Developing socially-responsible businesses

May 14 / 135

Archit (right) and local volunteer Suzanne Towett (left) helped Symon Jazan Mwangi (centre) develop his second-hand clothes business.
Archit (right) and local volunteer Suzanne Towett (left) helped Symon Jazan Mwangi (centre) develop his second-hand clothes business.

While Master of International Business graduate Archit Chanana's classmates were frantically job-hunting, he was on a plane to Kenya. The plan was to participate in a six-week volunteer program with Balloon Kenya, which helps ambitious local businesses owners create positive social change.

In the growing industrial city Nakuru,Mr Chanana and his five fellow volunteers were split into three groups, with each group paired with five local businesses.

"We worked actively with our entrepreneurs, helping them understand their businesses better, record cash flows, understand profit margins and develop ideas for expanding their business in the future," Mr Chanana said.

The final stage of the program was for them to pitch for funding.

Mr Chanana said the Balloon Kenya program fills a gap by catering to entrepreneurs who are not eligible for microfinance.

"Microfinance is very tough to get, you need high levels of collateral, and you need to be highly secure," he said.

"You need a really strong credit history so it’s out of reach for these people."

The involvement of student volunteers has a double benefit for the local entrepreneurs as a portion of the money they pay for the trip is invested into the financing of entrepreneurial ventures.

"We invest money into the program and Balloon Kenya invests it back into the entrepreneurs," Mr Chanana said.

The businesses he worked with included farming, second-hand clothes sales, a milk bar and a mobile banking enterprise.

Three of the five entrepreneurs in Mr Chanana’s group were ultimately successful in securing financing.

He said the experience provided an opportunity to apply his business acumen to real world problems that he had not experienced in his academic work.

“You face problems where you have to think on your feet and apply some of things you have learned in the real world to do something that is actually tangible.”

Mr Chanana has now flung himself into the hunt for a graduate job.

He said the Balloon Kenya experience has given him an edge.

“I’ve already discussed my experiences in job interviews," he said.

"When you go for a job and you can say you’ve done that, they see that you are a person who can work in the real world.”

Further information about the Balloon Kenya program is available at www.balloonkenya.com. The Department of Management and Marketing also offers a subject on Social Entrepreneurship is in Semester 2, 2014. Find out more at: www.handbook.unimelb.edu.au/view/2014/MGMT90165. 

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