Collaborative hubs and hackspaces leveraging high-impact technology for poverty eradication

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 8 January 2015

Seated in the Bishop Maguwa building across from Uchumi Hyper on Ngong Road, you will find NaiLab. One of Nairobi's most dynamic collaborative working spaces, NaiLab serves as a startup accelerator for high impact entrepreneurs and social-minded business ventures. NaiLab was launched in 2011 as a partnership between the 1% Club, consultancy firm Accenture, and NaiLab Ltd. In January of 2013 a $1.6 million initiative in partnership with the Kenyan Government was launched to incubate high-impact technology firms and lower the entry barriers for ICT entrepreneurs looking to start and scale their businesses in Kenya.

To date, they have successfully graduated three classes of 16 start-ups and have another five companies enrolled for the 2015 season. Part of NaiLab's 2014 class, SokoText, is a company that leverages simple mobile technology to aggregate trader demands across informal settlements to make wholesale pricing available to small-scale traders. A high-impact technology company that provides kiosk owners within their network free texting and discounted food alongside financial literacy and business training incentives, SokoText is unlocking markets and breaks barriers to access.

Meeting the needs of traders in the informal sector is a difficult undertaking. Constant threats of eviction and demolition of stalls are a familiarly frustrating regularity for individuals operating small businesses in many of Nairobi's informal urban markets. Though incorporation of the informal markets, or 'Jua Kali', was highlighted in the Strategy for Small Enterprise Development in Kenya, as Fawcett Ouma Komollo pointed out in his 2010 paper to the International Society of City and Regional Planners Conference (ISOCARP), implementation of these strategies still faces barriers. To date, the majority of new jobs for youth created continue to be located in the informal sector. As a result, the importance of including small-scale enterprise stakeholders in the urban planning process for Nairobi cannot be emphasized enough. In addition, the well-established link between technology leverage and women's micro-enterprise development has consistently been highlighted as a key factor in tackling poverty and attaining sustainable development outcomes in Nairobi and across Kenya.

To address these needs, in 2012 Yente opened its first Women's Business Center in Nairobi, Kenya with a sister project launched in Arequipa, Peru. The core activities of the center are to engage in business development, ICT trainings, capacity development of individual entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial networks as well as creating linkages between stakeholders, among other objectives. Operated and owned by the Sustainable Education and Enterprise Development (SEED) Trust, an organization that targets female entrepreneurs and education of underprivileged children, the YWBC focuses on micro, small, and medium level enterprises (MSMEs) owned by Kenyan women.

Highlighted as a key priority in Kenya's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2014-2018, the support and development of MSMEs in Nairobi through leveraging new and innovative technologies as well as tried and tested techniques remains a critical development priority. Increased global recognition of local tech and social enterprise has put a spotlight on high-impact local companies such as M-Farm, SokoText, Samasource, and others. The recent launch and bootcamp for the Cheetah Crowdfunding Platform hosted by mLab, NaiLab, iBiz Africa, and the iHub provides yet another opportunity for small-scale traders, social business ventures, and high-impact technology companies to leverage crowdfunding to tackle persistent development chillness while also continuing to create new market access opportunities for individuals traditionally unable to access capital markets.

Photo: Rolf Kleef

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