Guestpost: Business Models, Entrepreneurship, and Poverty Alleviation in Kenya

This guestpost tells the special story of how Sebastián Salinas Claro and Joshua Bicknel connected across the globe on the Business Model Hub. They joined efforts in their aim to defeat poverty by teaching entrepreneurship. The results are amazing.

By Sebastián Salinas Claro (with Douglas Cochrane and Joshua Bicknell): My recent journey illustrates the power of social networks and how linkedin and the Business Model Hub brought me to Kenya - all the way from Chile. It was a fascinating experience that all started when I contacted Alex on Linkedin. I told him how I was teaching the Business Model Canvas to disadvantaged youth in the South of Chile with excellent results. He suggested that I post my story on Business Model Hub, which I did. That's where the journey starts.

In August Joshua Bicknel browsed the pages of the Business Model Hub and came across my post. He read about the exciting experience I went through introducing the Canvas in Chile. He decided to contact me, keen to hear more. After a few hours on Skype, I declared my intention to travel to Kenya to work with him on a pilot project. It was quite a commitment from me. Few Chileans travel to Kenya, and it was an even bigger leap considering we had never met. But I took the leap and joined his team in Nakuru, East Africas fastest growing City, in October 2011.
BMGEN goes Kenya

BMGEN goes Kenya
Since then we have been working with unemployed youth supporting them to imagine and design innovative new businesses that create employment and defeat poverty. I want to use this blogpost to discuss some of the insights from this experience, in particular the power of the Canvas as a great leveler. We worked with 4th year Commerce students from Egerton University and unemployed young men and women who never finished high school. Both grasped the Canvas equally fast and applied it to imagine impressive new businesses. In fact, on a number of occasions the non-university students actually impressed us more.
BMGEN goes Kenya
BMGEN goes Kenya
One such occasion was in a session with the Salgaa Sparks youth group. In Salgaa there is no rubbish collection. All waste is either dumped on the streets or burnt. It is a fast growing town and a popular nightspot for transit truckers, so the area is becoming increasingly dirty and unsanitary. Sparks came to us seeking help to develop a solution to this problem. Initially, they didn't imagine starting a business, instead believing the solution to be a volunteer community-cleaning programme. By using the Business Model Canvas we helped them discover a more interesting opportunity altogether.
BMGEN goes Kenya
BMGEN goes Kenya
Firstly, they mapped their idea on the canvas, imagining it as a profitable business, and came up with a rubbish collection scheme. Not a wholly radical idea. A similar schemes exist in other Kenyan settlements. However, they then began to question whether there was any value in the collected waste and soon realized that they could turn the organic materials into fertilizer and sell it to the farmers at $10 a bag. Then they came up with another profitable idea: to rent out their work carts on days when they were not collecting rubbish.
BMGEN goes Kenya
Using the canvas they envisioned, imagined, developed, and refined a very exciting business model with three potential revenue streams. A business that achieves two goals at a time. It cleans-up the environment and provides unskilled youth with jobs. They are currently applying to the Kenyan Youth Enterprise Fund and project that their business will break even in its second month!
BMGEN goes Kenya
Throughout their lives these youth have been excluded because of their social and economic background. By using the Canvas they have, with no formal business training and sometimes not even a high school diploma, produced a very attractive business proposal. This speaks volumes for the capacity of the Canvas as a tool for profound change, empowering communities to start businesses that tackle the current structures of inequality.
BMGEN goes Kenya
We are excited to expand this programme next year. We will take graduates to both Kenya and Chile to work with hundreds of unemployed youth to develop new businesses as we seek to build a global generation of young people with a commitment to defeating poverty through entrepreneurship and not aid. And everywhere we go we will pack the Canvas as the key tool in our arsenal!

Check out our website in and

Signed, Douglas Cochrane, Joshua Bicknell & Sebastian Salinas Claro

East African Business Summit – Business Model Session

The last two days I had the great pleasure to speak about business model innovation at the East African Business Summit, a gathering of over 150 CEOs from the region. It is not everyday that I speak alongside Professor Michael Porter and a head of state, President Museveni (hopefully that will become more frequent).

Slides I presented at the event, unfortunately without the animations... (or pdf download):

The most important thing I retain from this event is that East Africa features many remarkable business leaders, whom I had the opportunity to talk to extensively. Remarkable, because these CEOs and entrepreneurs are successfully building and growing businesses in a business environment that lacks the very things many of us can take for granted: sound infrastructures, reliable legal systems and relatively accountable politicians.

Of course I also retain the tremendous interest of the participants in my session on “Competitiveness Through Business Model Innovation”. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me what CEOs and entrepreneurs around the world find interesting in my business model canvas approach to describing business models. Here a couple of points:

  • The ability to describe the business logic of a company on one page: none of the individual elements of the business model canvas are new to business people. But the simple and yet holistic look at a business on a single page is surprisingly new to most of them.
  • Customer centricity as a business model kernel: the ability to understand the relationships between customer segments and all other business model building blocks has attracted a lot of attention. Apparently, few other approaches allow for this as straightforwardly as the business model canvas.
  • The (physical) visualization of the entire business model to foster sounder discussions: In all my workshops I now print out large posters with the 9 building blocks of the business model canvas [link]. Then I get participants to stick post-it notes on these posters to either describe their existing business model or more interestingly, a possible future business model. Experience shows that this process is extremely efficient and also very focused.
  • An approach that allows to easily think out-of-the-box: It seems that the business model canvas combined with the poster-based approach makes it easy for people to sketch-out and explore new ideas.

The East African Business Summit, which took place in Kampala, Uganda, was a very inspiring event in many ways. As some of you know, I have a very personal relationship to Africa, because my wife who grew up in Switzerland, comes from Guinea Bissau - a tiny country on Africa’s west coast.

For me the Summit was inspiring because it is contributing to changing (East) Africa’s image in the world. It showcased the dynamism and experience of business leaders who are overcoming difficult obstacles every day. The summit shows that East Africa is a place of opportunities, where growth rates are very real despite the various macro issues that hold back foreign direct investment (FDI). If the region can tackle some of the most urgent infrastructure and governance issues there seems to be a sound basis for long-term growth.

One thing I sincerely hope will change rapidly is that the voice of business leaders should be better heard and taken into account more seriously. After all it is the companies that contribute to long-term wealth creation and better living conditions. Unfortunately, the state still seems “almighty” in many East African countries (for various historical reasons). This is not to say that the state doesn’t’ have a role to play – the contrary. Yet, it’s role should be the one of an enabler of wealth creation…

Finally, I would like to thank Michael Mithika of J.M. Mantle for his trust in my competencies and for convincing the Summit conveners to invite me.