The past couple of weeks at Eco Fuels Kenya consisted of learning the processes of day-to-day operations, getting to know the personalities and roles of each team member, and starting to find ways to contribute as a Frontier Market Scout. I did my best to do anything and everything to get involved; from helping to mill organic fertilizer to finding pushpins to track collection centers on office maps to helping to prepare a plot of land for another Eco Fuels Kenya demonstration garden. On the side I completed the development of a new website to give the company the professional image it deserves for its accomplishments and opportunity. It’s nice to already feel like a contributing member of the team after being here for less than one month.
My third weekend in Kenya marked the one year anniversary of when Eco Fuels Kenya became a company, and to celebrate the team went out for a Saturday afternoon lunch at a nice resort at the base of Mt. Kenya. In addition to the meal, the team and I were able to enjoy activities like horseback riding and boating while they reflected on what they’ve learned during the transition from an NGO project to a sustainable social enterprise. The afternoon ended with each team member receiving a letter of appreciation from the executives congratulating them on the work they have accomplished thus far and rewarding them with a 10% increase in salary, which they were all very pleasantly surprised to take home with them.
With Kenya’s national elections shutting down the country for a couple days, Alan and I decided to spend Monday taking a hike into the forests of Mt. Kenya in hopes of locating a new, dense population of Croton Megalocarpus trees for future collections. Despite our search coming up fruitless, both literally and figuratively, it was great to spend 5 hours hiking 16km through the bush and forests of the mountain building up the anticipation of game sighting with every pile of elephant dung and footprint that we stumbled upon. Learning how social entrepreneurs spend their ‘days off,’ while simultaneously putting some real context to the title of my blog, proved to be a tiring but enjoyable experience.
Having recently acquired the second half of the factory space from a vacated tenant, the short 3-day work week at Eco Fuels Kenya consisted of business as usual for collections, sales, and management and a single goal for the operations team: transporting 40 tons of Croton Nuts from the old store room to the new. The additional space and optimized layout of the factory will result in increased productivity for the processing of Croton nuts into oil and fertilizer, but it requires the movement of some heavy items such as the feedstock materials and machinery. I made up part of the four person croton moving team, although I didn’t contribute nearly as much as the other three, and we were able to complete our goal by the end of the work day on Friday.
Reflecting on what I’ve learned about the team, history, and opportunity of Eco Fuels Kenya and returning to my Frontier Market Scout classroom notes on the Monitor report From Blueprint to Scale – The Case for Philanthropy in Impact Investing has helped me to understand the organization in an industry-relevant context. The report, which outlines four stages of a pioneering firm’s development as Blueprint, Validate, Prepare, and Scale has gained increased popularity for how social enterprises should successfully evolve to reach their full potential. I realized that Eco Fuels Kenya has successfully completed the Blueprint and Validation stages, starting with founder Alan Paul’s comprehensive analysis of the opportunity and finishing with the receipt of an investment from Village Capital and GrowthAfrica after one year of concept validation.
With recent factory expansion nearly doubling operating space and quadrupling production capacity with the anticipated delivery of new equipment in the coming weeks, Eco Fuels Kenya is spending its energy preparing to scale; stage 3 of the 4 stage blueprint. It’s an exhilarating time to be a part of the team and identifying projects for the weeks ahead including: building brand and awareness, setting up equipment and operations, and identify and eliminate bottlenecks.
Author’s note for the Social Enterprise nerds:
Monitor’s report primarily makes the case for philanthropic capital’s role in impact investing, stating that many social enterprises require grant capital to go through blueprint, validation, and preparation stages successfully before taking on equity or debt in a way that won’t limit their ability to reach their impact potential. Although Eco Fuels Kenya has not taken on any philanthropic capital to date, founder Alan Paul does admit that the time spent with the project when it was part of an NGO was crucial to the company’s development thus far because it allowed him to analyze processes, tweak production capabilities on machinery, and validate customer willingness to purchase the products before the initial personal investment he made to start the organization.
In my opinion this further validates the case for philanthropy in impact investing whether it is direct, with social enterprises receiving grant capital, or indirect, in transitioning a social enterprise from nonprofit to for-profit when the blueprint and validation stages have already started which appears to be the case for Eco Fuels Kenya.