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Six small businesses helping people escape poverty

Money makes the world go round. And for young people living in many developing countries where levels of unemployment are rising, starting their own businesses is a key method to lift themselves out of poverty.

Our ICS entrepreneurs are no different. Facing challenging situations in their home countries, volunteers help them come up with innovative solutions that support both them and the communities around them. It’s a two-way exchange of knowledge.

In this blog, we take a look at some of the most interesting businesses currently being run by ICS entrepreneurs.

Computer repair…and doughnuts

three people looking at a computer monitor

Sammy, from Njoro, Kenya

It’s not a likely combination at first glance. Sammy, from Kenya’s rural Njoro county, studied ICT at university before dropping out to support his sister’s ambitions to train as a doctor.

But holding true to his goal of opening his own computer shop, Sammy is working hard to raise the money needed through helping local cyber cafes repair their broken equipment.

Together with Balloon ICS volunteers, he made one particularly interesting discovery – that his customers were keen for him to also sell them mandazi, an East African doughnut-like pastry.

Adding in this extra source of income has helped Sammy to make sure his business is stable even when repairs are low, and has taken his income from 150 KSH (£1) to 3,150 KSH (£23) a week – meaning he can now realise his dream of owning a computer shop even sooner

Detergent manufacturing

entrepreneur with her detergent

Stacey from Eldoret, Kenya

For many years, Stacey sold clothes. And then one day, her sister unexpectedly passed away, leaving her to look after her four children.

Having heard about Balloon ICS at a support group for vulnerable women, Stacey joined the programme and quickly picked up the skills to start a detergent manufacturing business.

Working with volunteers, she produced loyalty cards and labels to drive sales, and secured a loan for 21,850 KSH (£160) to allow her to register her business and manufacture new products.

Not only did this double her customers, but her loyal customers now order more. Stacey is now able to support her family and is excited to help other vulnerable women to find an income through entrepreneurship.

Teenage seamstress

young entrepreneur with material she uses to make clothes

Ruth from Los Copales, Nicaragua

Proving that age is but a number, teenager Ruth had already identified a gap in the local market when she approached Raleigh ICS volunteers for help with her new business idea.

Having first taken up a needle and thread as a young girl, Ruth was keen to turn her passion into a successful business by capitalising on the fact there were just two local shops in the community.

“You can design clothes and sell them, make new clothes for people to come and see and also I can educate myself more. Sewing is useful for everyone and is important in the community,” Ruth said.

And now the business has taken off following a six month beginner course in sewing, Ruth’s got big dreams for the future. She wants to introduce new designs and build up her company so she is in the position to create employment for her community.


entrepreneur serving his milkshake

Emmanuel from Tanzania

It sounds like the dream. Yet for Emmanuel, his milkshake business has its feet firmly in the ground. Noting that his local community is full of dairy farmers, he wanted to set up a business that would give those local people an opportunity to sell their milk.

With the local community hesitant at the idea of drinking plain milk, Emmanuel shook things up by introducing locally-sourced flavours like chocolate, banana and avocado into his products.

Everything’s hit off and he’s now got big plans to expand the flavours and the products – with this young Tanzanian entrepreneur even considering introducing flavoured yogurt to the market.

“It’s important to start small businesses because they are more realistic and they help to combat day-to-day problems we have within the community,” Emmanuel said.

Solar powered popcorn

entrepreneur with his solar powered popcorn machine

Michael from Ghana

Ghana isn’t short of corn or sunshine. So for this modern-day Thomas Edison, a solar powered popcorn machine was a great way to combine the two and provide an environmentally-friendly answer for businesses batting Ghana’s energy crisis.

Describing himself as ‘88% self-taught’, Michael began designing, manufacturing and selling his popcorn machines at just 14 years old. After selling his first machine, he used the money to build two more machines, which he then went on to sell and used the money to build four more.

Successfully managing to fund himself through university, Michael’s bold and optimistic outlook has taught him the value of hard work and creativity. Not being one to rest on his laurels, he’s already ambitiously working on his next products, a solar powered mobile phone and laptop.

Eco-friendly wood chip stoves

woman holding an eco-friendly woodchip stove

Edgar and Naomi from Zambia 

Frustrated by the scale of deforestation in their country, Zambian volunteers Edgar and Naomi wanted to create a solution that would get the public cooking using eco-friendly woodchips rather than the harmful charcoal that most people currently rely on.

Working with UK counterparts Hannah and Ryan, the group produced metallic stoves for cooking which run using woodchips. They then set up a franchise model where local church and women’s groups then sell on the stoves and woodchips to their communities at a profit.

"People like to do as their neighbours or family do, and women have very strong social connections to their local communities through groups," the volunteers said.

"We can see the value women have in this country, and we want to do it the way the Zambians like to do and make a real difference."

ICS helps to make business ideas possible. If you've been inspired by these entrepreneurs' stories from across the world, click here to apply. Begin your own journey now.

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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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