Twenty-five students sat at their desks, running over presentations in their heads. Each girl had been working on her business plan for weeks, developing her initial ideas into full proposals. As the room slowly filled — with teachers, guests, panel members, local experts, fellow students, and Daraja administration — a nervous silence settled over the room, and the evening began.
Daraja’s Transition Program is a five-month program supporting students as they transition between secondary school and university; its curriculum focuses on careers, life skills, business skills, and university preparation. For the students participating in Daraja’s Transition Program, tonight was the culmination of three weeks of entrepreneurship workshops and trainings — one of the most important aspects of the Transition Program.
The entrepreneurship unit, taught by three experienced business-people from the local community, started in the classroom by teaching the girls about logistics, budgeting, and small business management. In addition to the classroom modules, the unit included hands-on learning with visits to local partners, where the students learned about various business models and got hands-on experience in a variety of industries.
One of the most engaging site visits was at El Karama Lodge, an ecolodge located near the Daraja Campus. The business at El Karama Lodge spans between industries, working in agriculture, conservation, and hospitality, allowing the Transition Program students a range of insights into a variety of fields. In the office, students worked with the El Karama staff to learn about accounting and hotel management. In the kitchen, students worked with professional chefs, preparing meals with local ingredients, grown on-site. Students even had the chance to work with El Karama’s professional guides, learning about the skills necessary to become a professional safari guide.
One of the major lessons learned from El Karama was that businesses need to be sustainable. While El Karama works with the mindset of an NGO working to conserve the environment, it functions as a business, raising revenue from the farm and lodge. For Daraja students interested in creating businesses that can benefit the community, El Karama provided a powerful introduction into the concept of social entrepreneurship, and a flourishing example of such a responsible business. Panelist Rashida Kinya later reinforced this idea and encouraged students to pursue such social businesses, saying, “that is what entrepreneurship is all about: filling gaps in our society.”
With all of these experiences in tow, the students arrived to the final evening of entrepreneurship well-prepared to pitch their business to our panel of local experts. Each student had prepared a business plan, complete with a budget and plans for partnerships and growth. The businesses varied – from restaurants to cosmetics distributors, graphic designers to shoe stores – but they all had one thing in common: potential. The businesses might be hypothetical for the moment, but with the knowledge and experience students have acquired in the Transition Program, these plans may soon be realities.
We would like to thank our trainers: Mr. Brian Sing’ora, Mr. Cyrus Kiarie, Mr. Michael Gitonga, and Mrs. Lucy Achieng. In addition, we would like to thank the small business which welcomed us for site visits during this unit: El Karama Ecolodge, MOOF Africa, Kilimo Biashara, and Nina’s Yoghurt Factory. Finally, we would like to thank tonight’s panelists: Benson Kiarie (Kenya Institute of Mangagement at Nanyuki), Rashida Kinya (Karatina University), and Anthony Kochie (Mount Kenya Global Platform).