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Wawira Ngiru and her Vision to Feed the Future with Food4Education

Wawira Ngiru and her Vision to Feed the Future with Food4Education

With only 1 kitchen in 2012 that used to feed 25 kids, Wawira has come a long way with her passion to feed 1 million kids in the next 10 years.

Wawira Ngiru is one of GSBI alumni who participated in GSBI online accelerator in 2017. She is the founder of Food4Education, an enterprise that sources fresh food directly from farmers and uses a central kitchen model to deliver nutritious, heavily subsidized meals to students in urban public primary schools in Kenya. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship had a chance to catch up with Wawira for a lunch this past month.

Wawira Ngiru and Miller Center staff

Wawira Ngiru and Miller Center staff

Shortly after completing her education, Wawira struggled to find an answer to one question that lingers in many budding entrepreneurs’ minds; Is entrepreneurship a right path for me? She received her higher education from the University of South Australia where she nurtured a passion to become a nutritionist. After graduation in 2014, Wawira returned to her home country Kenya and started Food4Education with just one kitchen that fed 25 kids. In 2016, Wawira received her first grant, started managing Food4Education full-time and hasn’t looked back since. In 2018, she managed to serve 250,000 meals in total.

Wawira’s Vision for a Better Kenya

While growing up in Ruiru, Wawira witnessed the rampant education and health problems firsthand and saw many kids who did not have access to healthy meals, let alone regular meals. As a result, many kids stopped going to school and begged on the street as an alternative means to access food. Even those who did have access to meals scored low in exams and later had very fewer opportunities in life. She started Food4Education to feed those very kids healthy and nutritious meals so they could concentrate in class and excel in life overall. Her initial target was to feed 25 kids at Ruiru Primary School and then expand to other schools.

The Process to provide a meal at a subsidized cost

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Wawira first consulted with pastors, chefs, and school principals to identify the roots cause of this systemic problem in order to identify how to keep kids in school. Her team found a simple process to make it easier for kids to get healthy and nutritious meals. Her team sources fresh, raw, ingredients including vegetables and fruits directly from farmers and uses their own central kitchen to make meals for kids that are healthy and are served at a subsidized cost. All ingredients used in the meals are locally grown which makes it cost-effective for her team and the farmers.

The impact of Food4Education

Food4Education was initiated in 2012 and ran a successful pilot program to feed 100 children. With little or no support from government institutions, the organization still managed to achieve their goal in 2014. The schools showed an improvement in attendance ratio by 96% as compared to the national average of 87%. During that time, 100% of the students who purchased meals from Food4Education also scored 250/500 marks in KCPE compared to 49.1% nationally.

Food4Education interface

Food4Education interface

Payment and Adaption of Technology

A recent development in Food4Education was the adaption of an NFC payment system, #Tap2Eat, to log the payments of purchased meals. A small smartwatch gadget was given to the kids to use as payment for meals without the involvement of cash. Parents pay for subsidized lunches through MPESA and the amount is automatically credited to a digital wallet linked to an NFC smartwatch and students just TAP TO EAT in less than 5 seconds.  

According to Wawira, the adaptation of technology and convincing the parents to use the bands instead of cash has been a challenge. Her team is still testing the method by providing training to parents and kids in order to make them comfortable with the new payment technology. The payment system will be another milestone for Food4Education in making meals accessible and easy for all kids in Kenya.

The Role GSBI played in Wawira’s Journey

“After coming to GSBI, I learned the methods and language of Silicon Valley which I wouldn’t have learned otherwise”, said Wawira Ngiru. The GSBI Accelerator program helps the organizations with their business potential and equips them with the necessary resources and tools that they can use to run their business successfully. According to Wawira, it was GSBI that taught her not to underestimate her business potential and made her reconsider her justifiable ask. “Before GSBI, I was underestimating our justifiable ask. The mentors helped us look at the bigger picture and made us reconsider our pre-conceived notions about the investment world” Said, Wawira.

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Students with lunch from Food4Education

Barriers, Bias, and Doubts

Like every other entrepreneur, it wasn’t just all success for Wawira. During her entrepreneurial journey, she faced countless “No’s” before that one “Yes.” According to her, she had a hard time convincing people with her idea and passion. Due to her age and young look, she faced countless rejections and was labeled as someone who is just doing it as a passion project and not involved in it seriously.

In the end… Persistence is the key

When asked about her secret sauce of success, Wawira mentioned “persistence”. According to her, the path of entrepreneurship is easy to walk on but it is really difficult to stay there. The one who stays persistent wins the race. “I still doubt my decision every day. I still think I should leave everything and do a corporate job that pays well. The feeling doesn’t go but I promise myself each day to stay persistent and stick to the mission I started”.

Wawira hopes to see a world where children don’t miss school because they are hungry or because they cannot afford healthy meals. With Food4Education, she wants a future which is open and inclusive to the needs of all vulnerable communities in Kenya and beyond.



About the author

Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

Banner photo courtesy of Food4Education

#SheMeansEntrepreneurship - In Conversation with Manka Angwafo, Founder of Grassland Cameroon and Her Journey’s Challenges

#SheMeansEntrepreneurship - In Conversation with Manka Angwafo, Founder of Grassland Cameroon and Her Journey’s Challenges

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The hashtag in the title speaks for itself. But, I came up with this after an enlightening interview with our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumna, Manka Angwafo, a member of the 2018 GSBI Online cohort and the founder of Grassland Cameroon. 

Grassland Cameroon is a premier grain-handling company in Cameroon. It works closely with smallholder farmers in the North West region of Cameroon to improve the lives of farmers, their families, and their communities at large.

Manka along with other female entrepreneurs know that entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. There are challenges every step you take and it is not an overstatement to say that those challenges are multifold when you are a woman.

 Manka’s story is full of such challenges. One day she is struggling to have a seat at the table and other days she is being mansplained that she will never get married because of her career choice. 

I am constantly told that my job is a man’s job and that I won’t ever get married because of my business.
Manka Angwafo, founder of Grassland Cameroon and Miller Center GSBI alumna (‘18)

Manka Angwafo, founder of Grassland Cameroon and Miller Center GSBI alumna (‘18)

On some of the biggest challenges she faced 

There are countless women in this world working hard in their respective fields who are eager and able to make a difference as peers; but when it comes to representation, the table is “usually” full. Manka faced a similar challenge initially when she was working with an all-male advisory board and constantly doubted her potential. She had to fight really hard with her need to validate her decisions to the men.

“I think the biggest challenge I faced initially was not believing that I ought to have a seat at the table. Given the country/industry my business is in, and the type of operations we run, I had only male advisors to look up to, and male counterparts to work with. Subconsciously, it made me doubt every decision and plan I would come up with, and then go back to the same men for validation. As time went on, I started noticing my advisors asking me for my input and feedback on their business strategy and it helped me realize that I actually am able to think strategically, and I had, without any doubt, earned my place.

I think more female founders need to find that strength to keep believing in themselves, especially in fields that are male-dominated,” shared Manka.

Fundraising was not easy for her

Unsurprisingly, in June 2018, the Boston Consulting Group and MassChallenge published a report based on the study of 350 companies in total and found that startups founded or co-founded by women received an average of US $935,000 in investment. This figure contrasts sharply with the average US $2.12 million investment received by startups founded by men. Manka identifies with the reported disparities and believes the imbalances are not only limited to tech startups. She said, “I should also mention that fundraising is a bigger challenge for female founders than it is for male founders. The numbers on this are very stark. Female founders receive much less financing than males. I know that this topic has started to get more coverage, particularly in the tech world. However, as we are currently fundraising, I am realizing this disparity is across all industries.”

Let’s talk about Gender Bias

Photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

Photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

In our previous newsletter, I wrote a blog on challenging your unconscious bias and this week I am drafting an example of that bias. Manka and many other female founders are constantly being told that their job is a man’s job, that their chances of getting married are very low if they choose the path of entrepreneurship. All of this comes down to one word: discrimination. Society never questions the choices of our male counterparts and constantly nudge when a female does a similar thing. Manka had a similar story to share on this when I asked her if she ever faced any sort of discrimination during this journey.

“Absolutely. I am constantly told that my job is a man’s job and that I won’t ever get married because of my business. I obviously, don’t think either of this is true, and also feel it is really unfortunate that in 2018, society still places marriage as a woman’s definitive achievement (note no emphasis on happily married). As with all bias, I think the best way to deal with it is by outperforming everyone else and proving them wrong. I use that in business and try to extend that to other parts of my life,” she added.

advice FOR female founders

“Being a founder/CEO is a very lonely journey and, as such, is one that you should be ready for and in it for the right reasons. Seek out other female founders, regardless of their business sector. I stress on seeking out female founders because your female friends would never understand what you’re going through and the decisions you have to make every day. Your female founders will become your sisters and best friends. Create a tribe of unfailing supporters, and hold them close to you. This is what will keep you going through all the tough times.” 

Why Women’s Economic Empowerment?

Manka’s story tells us there is so much more work that needs to be done. At Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we believe in women’s economic empowerment for a sustainable future and highly discourage gender bias within our center and programs. For the initiative and commitment-to-self, a new affinity group of women-led social enterprises has been introduced in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. The goal for this affinity group is to bring more women, social entrepreneurs, onboard, refine and validate their business and financial models, provide a customized resource library with curated content specific to their businesses, match them with industry-relevant mentors, foster peer-to-peer connections with our alumni, and offer opportunities for their businesses to flourish.

 As Manka said, your female founders will become your sisters and best friends and, in their company, you will find a tribe of unfailing supporters. So let’s create a tribe of hard-working and talented women social entrepreneurs in the world and make this world an unbiased place to live.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

Banner photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

Shifting the Paradigm

Shifting the Paradigm

What do you do when poverty stares you in the face? When it’s five years old, chasing you down the street with a basket full of maize and grabbing your hand? Or when it’s a hesitant smile from a villager, mustering up the courage to speak what’s on her mind? Throughout my time in the fellowship, I witnessed three differing responses to poverty that have radically altered the way I view the world and plan my future.

Kristi Chon conducting action research for NUCAFE as part of Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellowship (Summer 2018).

First, the response of the privileged. The one who uncomfortably averts their eyes from poverty. The problem of poverty is something they don’t see on a day-to-day basis or are trained by society to ignore. This was me, and at last I lived day to day next to the problems my classmates and I have only read about, without a comfortable distance of a book in between us and the problem.  

Second, the response of the man or woman who has “made it out” yet fights to do everything he can to distance himself from the problem. My coworkers tell me of their friends who receive a western education and end up returning to Uganda, discouraged by the lack of employment opportunities and institutional support in their countries of education.

Third, the response of the man or woman who stays for the fight: the response that gives me hope. NUCAFE encapsulates this response throughout its entire organization. After interviewing farmers, my partner and I left deeply moved by the impact the organization is making in many lives and generations to come. We saw how farmers were able to grow financially through receiving higher and consistent prices, having access to trainings to transform their farming capabilities, and in general be united as a community through cooperatives.

NUCAFE was essential in providing this support to farmers when no other institutions had done so. Since the liberalization of Ugandan coffee in 1951, the cooperatives that had previously supported coffee farmers collapsed. Rather than the farmers having bargaining power in numbers, they found themselves isolated and targeted as individuals by middlemen and large multinational corporations that underpaid the farmers leaving them in a cycle of poverty.

However, after our time learning about NUCAFE, I left inspired seeing social enterprises challenge the first two responses to facing the issue of poverty in society. I look forward to exploring how organizations such as NUCAFE harness the third response to address poverty through a career in social impact.

 

About the Author

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Kristi Chon is a fourth year Economics major and Sustainability minor. Since her time as a Global Social Benefit Fellow working with the Ugandan social enterprise NUCAFE, she desires to pursue a career of social impact consulting. She currently works as a Program Assistant advancing Replication efforts at Miller Center.

How Human-Centered Design Thinking is Transforming Lives Around the World

How Human-Centered Design Thinking is Transforming Lives Around the World

Cooperative leaders and micro-entrepreneurs gathering empathy at an innovation workshop in Kigali, Rwanda.

Cooperative leaders and micro-entrepreneurs gathering empathy at an innovation workshop in Kigali, Rwanda.

“Design thinking is just a fad.”  “We’ve been doing design thinking for the last 20 years–it’s just the same old process with fancy new words.” “People who use design thinking never follow through with their projects–it is a waste of time to generate ideas that never get implemented.”  These are examples of a few of the kinder critiques of design thinking. Detractors are suspicious, antagonistic, and downright hostile about design thinking and the types of promises being made about its integration into business and education.

In my own journey as an educator learning human-centered design thinking at the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab (FHIL) in Orlando under the tutelage of Dr. Karen Tilstra, I must admit the process seemed at best silly, and at worst absurd.  I kept thinking, “What is the deal with all those sticky notes and whiteboards filled with insights?”  But then I started seeing the results of design thinking firsthand. Teams of students came away from the innovation process empowered, and with an important tool to make social impact.  FHIL helps Florida Hospital save lives and money, while social enterprises use design thinking to serve the poor around the world.

In the last six years, I have been transformed from a doubter into an evangelist for human-centered design thinking.  I integrate it into every class I teach, and I am always thinking about new ways it can be used. Instead of depressing students with the problems of the world, I now teach them to use their knowledge of problems to come up with desirable solutions.

What is Human-Centered Design Thinking?

Human-centered design thinking (HCDT) is a helpful tool that guides interdisciplinary teams to create viable solutions to social and environmental problems.  At its essence, human-centered design thinking is an innovation mindset and a problem-solving methodology used in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. It is also increasingly taught in colleges and universities.  HCDT focuses on the needs of the end user or beneficiary and can be used to tackle any problem. The fast pace of change and the complex problems of our world demand new ways of innovating solutions, and HCDT is a game changer for social enterprises.

Makers Unite is an inspiring example of how HCDT is being used in the social enterprise space.  Makers Unite, a Global Social Benefit Institute enterprise based in Amsterdam, works with Syrian and African refugees and integrates design thinking throughout its business.  Refugees, called “newcomers,” are taught creative confidence and HCDT in a unique 6-week curriculum, and make products that are sold through e-commerce. Newcomers are then matched with appropriate employment or educational opportunities.  The founder of Makers Unite, Thami Schweichler, is a trained designer; he is always asking the end users how his enterprise can be more helpful and he constantly strategizes how Makers Unite can be financially sustainable and better able to scale.

Design Thinking at Santa Clara University

Human-centered design thinking is transforming the lives of students at Santa Clara University, and specifically at Miller Center.  Our Education and Action Research division trains and sends out interdisciplinary student teams to work alongside social enterprises in the developing world.  A year ago, student teams used HCDT to assist a rural cooperative in Mumeya, Rwanda, in building a business plan for a crop storage facility, and to provide insight to Pollinate Energy, a clean energy social enterprise serving urban slums in India.

Kelly Grunewald, Social Enterprise Intern, leading a design-thinking activity.

Kelly Grunewald, Social Enterprise Intern, leading a design-thinking activity.

Source: PICO International

This summer, working alongside PICO-Rwanda, a community-organizing nonprofit, Miller Center deployed six Santa Clara students to conduct “Business 101” and innovation workshops for rural cooperative leaders and urban women micro-entrepreneurs.  HCDT was at the heart of the preparation of the students and the content of the workshops.  Kelly Grunewald, Miller Center Social Enterprise intern, summed up the power of design thinking: “Human-centered design thinking is a vehicle for transforming the world into a more just and sustainable place.”  Kelly experienced firsthand how design thinking guided Rwandan leaders in framing their challenges and discovering solutions “on their own.” She remarked that it helped leaders “tackle big problems,” by making them “more manageable”. The foundation of design thinking is empathy–listening to others and getting to the heart of the challenge.

Michelle Stecker's innovation model, developed at Santa Clara University (2018)

Michelle Stecker's innovation model, developed at Santa Clara University (2018)

The HCDT method we use at Miller Center is called “The Innovation Journey,” which I developed this year with the help of Shagun Patel, illustrator; Caitlin Blohm, graphic designer; Allan Báez Morales, Director of Frugal Innovation Hub; and countless students, staff, and faculty, who were kind enough to give terrific feedback at all stages of iteration and refinement.  A class of engineering, business, and arts and sciences students, learning how to facilitate HCDT, inspired the model. The Innovation Journey focuses on the needs of end users and reminds us that the journey never ends. We now have teams of SCU students using HCDT for field research, Engineers Without Borders projects, student club challenges, and everyday life problems (like how to keep the kitchen clean!).  A team even used HCDT to create an innovation space in Nobili Hall for Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship employees and SCU students.

The PICO-Rwanda/Miller Center design-thinking innovation team at Centre Christus in Kigali, Rwanda.

The PICO-Rwanda/Miller Center design-thinking innovation team at Centre Christus in Kigali, Rwanda.

Human-centered design thinking transforms people.  Instead of being paralyzed or overwhelmed by the complex problems of the world, practitioners are trained to develop solutions while focusing on the spoken and unspoken needs of the end users.  HCDT is not a fad–it is here to stay, and it is a new tool in the hands of passionate change makers. There are innumerable examples of people around the world who are following through with HCDT projects that are changing lives.  Our Santa Clara students are living proof of how human-centered design thinking is transformative!

Note:  If you would like to help support the Global Social Benefit Fellowship or Social Enterprise Internship program, please click here or contact David Harrison at dmharrison@scu.edu.  These transformative programs are dependent on financial support from generous donors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Michelle Stecker, PhD, Miller Center’s Director of Education and Action Research, teaches and designs social innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum and leads the effort to integrate human-centered design thinking into the College of Arts & Sciences at Santa Clara University.

Photo and image credits: Video produced by PICO International; all other images and photos property of Santa Clara University.