Member blog: Stepping out of the field and the office, and why it’s important

Photo credit: LivelyHoods

By Claire Baker, Director of Development, LivelyHoods

LivelyHoods was founded in 2011 to tackle chronic unemployment amongst youth and women in urban slums in Kenya. From the very beginning we focused on clean energy distribution as a way to create jobs and income for these vulnerable youth and women. Since then we've distributed more than 40,000 clean cooking products, and been an important partner to the main clean cookstove actors in Kenya in these years, as a distributor of innovative products.

We've seen many fantastic products emerge but they often have difficulty reaching the market, and our network of trained youth and women have an incomparable reach in low-income informal settlements, reaching the urban last-mile. We not only bring products but also information, through peer-to-peer, door-to-door marketing, which can help to influence later decisions or purchases, and raise awareness about the impact of how we cook. We have reached more than 1 million people with such behaviour change communication.

As a growing organization that believes strongly in collaboration and partnerships to pursue our mission, conferences, workshops and peer gatherings are always on our radar and where possible, we do our best to attend. Sometimes these come at a cost, which we cannot always justify to our donors unless we can directly attribute the impact they have on our activities. This is why, when we were invited to participate in ‘Meet and Multiply’ and Sankalp East Africa, as guests invited by the GDC, we were not going to say no.

Sankalp is a bit of a buzzword in the sector, and a litmus test for how serious an entrepreneur you are. For us, as a non-profit, we often look for the presence of like-minded organizations, non-profit funders, and implementing partners. When tallied up to these criteria, Sankalp doesn’t always score so highly, but when you look at it from the perspective of networking with inspirational entrepreneurs, bouncing off ideas about distribution, business models, financing and dipping yourself into the pool of East Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs, it makes perfect sense! 

Photo credit: LivelyHoods

Then there’s Meet and Multiply. This was an unknown value, a completely new event to Nairobi, and a slightly dubious title which some people might have easily mistaken for a dating event. The crowd was small, intimate, and all eager to learn about scaling and replication. Four different companies led a group each, to explore ideas for scaling into other countries, and the opportunities that presented themselves both in the room and beyond. Because we were referred by the GDC, we were in a group led by an Indian energy distribution company, and so the conversations were relevant and promising. This event was a fantastic opportunity to have in-depth discussions with like-minded organizations from across the globe, and the ideas that came out of it have real potential to come to fruition through collaboration.

Any sort of conference or workshop is always an opportunity to re-energise and get validation from peers and more established organizations, and this is not to be smirked at. It's important, as leaders of organizations, to be able to have some ‘down-time’ with other leaders, and at the very least everybody comes out of these events with a head full of ideas and a wallet full of contact cards.

The last-mile distributor sector has, up until now, been a bit of a nebulous sector, with companies and organizations not necessarily grouping themselves under this umbrella term. This has been a missed opportunity, and has meant that rural distributors, urban distributors, energy distributors, FMCG distributors, have often found themselves operating in silos. Now, with more incubators, accelerators and global networks recognising this as a 'sector', there is more representation, with deliberate outreach to LMDs by conference organizers and curators, and specific gatherings which then spillover into events like Sankalp, SOCAP, Skoll, and the likes, increasing the attendance of LMDs.

Thanks to the GDC for facilitating our attendance at both events, and to the organizers for putting these events together.

no comments