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Hidden opportunities

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Open your eyes, opportunity is all around you

BY LILYS NJERU

Located in Mathare slums in Nairobi is Ghetto Foundation where, on any given day, you will find a group of youth working on eco-friendly packaging bags and décor products. In one corner of the room, Calvin Jodisi, 28, is making phone calls and cold pitches to various companies in search of clients.

When the National Environmental Management Authority of Kenya (Nema) announced its intention to ban the production and use of plastic carrier bags early this year, it came as a disappointment to many, but to Jodisi, an actuarial science graduate from the Technical University of Kenya (TUK), it opened up a business opportunity, not just for him, but also for a number of youth in Mathare slums.

“I grew up partly in the poor part of Muhoroni in Kisumu County and at the International Children’s Home (ICM) in Nakuru. I would admire the well-wishers who visited us at the home, and I promised myself that once I could support myself, I would find ways of giving back to the needy too. In 2012, while working for an events-organising company, I co-founded Change Mind Change Future (CMCF), a non-profit organisation that mentors students and reaches out to children’s homes. After a year and five months, I felt the need to start my own business, but didn’t know how to go about it, a concern expressed by many youths.”

This inspired me to establish the African Summit on Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ASENTI) in 2015. It is an annual forum that brings together top leaders from various industries to share information on business and Innovation.Nema’s announcement was timely because I had been looking for ways to engage youths in the Mathare slums, which is close to where I live, in a sustainable project but had no idea how to.

Some of the youth that earn a living from

Some of the youth that earn a living from making eco-friendly packaging bags. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA

After the announcement, I started looking for ways of making eco-friendly bags and found YouTube tutorials very helpful.

After gathering the information I needed, I reached out to Ghetto Foundation for space in which to set up, and also to help mobilise the youth.

Through Change Mind Change Future, the Eco-Poa bags initiative was born, the aim to create job opportunities for young people in Mathare.

We kicked off with about 15 youth between 18 and 28 years. We took them through two months of training on life skills and entrepreneurship with the help of volunteers from various organisations. We then gave a full time job to the 10 that graduated.

How much capital did you invest in this business?

I started with about Sh50,000, which I had saved from my salary and what I made from the African Summit on Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
I used this money to mainly buy materials such as khaki sheets, banana fibre handles and miscellaneous items such as scissors and glue. I also used part of the amount to facilitate the training.

How many youth benefit from the programme?

At the moment, we have 10 working full-time. When we have a huge order, the foundation mobilises jobless youth to work with us. Since Eco-Poa is a social enterprise, I am hoping to engage more as orders keep growing.

I also reach out to volunteers, who teach them how to make products such as tissue paper holders and vases from recycled bottles.

This is to ensure that the project becomes sustainable, and that the youth can be self-reliant even when not working with us. Recently, we had volunteers from Denmark train a number of young people drawn from the slum.

How do they make money from the products?

They earn a commission from every bag made, depending on the size and the price of the bag. The prices range between Sh40 and Sh60. On average, a group of 10 youths make about 500 bags a day. Within a week, most are able to make between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500.

I also earn a percentage since I spend most of the day at the workshop training new workers or sourcing for clients.

Whatever remains is injected back into the business to cater for expenses such as raw materials, rent and transporting items to clients. I also ensure that we save some money for a rainy day.

Some of our clients include Zene Naturals, Migwi Farms, Booksaves, Africa Mobile and Digital Banking and Pasha ICT Centre.

What are some of the challenges that such a social enterprise faces? Any Highlights?

Sometimes business is slow, and this can be disappointing to the youth who solely depend on it, however, after the enforcement of the ban on plastic bags, things started looking up.

A few weeks ago, we got a client who ordered nearly 1,000 bags, which he wanted delivered the same day. We had to break our backs to deliver the order and others we had that day. The other challenge we face is delayed payments. Some clients do not pay within the agreed time frame.

This means I have to look for money to pay my employees, which is quite difficult. Being a new company, convincing potential clients to give us business is a big challenge since our products are not familiar yet.

But this is a challenge that time will resolve. Amidst these challenges, I am happy to have positively influenced both the youth and the Mathare community in general.

Some of the youth can comfortably meet their families’ needs through the money they earn here.

Some even teach their friends and relatives what they know, in turn making them self-reliant.

Recently, I got a chance to pitch my business idea in the KCB Lion’s Den show, aired on KTN through the KCB Group 2Jiajiri programme – I got the Sh1million I asked for to grow the business.

This means we will be able to take more orders and contract more young people. The sky is the limit.

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