Selling Pro-Poor Products in One of the Most Densely Populated Slums in Africa

Team Human Needs Project is working in Kibera, Nairobi in Kenya. The Human Needs Project was originally founded to address Kiberan residents’ lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities, both of which are constant challenges in the slum. Team HNP is working on an ancillary project to develop a “green market” which will provide affordable, environmentally-friendly products not available elsewhere in the slum to its residents.

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It’s hard to describe first setting foot in the Kibera slum. We thought we were prepared for what awaited us – after months of reviewing white papers, theses, speaking with experts, and looking at countless electronic images of the slum from Berkeley, it didn’t seem all that intimidating. We soon learned that no amount of preparation really gets you ready for a day in Kibera. The sights, sounds, and smells are overwhelming at first. Garbage and sewage choke the drainage ditches that criss-cross the slum. Illegal electricity connections sprout down from overhead power lines to the tiny, mud-walled residences that people call home.

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To fixate on the problems and poverty in Kibera, though, would be to miss an important component of life there. You would miss out on the human element, be it women with babies on their backs chatting as they do the day’s laundry, men with 90 kg sacks of grain balanced on their shoulders sprinting through the streets to re-stock shops, or children who run to greet visitors to the slum, shouting the only English phrase they know: “How are you? How are you?” People in Kibera are smart, capable, and motivated. With access to basic infrastructure and affordable, useful products, we are confident that the slum the Economist said “…may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet” in its December 22, 2012 issue can live up to its potential.

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The obvious need for basic services has been great motivation for the team as we’ve worked with the Human Needs Project over the past several months. HNP’s original goal was to improve access to clean water and sanitation services in the slum. After successfully drilling a 1,000’ deep well and tapping a large aquifer with clean water last summer, HNP has embarked on a project to build a town center (under construction, pictured above) adjacent to its well, which will sell water, provide sanitation facilities, and sell other goods and services to the residents of Kibera. Our project has been to research which products might be appropriate to sell in a “green market” which will be opened in the HNP town center when it is completed later this year. The team has done extensive market and product research as we determine an initial basket of products to stock in the market, and will test our hypotheses regarding price points via customer surveys in Kibera over the next few days. Our project will culminate with three presentations: two next week, at the Brookhouse School (a private boarding school in Nairobi) and the University of Nairobi, and one when we return to the US, to HNP decision makers.

ImageIt hasn’t been all days in the slum, though. Last weekend, we were able to go on safari at Maasai Mara, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. We spent two days on game drives and saw some incredible sights: lions, giraffes, elephants, zebra, gazelle, impala, and ostriches were just a few of the animals we spotted in our two days at Mara. A highlight of the trip was definitely spotting a leopard in a tree with a freshly killed gazelle – leopards are notoriously private, and the staff at our camp said that one hadn’t been seen in several months. It was an awesome trip, and great for the team to get out of Nairobi for a few days.

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It’s been a great project so far and we’re excited to see how it all concludes next week. Asante sana!

One thought on “Selling Pro-Poor Products in One of the Most Densely Populated Slums in Africa

  1. That sounds like such an impactful project with long-term benefits. As a Berkeley-Haas 2011 alumnus who volunteered in the urban slums of Nairobi, your photos and descriptions are so real of the community there. I’m curious to hear what your recommendations were. Can you share your presentation results? Thanks.

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