In May 2013, Sabrina Natasha Premji & Afzal Habib participated in +Acumen’s inaugural Lean for Social Change course based on Lean Start-Up principles. Enrollment for the next session of the Lean for Social Change course is open now. If you are working on a social issue in your community, are interested in pursuing your own social venture, or are just interested in creating an impact in this world…Register today! Sabrina & Afzal joined the course with a simple idea and the passion to transform the childcare crisis in East Africa’s informal settlements. Seven weeks later, they had developed a customer-tested business model ready to pilot in Kenya’s densest slums. Read their story below.
In 2012, while working in Kenya, we learned about a new form of childcare in East Africa’s urban slums and decided to check it out. We were welcomed into a local woman’s home, the air pungent with the smell of urine and feces. As we inched our way into the mud-walled home, desperately trying to navigate through the darkness surrounding us, Sabrina tripped over a baby lying on the ground. Frozen, our eyes scanned the room quickly, and more shapes emerged from the unlit space. In front of us, we saw two dozen or more infants in the congested home, all awake, but lying perfectly still. In that moment, we asked ourselves: Is there a way to offer high quality, affordable early childhood care to young children in Kenya’s informal settlements trapped in the intergenerational cycle of poverty? In the months that followed, we visited more slums to understand the extent of the problem, conversed with development practitioners and researched global best practices in early childhood care and education. Although we were committed to the idea, our thinking was often unfocused and fell second to our full-time jobs.
Enter +Acumen and the announcement that they were launching a new course for budding social entrepreneurs. We drafted an application including our first ever ‘business model canvas’ and a week later, we joined the 7-week course where we learned new topics via online modules, engage in weekly discussions with mentors and ‘got out of the building’ to develop, test and iterate our business model.
For us, the four most valuable components of the program were:
- Created Accountability: Prior to Lean, we only spent a few hours a week on Kidogo, doing broad brainstorming exercises and desk research. Having specific deliverables and weekly check-in meetings during the Lean course forced us to focus our limited time on our most important priorities, and ensured that every hour was spent on something that would move us forward.
- Provided access to Mentorship & New Networks: When we began the course, we were paired with 2 mentors – Brad Rosenberg & John McKinley – with different backgrounds and experience. These mentors challenged our thinking and provided guidance throughout the course to point us in the right direction. Their advice, and often differing perspectives, were invaluable and they continue to remain actively engaged with Kidogo today as members of our Board of Advisors. In addition, we were introduced to a handful of other participants – passionate social entrepreneurs across the globe who were solving social challenges in their own communities – many of whom we are still in touch with today.
- Moved us from Idea to Impact: Over the weeks leading up to the course, we had created many PowerPoint “decks” with ideas, models based on our assumptions & financial ratios to inform stakeholders about what were we PLANNING to do. With a push from Bob Dorf & our mentors, we were encouraged to get out of the building, talk to customers & partners and conduct experiments to test our assumptions – effectively moving the conversation from what we were PLANNING to what we were DOING.
- Challenged our thinking: As a result, the course challenged us to refine our business model, adapt our focus, and develop a Minimum Viable Product – a way to test our model in a low-risk and inexpensive way and gain currency with our customers. This “MVP” has grown into a full-size pilot project which will be our first early childhood development center which is slated to open its doors in August 2014.
Overall, we left the Lean for Social Change course with a refined business model and confirmation that we were really onto a viable social business. So much so, that we decided to leave our jobs and work on Kidogo full-time, with the goal of unlocking the potential and changing the trajectories of young children living in urban slums. In short, the experience was a game-changer for us.