Dreamers and Social Entrepreneurs

Sitting in a classroom at the African Inland Church school in Kibera, the world’s second largest slum, I was impressed by the young people making presentations outlining their business plans. The 30 individuals from groups working with the empowerMEnetwork, an initiative of the Kenya Youth Empowerment and Employment Initiative (KYEEI), are bold leaders. Most have completed university or are soon to graduate. Their ideas were compelling. Here are some of the projects:

  1. The Golden Rabbit Farm (Marketing Rabbit to High-End Restaurants and Game Parks for Crocks).
  2. The creation of a Therapeutic Community to provide drug treatment in the slums.
  3. An upscale bowling alley and coffee house combination where young people can hang.
  4. A greenhouse project to be used in drought areas producing tomatoes, mushrooms and other “hothouse” food.
  5. A massive fruit tree reforestation project to support the needs of children suffering from malnutrition.
  6. An Ambassador program where young people provide tutoring, counseling and business development guidance to rural communities.

These are just some of the ideas shared at this event. I was there to listen, offer suggestions and make recommendations on their presentation style. Like me, most of them struggle to develop a business plan that are both profitable and humanitarian. These young people have a heart and they are trying to figure out a way to make money and do compassion and justice – all at the same time. A struggle, I must confess, I have yet to resolve. In fact, my firm is looking closely at changing our current Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) to a non-profit. Since we truly are a “non-profit”. Unfortunately, if we look like a duck, walk like a duck, then we should probably just be a duck.

If you do humanitarian work, you are not suppose to make money. That value is embedded in the American mindset steeped in a Calvinist theology that we have exported through missionaries and other humanitarians working across the globe. The Puritan ethic has found its way into the Kenyan reaction when young people want to do good but also want a lifestyle that can support a family and fulfill a dream of sending their children to a university. These issues should not have to collide.

Kenya and most of the world are in need of social entrepreneurs that will tackle the tough problems of a community or country. In the process they should not have to take a vow of poverty. We need “tentmakers” to use a biblical metaphor that will confront intractable social problems and transform them into solutions. Entrepreneurs are the kind of people we want taking on these issues. I don’t know who said it, but I have it on a plaque somewhere, “Discovery is seeing things that everyone else has seen but thinking things that nobody else has thought.”

That is what I saw today. Young people seeing the harshness of their environment and the poverty of their circumstance, something you can see throughout Kenya – but they were thinking things nobody else has thought. We should encourage this, promote this and Kenya and Africa will be a better place for it.

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