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Kustawi Project

Offer a full range of support and services to build and scale impact oriented businesses in low-income urban communities.

Photo of Amelia Phillips
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

11 million young people in Africa will join the labor market every year for the next decade, and 61% of urban employment opportunities in Africa are informal. At Somo, we invest in solutions that give this growing population access to resources, enabling them to build enterprises that create employment and social impact in their communities. Once our entrepreneurs graduate the Somo training program, they apply for our 2-year acceleration program. Those accepted into this program receive capital, additional training, advising, work space, and now increased sales channels. Our market access programs expand our entrepreneurs’ customer bases outside of their local communities. We do this through physical shops, delivery systems and wholesale supermarkets. We want to grow our physical shops to every community that we work in, allowing our entrepreneurs’ products to become popular in low-income communities across the city. Currently our deliveries are mostly within Nairobi and we would like to expand them further to adjacent high-density metropolitan areas and internationally via an online presence. As well, we want to help get our entrepreneurs’ products into large retail chains that can help them grow their brand quickly both nationally and internationally. Through these sales channels, we have faster and more informed access to feedback on products, giving us better insight into how entrepreneurs can brand and market their products. Through this project our goal is to triple our impact. Triple the number of entrepreneurs we partner with and incubate, reaching at least 50 new entrepreneurs in a year, and triple the number of people our enterprises are employing— at least 15 individuals per business by the end of our 2-year acceleration process. We project we can triple the number of people reached by each business through the additional financing and market access channels provided, in turn increasing revenue turnover 3x to average ksh150,000 in monthly revenue.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our primary beneficiaries are the entrepreneurs we work with from low-income income areas. Beyond them are their employees and families that are benefiting directly through increased income, as well as the individuals they reach with their socially impactful enterprises. To date, we have trained 210 aspiring entrepreneurs on how to write a business plan and construct financial projections. We have graduated 60 entrepreneurs from our 12-week entrepreneurship bootcamp. And we are now partnered with 27 entrepreneurs whom we have funded, mentored and helped access additional markets for a period of 2 years before setting them up with additional investment opportunities. These entrepreneurs have collectively employed over 100 people, creating employment opportunities for demographics with historically high rates of unemployment. Collectively, Somo businesses have reached over 50,000 customers.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

There are amazing entrepreneurs all over the world—including in areas of immense poverty. At Somo, we are not re-creating the wheel. We find entrepreneurs in low-income urban areas who have ideas of how to bring change to their communities in sustainable ways. We give them the resources they would not otherwise have access to—the training, capital, mentorship and market access they need to grow sustainable and impactful businesses. While we are not doing something that has never been done before, we are targeting a population that is often left out of development discussions. While there are initiatives to provide training and or capital, rarely do these initiatives focus on the holistic aspect of growing the business. By increasing our ability to help our entrepreneurs increase their market access channels, we are providing a necessary service to grow their businesses.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

The Somo Project is an incubator that works with entrepreneurs to build high-impact businesses in underserved areas by providing them with the training, mentorship, capital and market access they need to succeed.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Somo started after the founders spent time working in the NGO space in Nairobi and were struck by the lack of sustainability in the low-income communities. Foreign donations and volunteers were common, but temporary. Through youth groups, they met a local entrepreneur who made shoes by recycling waste, and employed 130 people in a profitable business. Somo was created to partner with entrepreneurs from low-income communities like this.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Our project touches Peace, Prosperity and Planet. By creating access to income generation for the world’s poor, we are able to address problems such election violence, create a community that is self-sustainable and impact issues of pollution and land degradation. The violence around last year’s election in Kenya showed how typical NGO models do not bring sustainable change–projects were interrupted and were still inactive months later. Meanwhile, our entrepreneurs immediately set out to rebuilding their businesses. They are able to pay their kids school fees, employ more people and exceed the number of monthly customers they had before elections. They are leading the movement to establish sustainable communities, generating employment and market-based solutions. The solution we are implementing gives people the resources they need to have power over their own lives and in turn the power to increase peace, prosperity and reduce planet degradation.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We have established relationships with community leaders and other key partners in every area we work in. We have carried out extensive research with both business owners and the general population of our focus communities to see what is needed and wanted in a partnership from Somo. Our training team is 100% made up of individuals who come from the communities we work in, giving us a unique insight into the needs and dynamics of each community in which we have a presence. We work with community groups in each of the areas we work in that help find applicants to our program and take people through our application process. As well, we have pipeline partnerships with later stage incubators in Nairobi that help our entrepreneurs grow after they graduate from our 2-year acceleration program.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The communities in which we work are already extremely entrepreneurial places. People start every type of small shop to sell necessities informally. We are taking an existing mindset and pushing people to think about how they can create positive impact through the businesses they are building. In addition, there are a huge number of youth who have been left jobless because of Kenya’s current economic situation, and they represent a huge opportunity to create change through building enterprises.

Geographic Focus

Informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

24 months to implement a running structure that can be replicated as we grow globally.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • Yes

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

We now have 27 entrepreneurs who have received funding and are an ongoing part of our program, 13 of whom have been with us for over a year. This has given us better insight into what our entrepreneurs need in order to grow effectively. We realized that capital and advising alone was not going to be enough to grow these businesses, and so started to get more involved in their marketing channels. Our program has evolved to help our entrepreneurs directly in the branding, marketing and distributing of their products and services. We are on our 7th cohort of training, already have graduating 60 entrepreneurs. Our businesses have an average of $500 monthly revenue after 1 year in our program, and have average operating margins of 30%. After 2 years in our program, our pilot businesses have had an ROI of over 200%. This past quarter, our businesses reached 7,000 clients, selling over 19,000 products and providing over 4,000 hours of services.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative

Hi Amelia,

Firstly, this is a really exciting project! It’s clear that your careful, ground-up approach – investing in people’s long-term autonomy and doing so by using facilitators from the community itself – is making a huge difference in what we at KDI know to be one of the most challenging settings in the world. We really hope you get to the next phase!

In part, we were so excited to read about the Somo Project because your work overlaps so significantly with ours. KDI is a design and community development nonprofit, also working in Kibera – we’ve collaborated with residents to co-design and build a growing network of 8 public spaces that improve the environment and provide basic amenities while growing community capacity and cohesion through cultural programs and economic initiatives. You can read about it here:

We feel there’s a real possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship here, given KDI’s existing physical spaces and networks, and your entrepreneurship expertise and networks. Please get in touch with us at – we would absolutely love to chat and meet your team in Nairobi!

All the best,

The KDI team

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