Perspective || A LivelyHoods Fellow

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Tell us about yourself - what you did before your fellowship, and where you are now?

I am the kind of person who keeps asking why, challenges your answer, wants to get the best results and pushes the limit on everything in life. I love adventure sports, music, and travelling. While I was at UCLA I studied in Chile and China. I learned how fortunate I was to have been born in the US (I am a first-generation American) and felt that I had an obligation to create opportunity for those who don’t have the power. After UCLA, however, I went to work in management consulting where I learned a lot about how to breakdown and understand business problems and devise solutions. I was good at it too. I felt unfulfilled, however, doing corporate work. I sought out a new challenge and started a small business. After becoming an entrepreneur, I was pumped and looking for a way to use my business skills to solve social issues in developing countries. I reconnected with Maria (ED of LivelyHoods) who I studied with in Chile while at UCLA and she told me what I was looking for was called social entrepreneurship. Within six months I was on a plane to Kenya where I spent 2 months working with LivelyHoods – one of the best experiences of my life! I am now at IE Business School in Madrid Spain completing my MBA. And in August I will attend the Fletcher School at Tufts to get a Master of Law and Diplomacy.

What was the biggest take-away from working at LivelyHoods?

I went to Kenya to asking myself two things. First, am I really interest in social entrepreneurship as a career path? Second, how could I be valuable in the field? LivelyHoods answered both of these questions for me. To question 1 I learned YES – I love social entrepreneurship! I loved the matatu ride into Kawangware (the slum where LivelyHoods is located) more than walking the hallways of Fortune 500 firms. As for my value in the field of social entrepreneurship, I learned that changing the world requires all kinds of skills. I realized that my business acumen can play an invaluable role in helping to build a financially sustainable organization that can improve the lives of others.

How would you describe a typical day as a LivelyHoods fellow?

In consulting we used to say there is no “typical day”, but I never had days like I did in LivelyHoods. After my ride into Kawangware where I was greeted by smiles, I would join the sales team for their morning meeting. Afterwards I would be juggling a number of things for different projects, from building a product pricing strategy, to working on sales evaluation forms, or conducting a financial analysis. Of course there are then the unexpected things that happen every day. Agents don’t come because their kid is sick, someone in the street has an epileptic seizure and nobody will help, or the streets are flooded and power goes out. A typical day is mixed with the travails of working in a Kenyan slum and making a real social business run.

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What do you see as the greatest strengths of the organization?

I believe in the LivelyHoods business model and mission. The organization has found a way to do three key things: improve the lives of street youth in slums, provide companies distribution into slum markets, and get much-needed products to families in slums.

What were some of the challenges you encountered in Kenya? How did you handle these challenges?

The first month I was working there were new sales agents and one became a top seller quickly. She was energetic, personable, hardworking and always happy. She did great and then the next month stopped coming to work and her sales performance dropped tremendously. When we met to discuss this with her, she explained that she had received more money than any time in her life off of her first pay and did not see why she should come back to work. She was busy “eating” her money and would come back when it was done. WOW! What a different mentality that I would not have expected. I then made it a point to show her that she can make more money by continuing to work, to get money for school, new glasses, food and other things. Within weeks she was back to being one of the top five sales agents.

What type of person do you think would most benefit from this fellowship? How has it benefited you personally? 

My time with LivelyHoods showed me how much I can make an impact on people’s lives and has hence helped shape the direction of my life. It redefined what I think of Africa. It reinforced the belief I had that the place I will be of most use, and enjoy, is using business to solve social problems. Furthermore, when I meet people at school or business executives the first and most discussed point is not about my time at Fortune 500 firms or even starting my own business – it’s “what was it like working in Kenya?”. I would recommend a fellowship with LivelyHoods for someone who won’t settle for the status quo, can be very flexible and has an insatiable passion to succeed.

Did you eat well? 

For my 30th birthday, I went sailing off the coast of Kenya. I caught fresh fish and grilled it on the beach with Kenyans. A couple of days later, I went to a friend’s house in Garissa and we killed, skinned, cooked and ate a goat. It was the most delicious goat I ever had!