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Down to business in Kenya

Balloon ICS volunteer Jamie is in Kenya working with local entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Here he talks about the first two weeks of the programme and what his team plans to do next.

Jamie volunteered in Kenya

New experiences

As a volunteer for Balloon ICS I’ve been doing things I‘ve never done before. Volunteering in a business programme and working to support entrepreneurs is not something I ever imagined myself doing, so it's amazing to find myself in a position where I am working with Kenyan entrepreneurs to develop innovative businesses.

As I don't have a business background I was initially eager to get started but a little unsure what to expect from a twelve week programme focused on entrepreneurship.

The training I've received has given me a whole new set of skills and practical experience to pass on to others that will be beneficial for my future as well as theirs.

Learning the ropes

The other volunteers and I sat through an intense first week of training while learning the curriculum. During training week we were encouraged to think creatively when approaching business and we learnt how to use business tools such as the B.M.C. (Business Model Canvas) and the S.W.O.T. (which concerns the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to a business). We did exercises which illustrated the need to test business ideas and do market research, and we also learnt some necessary financial and accounting skills. It was a very busy week and there was a lot to take in, especially for a business rookie like me, but there was no time to waste and it wasn't long before we had to pass on what we’d learned.

Down to business

In our second week we were assembled into our volunteer working teams and we met the group of entrepreneurs we would be supporting over the course of the programme. It was up to us as volunteers to share the business tools we had learnt the week before with the Kenyan entrepreneurs. I haven’t taught before and I had not pictured myself as a coach, but getting the entrepreneurs engaged in the sessions and seeing them grasp the business tools we were teaching has been a real confidence booster.

We completed three skill transfer sessions with the entrepreneurs and did a variety of activities that provided practical tools that they can use while building their businesses. The B.M.C. is a business model that helps us understand what a business does and how it does it in a quick and concise manner, and is useful in spotting areas of a business that are lacking and could be improved through innovation.

Working in Kenya

Marshmallow challenge

Another task we did was the 'Marshmallow Challenge'. The task is simple: in eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. It is an exercise which is meant to inspire creativity and emphasise the importance of testing a business idea. Generally groups fail the marshmallow challenge because they fail to test whether their spaghetti stick structure can hold the marshmallow until the last minute, only to find that the marshmallow is too heavy. Balloon ICS Entrepreneur taught us that the marshmallow is the customer and the structure is the business - the logic is if you do not test your business idea with customers, and fail to complete testing and market research, then the business will not hold. 

The entrepreneurs in my group were really good – both teams had a free standing structure at the end of the eighteen minutes! I completed the marshmallow challenge with the other volunteers during training week and did not achieve the same feat.

The classroom sessions were good but the learning doesn't finish there. Outside the classroom my team will meet up with each entrepreneur individually a number of times over the next six weeks to assist them with testing, branding and finance keeping. It is exciting visiting each of the businesses and finding out what the entrepreneurs are planning to do. I’m looking forward to seeing how each business will look at the end of the programme.

Volunteer with ICS

Your ICS placement is about more than what you do while you're overseas.
Entrepreneur Sarah Wanjiku talks to Balloon Ventures volunteers in Njoro, Kenya
© Stephen Nderitu / Balloon Ventures


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ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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