”

The above highlight some of the powerful statements we have heard from leaders during our first three days in Nairobi, Kenya.

Our group of 30 kicked off the East Africa Global Immersion program on Monday with our visit to Safaricom, a telecommunications company developed and rolled out M-PESA, the largest mobile money platform in Kenya with 90%+ market share of mobile money transactions. In 2005, Safaricom piloted M-PESA as a peer-to-peer platform, so many could send money back home to their families who sometimes only have access to SMS/feature phones. Back then, money had to be transported by bus to collection points, and it was often cumbersome for family members to schedule appointments and travel to these locations to retrieve money. Further, what issues do you think challenged this business model? Cash theft (both from the trucks in transit and in depots), fake currency, coin management, tedious manual reconciliation, and TIME, to name a few.

Fast forward to today, M-PESA processes 10M+ daily transactions, controlling 45% of the country’s GDP. Safaricom has evolved beyond peer-to-peer and are evolving models in Business-to-Business, Consumer-to-Business, Business-to-Business, and Platform-As-A-Service.  M-PESA is now fully integrated with all 43 of 43 banks operating in Kenya, progressing its well-distributed agent network model. And, they are dedicated to increasing financial inclusion. Some of their key challenges involve regulatory issues, such as pressure for interoperability (outside of the Safaricom ecosystem) and limitations on transaction volumes and amounts. However, I believe that some of the key lessons that they shared can be widely applicable to our MBA business leaders:

  • Product SIMPLICITY: no matter how much awareness a product has, users will not adopt it if it is not simple enough to use.
  • Focus on real customer NEED: in today’s world, we quickly default to “make a smartphone app;” but, Safaricom recognized the need for security and the behaviors of local consumers to recognize that SDK/SIM technology was a critical path
  • Customer INPUT is key to the development of products and processes: sit with your customer and ask, “What do you want? How do you want it to work?”
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Our group with Safaricom’s George Gacheche

Next, we visited with John Logan, Kenya Country Director for Technoserve, which works with the developing world to build competitive farms, businesses, and industries. John mentioned that a lot of Technoserve’s project work is aligned toward a growing trend for sustainable development. For example, they are helping a coffee enterprise achieve 100% sustainable sources by 2020. At the same time, they developed drone technology solutions to quickly surveil coffee farmlands for pest control issues before sending people for manual interventions, saving operating expense, detecting issues earlier, and doubling the output of coffee seeds! Another initiative of interest in their “Smart Dukas” program, where they are enabling small shopkeepers (as 80% of consumer goods are purchased through these smaller retailers rather than supermarkets/grocery stores/larger markets) through capacity building, digital innovations, and access to finance.

How do they think about prioritizing potential projects? They determine whether they will learn something that will provides benefits in a strategic way, such as scaling successes tested in Kenya to neighboring countries in the region.

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These are highlights from just two companies that we visited on Monday! I’ll return with more insights and interesting conversations from Equity Bank, IBM Kenya, BRCK, and Mabati Rolling Mills!

But, as promised, I want to share some of the FUN that the broader group has had in-country, including pics of animals across safari adventures, visits to animal orphanages, and the Giraffe Center!

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Photobombed by our friend at the Giraffe Center (taken by Joy Kang, ’18)

Lastly, CBS alumna Varsheeni Raghupathy graciously hosted us at her family’s home on Monday evening. We learned the story of her husband’s family business, Alpharama, which is the largest modern leather tanner in Kenya, exporting leather to Italy for high-fashion brands including Louis Vuitton and Prada. We asked them, as a company led by foreigners, how have they been perceived, particularly by employees who are native Kenyans? They admitted there can be a certain negative image of those who aren’t native, not denying historical mistreatments from foreign leaders of the past. However, to overcome this, they have prioritized training and ensuring that native Kenyans are placed in positions for growth, promotions, and increments.

Ultimately, they are building a collective awareness and culture where their business is everyone’s business. Our group also reflected on some of our pleasant surprises experience even in our short time in Kenya, including the sense of pride, warmth, and welcoming nature of Kenyans, the level of security especially for foreign travelers (x-ray machines and metal detectors in all our company building visits and hotels), and prevalence of technology (e.g. mobile money, Uber).

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Stay tuned for a wrap up of Kenya and more adventures in Rwanda!

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