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Social business example: Nairobi

Driven by the growth of information and communications technology (ICT), social business is transforming the way corporations relate to communities around the world. Social entrepreneurship in Kenya is growing, and in the capital of Nairobi, these companies are creating new solutions to old problems.

Nairobi is a city of vast polarity: it has established itself as an East African technology hub, but has struggled to address social issues. And with around 45 percent of Kenyans still living under the poverty line1, the government, traditional businesses and NGOs are perceived to have failed in addressing basic needs.

In this context, a grassroots movement of social businesses has emerged that use and adapt technologies to local requirements; empowering Kenyans to develop solutions that meet the critical demand for basic services.

ICT plays an important role, enabling affordability, scalability and ways to connect to and build the community. However, in Nairobi social entrepreneurs often face the frustration of a developed technological infrastructure that is running below capacity.

Social entrepreneurship in Kenya’s capital

Sanergy

Sanergy’s social impact proposition is to build healthy, prosperous communities by making hygienic sanitation accessible and affordable in urban areas.

In 2009, the idea for Sanergy was born when students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology were asked to develop a business solution to a poverty challenge faced by over a billion people.

Lacking hygienic sanitation is a particularly pressing situation for informal settlements; in Kenya alone, up to 8 million slum residents lack access to hygienic sanitation solutions.

A franchising model was chosen to incentivize community participation; the company sells the toilets at cost to its franchisers and provides training, with both a plot model (where property owners can offer a common toilet for tenants) and a school model on offer.


"The most telling statistic is that schools say both enrollment and attendance increase by 20 percent after having installed a Fresh Life Toilet. Absence from school is an indicator of diarrheal disease in these areas, and for adolescent girls the inability to deal with their period in schools can be a barrier. A clean toilet with a door that closes makes a difference."

-Medora Brown, Communications Manager, Sanergy

Sanergy aims to achieve profitability in 2019, but expanding the enterprise has not been free from pain. From an ICT perspective, the company has experienced poor internet connectivity, which has hampered efforts to introduce solutions, including a system for loyalty cards.

Two girls watching tablet

BRCK

BRCK’s social impact proposition is to get the next 800 million Africans connected.

BRCK creates rugged, self-powered mobile routers to increase connectivity in areas with poor coverage. The company is developing devices that give people a platform and a voice, with a clear social impact proposition: “To get the next 800 million Africans connected”.

The people behind BRCK created startup successes iHub and Ushahidi, and the original idea stemmed from solving an internal problem for the programming team – namely unreliable connectivity that would stop the work flow and reduce productivity.

Studying the needs of teachers in remote areas, the team developed a ‘kio-kit’, with the BRCK as a mobile router that can be used to share content in the classroom. It has built-in 3G connectivity, and a USB port to download content for use offline. All the teachers need to do is plug in one cord and push one button – and students can view the content on their tablets.

Today, BRCK has a team of around 35 people. The design team is located in Nairobi to help understand the local context and be part of the community that the BRCK products need to function in.

BRCK

"We believe it's a part of our mission to use technology as an equalizer."

-Philip Walton, COO, BRCK

By harnessing the power of technology, Nairobi’s entrepreneurs are sparking social change for the digital generations to come.

Discover more of Nairobi’s social business stories.

Download the Social Business Era report

1 World Bank 2014