Since we launched Friends of Ngong Road in 2007 many friends and supporters have asked how we will create a financially sustainable organization so we can achieve our mission well into the future. This is a very important question that our board of directors has begun to take tangible actions to address.
As part of our 2013 – 2015 strategic plan the board authorized creation of a business based in Kenya to create a stream of income to support our educational mission and also provide jobs for our graduates. Our aspiration is that within five years, one or more businesses will generate at least 25% of our annual budget.
Piloting a new business
In November 2014, we launched Karibu Loo as the pilot project of a portable toilet business in Nairobi. Karibu means “Welcome” in Swahili and “Loo” is a common description for a toilet in Kenya, a relic of their history as a former British colony. The major objectives for the business are to:
- Build a stream of profits that will support the mission of Ngong Road Children Association (NRCA) long term, thus making it more financially sustainable
- Employ graduates of NRCA and other Kenyans
- Help improve sanitation in Kenya.
(Please look later in the newsletter for an interview with Michael Switzer, who has provided leadership for this project during the past year in Nairobi).
Expanding the business based on learning from pilot
During the summer months we are wrapping up our pilot project and beginning to seek funding to scale the business. During the pilot project, we have:
▪ Measured and assessed demand for portable toilets in Nairobi. We believe demand is significant and will grow.
▪ Ensured our pricing is competitive and generates profit.
▪ Developed management and operating systems for the business including sound financial record-keeping and reporting systems.
▪ Built a board of directors consisting of a majority of Kenyans, including two Kenyan CEOs from related businesses.
▪ Developed a culture committed to cleanliness and service designed to set us apart from the competition.
We have also learned that our positioning in the marketplace is distinctive and relevant for three reasons:
- Cleanliness and service-oriented approach
- Profits support education of Kenya’s children
- Our equipment is state-of-the art – our units are spacious and sturdy and we are the only provider in Nairobi with an exhauster
Employing our recent graduates
The first of these, “Cleanliness and a service-oriented approach”, is achieved by employing our recent high school graduates as “Sales and Operations Associates” who accompany every short term rental in their “uniform” of a red t-shirt emblazoned with the Karibu Loo logo, which clearly states “helping educate children.” Their duties include keeping the units clean and well-stocked with materials.
They are also on hand to explain how the rental helps educate Kenyan children like them. This has proven to be very popular with our clients who appreciate the presence of these young, helpful, energetic, workers.
Several of our graduates have begun to earn income through their work for Karibu Loo. The list of Associates employed is made up of students who finished secondary school while in the program plus one boy, Duncan, who only finished 8th grade. These students have earned income and gained valuable experience through their work with Karibu Loo.
Unexpected positive outcomes
One of the unexpected outcomes from the pilot is that there is a clear “lift” in the mindset of students who see their colleagues earn income from this business. The case of Duncan, the student who only finished 8th grade, is representative of the culture we are creating. Duncan nearly dropped out of the program but then saw his friends making money and decided this could be an opportunity for him, too. He is now in mechanics school and working as an Associate when he can. His goal is to become one of our truck drivers.
The other graduates have noticed that their classmates suddenly have cash to pay for some “extras”. This makes them curious as to how they can participate. While the money seems small to us, this income allows our students to have a little spending money and learn how to show up for work on time, perform tasks for pay and be a part of a for-profit organization.
Next Steps: Expanding the business
We have overseen the pilot project with support of a U.S.-based steering committee and that group has now recommended to the board that we seek funding to scale the business by adding at least 60 cabins in 2015 and again in 2016. The Friends of Ngong Road board of directors supports that effort with the continued mandate that Karibu Loo generate 25% or more of our annual operating budget by 2020.
We are now seeking financial support for the expansion of this business and hope to begin to report to you in 2016 about the stream of profits being created in Kenya and the jobs created for our graduates (some of which are featured in this edition of the newsletter in the article entitled “So They Can Transform Their Lives”).
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