We are very fortunate to have Michael Switzer helping us develop Karibu Loo. Michael has done a great job founding the business and creating a culture dedicated to cleanliness and great service which has been one of the major factors in our success.
Michael is the “trailing spouse” of his wife, Leah, who is a kindergarten teacher at the Braeburn School in Nairobi. Leah has been involved with Friends of Ngong Road since its inception. While still a student at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa she organized fundraisers on campus. Leah graduated from Luther in 2011 and worked as a 1st-grade teacher in Minneapolis before fulfilling a dream of hers by securing a job in Nairobi and heading to Kenya.
Michael graduated from Luther in 2010 with a degree in Economics. He worked at Ameriprise Financial after Luther and last held a job as a Managed Accounts Associate. He volunteered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters while in Minneapolis. He was very happy to take on this challenge while in Nairobi. Michael and Leah plan to be in Nairobi for two years, until September 2016.
We asked Michael a few questions about his experience in Nairobi:
- What have been the biggest challenges you have faced over the past 10 months as you prepared to launch the Karibu Loo pilot and then begin operations? Our biggest challenges have been the Kenyan market’s demand for flushing mechanisms in our loos, dealing with the everyday challenges of Nairobi’s roads and traffic, and breaking into the construction industry for long-term rentals. We have now switched to all flush toilets and are beginning to make inroads into the construction industry. There isn’t anything we can do about Nairobi traffic.
- What has most surprised you about your experience while living and working in Kenya? The enormous contrasts. In Nairobi, you can be standing at an intersection and there will be a Land Rover, a Toyota Corolla, an old bus (matatu), and a donkey pulling a cart. Slums bump against posh private golf clubs, a nice road can turn to dirt in an instant for seemingly no reason, and herds of cattle walk right through the middle of the city.
- How would you describe the potential of this business? Right now the upside seems limitless. The market is so undeveloped and standards for service are so low across the industry. We have already started to eat up market share due to our focus on sanitation and service, despite only having 26 loos. Our biggest limit now is the number of loos we have available to rent.
- What is the biggest impact you see Karibu Loo having on the kids from the program? The biggest impact Karibu Loo will have on the kids is employment. Unemployment around Nairobi is around 40% and many of the jobs pay well below a living wage. Karibu Loo is already providing employment for a few of the kids. That employment is when their lives are transformed.
- What are your plans? How will you be involved? I am planning on leading Karibu Loo for one more year. My focus will be on continuing to implement good processes and transiting Karibu Loo’s leadership so it’s running smoothly and well before I leave Kenya.