Many economic development initiatives in Kenya revolve around the “group.” Women’s groups, youth groups, farmers’ groups. It is an example of how Kenyan culture is collectivist, as opposed to individualist American culture. Many Kenyans (individuals and development organizations alike) have realized that they are reliant on each other by nature and are more likely to succeed if they pool together their resources. Some government organizations and NGOs now only work with groups.
Here is one such group.
Meet Laban, founder of the new West Karatang Green Network. He was trained in various income-generating activities and passes his skills onto his 60 members, up 100% from last year. He pools together all of the members’ various outputs and is able to sell everything! They can’t produce enough to meet demand. The members get back the value of what they put in, save for some percentage that goes to the organization. The group already has 160k KSH/2k USD in its bank account, from which it draws two revolving funds. Laban is the type of entrepreneur ACESS wants to run one of its “village enterprise hubs.”
I am living with Clarice Odhiambo, former Head of Engineering for Coca-Cola Africa and now Founder of the Africa Center for Engineering Social Solutions (ACESS). I will be helping her get her new organization off the ground by working on her business model, prototyping and testing tools on the ground, working with farmers in the villages, and doing some branding/fundraising work. I’ll be living here for the week.
Clarice lives in a magnificent home right on Lake Victoria. She was the first to build a two-story home like this on the lake, and some other wealthy Kenyans have since done the same.
Though the area surrounding Arusha is largely electrified, many can’t afford the electricity or access the power lines. A new trend in the area is household-level solar panels, which can be purchased in Arusha for about 500,000 TSH/500 USD, though they are coming down in price. Installation costs another 500,000 TSH/500 USD, making solar panels a huge investment for rural households. But for some, it is worth it to save up over a period of time to make this purchase. It powers about 6-7 light bulbs (about 500 TSH/0.50 USD each), which can be life-changing for a family that has never been productive after dark. Solar water heaters are also available, though they are considered more of a luxury (I respectfully disagree).
Living on the grid presents its own set of challenges. Power is expensive (even more so than in the US) and can be unreliable. I talked to a man who lives in Arusha who said he pays about 220 TSH/0.22 USD per watt. He has a landline, which cost about 95,000 TSH/95 USD to install, as well as a desktop, television, radio, and small refrigerator. He washes his clothes by hand.
Making Do is an investigation into systems of innovation in Kenya's informal economy. Learn more and read the book online or in print here.
I'm Steve Daniels. I study the transformative impact of technology on individuals and societies. I am the founder of the Better World by Design conference at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design and Analogue Digital, a publisher of content related to global cultures of technology. Currently, I work at IBM Research, where I study mobile social computing in emerging markets.
I am particularly interested in how people create, adapt, and use technology in resource-constrained environments, which I have written about in Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy.
- Emerging Futures Lab
- Future Perfect
- Information Aesthetics
- Maker Faire Africa
- Smarter Planet
- Timbuktu Chronicles
- White African