Perspective | | Meri Crowther on Being a LivelyHoods Fellow

2013 Summer Fellows, Adrienne Hopkins and Meri Crowther, helping iSmart Sales Agents, Caroline and Eric, with a promotional marketing event. 

This past summer, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move to Kenya and spend 10 weeks as a volunteer with LivelyHoods in Nairobi. One of my areas of focus as an MBA student at Columbia Business School is social enterprise, and this time with LivelyHoods gave me valuable insight into the challenges faced by nonprofit organizations. Along with two other volunteers, I gained hands-on experience testing and evaluating revenue-generating business models that LivelyHoods could leverage to expand more sustainably. Specifically, I examined distributing iSmart’s product line, including clean-burning cookstoves and solar-powered lights, into shops within urban slums.

My days were a balance between working from the office alongside LivelyHoods staff and heading out in Kawangware with the sales agents. Both environments were so much fun! Mornings at LivelyHoods opened up with a regular sales team meeting where we learned about new products, discussed sales plans for the day, and sometimes played games to stay sharp. If I was heading out into Kawangware for the day, I joined two sales agents who served as my guides. All of the sales agents and staff were so friendly and welcoming! They shared their communities with me, gracious served as interpreters when needed, and made me feel very safe and comfortable in a new environment. Out in town, we spent our time speaking with store owners and learning about how products are bought and sold within the slums. I was so impressed by these young people and their aspirations to better their lives, and it was especially gratifying when someone would leave iSmart to enroll in higher education or take a new job.

Outside of my work at LivelyHoods, I had so much fun taking in all that Nairobi and Kenya had to offer. Along with my roommate Sheila, a fellow classmate and LivelyHoods volunteer, I built a life in Nairobi that included taking up yoga, enjoying dinners and happy hours with other MBA students, and traveling on the weekends. We visited Diani and Lamu, both beautiful beach towns on the coast, spent a weekend in Uganda, and spent one week on safari in the Masaai Mara before heading back home. One of my favorite trips was to Hell’s Gate National Park, where I was able to ride a bike alongside giraffes, zebras, and warthogs! This opportunity to meet a new community of people, learn about an emerging market in depth, and see a different part of the world is one I am very grateful for and I hope I can visit Nairobi again soon!