Saturday, August 7, 2010

My Last Week at Yehu by the numbers

2 new computer programs taught

3 discussions about management efficiencies and resource allocation

1 new outside consultant

1 new constitution election

2 visits to the beach (one with my new mat from the village)

9000 shillings spent on souvenirs

1 Kenyan holiday

2 new custom outfits made by Mzungo (oddly, the Kenyan name for white people), my Kenyan seamstress

1 new wikipage communication system set-up

4 new Skype users set-up

2 birthday meals with my roommate Mel (Happy 28th Birthday!!!) - 1 breakfast al a Denise and a much yummier dinner at a local African restaurant

1 Friday night out to the movie "Our Family Wedding" and a dinner at home using the rest of my food, since I was leaving at 3am to start my trip back to the US

1 Happy Intern, excited to start on Yehu's new Marketing and New Product Development Plan

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kenyan's New Constitution Election - celebration or fear?

On Monday morning, when Mel and I arrived at work, we received a wonderful surprise! Because of the elections for Kenya's new constitution, we had the day off on Wednesday. While we quickly brainstormed on how we would spend our unanticipated day of freedom, many Kenyans were anticipating how thier lives would be impacted by this historical event.

In 2005 and 2007, Kenyans experienced turbulent elections wrought with controversy and outbursts of violence, but if there was trepidation about this election, it was not heard or felt at Yehu. It was business as usual.

It wasn't until Wednesday afternoon when I started receiving emails from my very concerned mother that I even thought about safety. Mel and I spent hours at the beach during the day, and other than being surprised that it was relatively empty for a holiday and seeing what we assumed to be a post-election party being set up in someone's back yard, we wouldn't have known a historical election was happening.

However, just to play it safe, we decided to stay in the rest of the day and check the internet from time to time to see if there were any election day surprises we should know about. Later that night, we heard the music and celebrations, which indicated that things must have gone well and we wouldn't have anything to worry about.

The next day at work was abuzz with everyone anticipating the announcement of the results, people showing us their pinky fingernails that had been stamped with ink to indicate they had voted (to prevent double voting), and sharing perspectives on their votes. One of the senior staff members shared with us that it was her first time voting. She felt like voting was much more important this time because it would change the history of Kenya and she wanted to be part of that. After the announcement of the new constitution passing, we were able to witness some of the celebration in the streets on our way home and I was able to snap a couple pictures from our matatu window. Although it wasn't my constitution and future being impacted, it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement and feel a bit of victory nostalgia.

Congratulations to the Kenyans for this monumentous event in their history! Overcoming their previous election precedents and have a positive new start to their future governance is definitely something to celebrate!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Second Week at Yehu - by the numbers

15 Matatu rides

1 Ferry ride

3 Beach outings

5 Center meetings - 3 urban, 2 rural

10 Client interviews (3 of which turned into group interviews, which illustrated to me that these groups of borrowers formed by Yehu are strong, cohesive, and truly interested in seeing the whole group succeed, not just themselves)

1 Branch staff meeting (thought it was going to be an hour, ended up lasting 3 - definitely should have brought snacks because the chicklet sized pieces of Juicy Fruit were just not cutting it)

2 Kenyan kongas purchased for future dresses to be custom made by the tailor

10 Cups of Milo and coffee (I am dangerously becoming addicted to the "future champion" beverage and increasing my daily consumption, which I won't be able to get in the US - I just wonder if there a 12 step program for Milo addictions???)

1 Beach bonfire

1 Hand-made mat (gift from the village borrowers)

10 New recommendations to be added to my plan (all derived from the client and staff interviews)

5 Pieces of chocolate cake (in 3 days, but a little known fact was discovered, that if you put a small slice of chocolate cake on a cracker with peanut butter, it actually tastes like a Reese's cup - and then add slices of banana and a cup of Milo and coffee, and you have breakfast)

9 New Yehu friends

1 Friday night out to the movie 'Inception" and a dinner that included a delicious chicken tikka sandwich and Snickers milkshake - YUMMMM!

Another great week indeed. It seems like it is all going so fast, but I am getting so much information that it will probably take me weeks just to process it all. Only 1 more week until I start my journey back to the US!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rural Field Visit - Village Style (with a resort feel?)

After the urban center visits, Melinda and I headed to a rural part of Kenya, known as Msambweni, located about 2 1/2 hours outside of Mombasa. However, since there is no place to stay in that area, we were lucky enough to be hosted by the founder of Yehu at his home. After riding a ferry across the inlet, we journeyed in a matatu to Akunda, where Louis Pope and his wife Chris picked us up. Unfortunately, it was already dark, so I wasn't able to truly appreciate the beautiful beach setting of the newly constructed home that Louis and his wife recently built.
When we arrived, we ate a wonderful dinner with chocolate cake for desert and chatted with a couple from Utah staying with the Popes. I know it seems trivial to put a desert in my blog, but it was my first chocolate cake since I arrived in Africa and I quickly realized that I never wanted to go this long without it again. It's the little things I miss, not the guaranteed hot running water and electricity, having my own car to drive, or even air conditioning when it is blazing hot, but it is the chocolate cakes and ability to get nearly any book you want almost 24 hours a day that I really miss. Next time I make a trip to a less developed nation, customs may be a little concerned about why I have Betty Crocker cake mixes and a small inventory in my luggage, but it will definitely be worth it.

The next morning, we woke up to the sound of the beach and a beautiful sunrise. I almost forgot that I was actually here for work and not vacation because it was so relaxing. But I quickly returned to reality, got out of bed and got ready for the village visits. Melinda and I met Rachel, one of Yehu's rural credit officers and went to the home of the center leader, where the meeting was underway.

The difference between these borrowers and the urban borrowers was only evident by their meeting location. They were both groups of hardworking entrepreneurs that depend on Yehu to provide the capital they need to run their businesses so they can take care of their families and ensure a positive future for their children. When interviewing them, I realized that they did have slightly different needs, such as roofing loans and Ramadan loans, while the urban borrowers were more concerned with health insurance and higher loan amounts. And although these rural borrowers knew what the competitor was offering, the number of competitors was only 1 or 2, not the 3 or 4 we found in the urban areas. After these meetings, I realized that the marketing strategy was going to have to be slightly differentiated for geographic areas -just one of the many valuable realizations I gained from conducting field visits.

The rest of the day was filled with visiting the local branch and meeting with the branch manager, another center meeting and visiting a borrower at his butchery business. Omar, the butcher client went from selling meat on a wooden table to building a completely tiled shop with plans for expansion, in just one year with the help of a Yehu loan. Pretty remarkable! At the second center meeting, Melinda and I were generously given gifts, hand-made by the borrowers themselves. Their craftsmanship was great, so I made some purchases for my family while I was there.

It was a spectacular day, ended with a nice swim in the ocean and bonfire on the beach. Life really doesn't get much better than this, right?