Monday, October 21, 2013

Inspiration from the Field

This past week, Jeff Bloem (research assistant intern) and I spent four days in Kakamega. On the map to the right, you can see Kitale (white arrow) on the western side of Kenya, close to Mt. Elgon.  Kakamega is south of Kitale (red arrow).

Jeff, Richard, and myself.
Prior to going to Kakamega, however, we spent a day on the farm of Richard Lukuyu.  Richard was my interpreter for the business class I taught at the Friends Church in Kitale.  He is a micro-biology and business professor in Eldoret during the week, and does farming as a "hobby" (his word).  His farm was featured by the Ministry of Agriculture last week and over 200 farmers came out to his farm to see what he is doing.  He informed me that when we started talking about Business as Mission earlier this year, he decided to set a portion of his farm aside for demonstration.  It was really quite amazing how many different crops and varieties that he is using on his farm.  I am priviledged to be Richard's mentor now(at his request), as we are starting the mentoring component of our work in Kitale, although I have told him that he has more to teach me than the other way around - I'd rather see myself as having the opportunity to be his assistant!

Canola is a new crop in this area.  There is a new factory that is expected to be set up in Kitale, and many farmers are beginning to plant Canola - Richard being one of the first.  This woman is talking about the crop and the advantages of this oil.  The plants behind her are Canola plants.
When I started the class in March, I printed a number of agricultural "how-to" posters for the farmers in the class.  I wondered whether it was worth the cost of printing and if they would be used or tossed aside.  Richard took those posters and immediately set up a number of compost piles at his farm.  Here are three.  The stick in the middle is how they measure the heat.  If they pull it out and it is hot, they know composting is taking place.  Once it is cold, they know the composting is complete.
We then traveled to Kakamega, a city of about 100,000 persons, to meet the business owners from the Deliverance Church.  We really enjoyed the worship and the service, especially because they sing some songs in English and translate the message as well!  One thing that was very unique about this church was the way they give their tithe.  The picture to the left shows Pastor Charles Keya (who attended the second BAM class that I taught) receiving the envelopes of tithe from each person.  Everyone giving a tithe lines up and places it directly in the Pastors hand.  He spends a few seconds with each person, warmly greeting them, sharing a few words, laughter, thanking them for their faithfulness, and the person then finds their seat.  I found it fascinating to watch.  I've seen many different churches handle tithing differently - many processes which have made me squirm.  But there was something about this - about giving your tithe to a person, rather than a plate, to a person who represents the church and the ministry, that was special and unique.  There was something about the affirmation received in that.  And undoubtedly, in the 52 subsequent business visits that we made over the next few days, over and over again, the businesses told us about how important tithing is to them. Maybe this church is on to something.  It's true that our tithe is between us and God, but there is definitely a community aspect to it as well.  The tithe was in envelopes so there was no evaluation of the gift, just a receiving with a smile, a hug, and a kind, encouraging word. 

The businesses that we met with were a wide, wide range of service industry, retail, wholesale, manufacturing, and some farming.  Many were very solid SMEs (small and medium size entrepreneurs) with 20+ employees.  Several were small businesses and a handful were micro-businesses.  We will begin teaching their class on October 27 and will travel to Kakamega every week for 12 weeks to teach each component.  The church had 120 businesses ready to take the class, but we decided to split it into two groups of 60 each.  The first class that I teach will be in English only, and the subsequent class will be in Swahili.  I'm very relieved that it is English only as it allows a lot more content to be covered rather than losing time in translation!  For the pilot project, we needed to conduct a baseline survey to assess where the businesses are prior to starting the training.  Let me introduce you to some of the businesses.
Humphrey is the head of an organization that has worked to help 3200 farmers start poultry farming!  He has over 40 employees, many of whom work as extension officers with these farmers.  They have a slaughter slab where they butcher the birds but do not yet have a cold storage, so they are forced to sell immediately.  These farmers average 100-200 birds per farm, and can turn over these birds every six weeks.  A conservative estimate puts this at over two million birds per year! This is only one component of the work that Humphrey does.  Very impressive!

The woman on the left is Mary, the owner of Ushindi Snacks.  She produces probably twenty different baked goods that are mass produced and then shipped out; she has twenty fulltime employees and quite an amazing story of how she grew this business.  The two subsequent pictures are of her business as well.  (She makes shortbread, bundt cakes, mandazi, donuts, and on and on.)
Ushindi Snacks operates out of a very cramped building.  Here we see some of the mandazi (Kenyan fried bread that are eaten with chai on a daily basis) being produced.
And here the women are bagging the baked goods for delivery.
Mary (right) instructs one of the many orphans (left) she has taken in and cares for.  That was another theme with many of these business owners - caring for orphans.  Mary's English is not very good and she would like to send this young lady to the class on her behalf, but the training works best with the business owner, so unfortunately, Mary will have to wait to attend the second class in Swahili.
Jeff interviews Keziah, owner of Rejoice Boutique, a successful clothing store that has been open for twenty years.
Three Wasps is a security business owned by three brothers, located in both Kakamega and Mombasa.  They have 38 security guards employed, plus three office staff, just in the Kakamega office.  We kept the visit short because of the sign in their office, which I had to take a picture of.  :-)
We met two women who have made their own worship CDs and are writing their own songs!  Decimah (above) had just sold the last twenty CDs she had that day, so I wasn't able to get one.  She promised to save one for me the next time I see her.  CDs like this sell for 100 Kenya shillings (about $1.20 US).  Very affordable but not much profit for the effort.

This delightful woman is Florence, who is one of three landlords with whom we met.  People use their land very well here.  They either use every bit of space for farming or they build additional units to rent.  Florence has built five 3-room units on her property, which helps to supplement her income.  She has been doing this since 2010 and has yet to receive a late rent payment!
This is Simon, who is the founder and owner of Zulmac Insurance.  He employs seven people.  I think we had our longest interview with Simon.  In fact, Jeff said that if Simon had offered him a job, he probably would have taken it on the spot!  He is a very dynamic, charismatic, articulate, and wise business man.  He gave the best answers to some of our interview questions.  His success seems to hinge on not being satisfied with having satisfied customers - he wants delighted customers.  Not an easy task in the insurance business.  But in the time we spent with him, we watched him do it time and again with passersby. 
What an honor and a privilege to work with such impressive business people!  I was so inspired this week after meeting them and I thank God for the privilege to get to know such industrious souls.  I look very forward to starting with this group and seeing what God is going to do as we work to reclaim the Marketplace for Christ in Kakamega!

I am in need of a prayer partner for each business going through this training.  A prayer partner will pray for a business for the twelve weeks of class, praying through each aspect of the training as the business owner works to apply it to his or her business.  If you are interested in being a prayer partners, or are interested in more information, please email me at  Thanks!

Lastly, a picture of a truck we drove behind for a bit.  Since these huge logs were not tied down in any way, I decided I'd rather pass than stay behind.  Unfortunately, as I passed, the road narrowed, with a two foot drop off on the side so I had to inch very close to the truck.  Poor Jeff ducked as he thought the log (on the right) was going right into our car.  We thank God for traveling mercies daily here!

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