University of Melbourne Magazine

Helping socially-responsible businesses create positive change

  • After completing the final exams of the Master of International Business, University of Melbourne student Archit Chanana decided not to launch headlong into the graduate job application process. Instead, he travelled to Africa where he worked with ambitious Kenyan entrepreneurs, helping them grow businesses that make a positive social impact.

    Archit completed a six week volunteer program with Balloon Kenya, a British social enterprise recently founded  by Joshua Bicknell and Doug Cochrane.  Travelling to the city of Nakuru, a large industrial town in central Kenya known for its growing business sector, he was partnered with a number budding Kenyan entrepreneurs to help them better understand their business and refine their plans for expansion.

    The program included an intensive training program, which equipped volunteers for their subsequent interactions with the local entrepreneurs. Archit’s group consisted of six volunteers, or fellows as they were called, split into three groups. Each group was paired with five local entrepreneurs.

    A great deal of respect and trust was built over the course of the program, “We worked actively with our entrepreneurs, helping them understand their businesses better, record cash flows, understand profit margins, talk about ideas for their business in the future because most of them wanted to expand. The final stage of the program was for them to pitch for funding ,” says Archit.

    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.

    The Balloon Kenya program fills a gap, catering to entrepreneurs not eligible for microfinance. “These people can’t be serviced by microfinance. Microfinance is very tough to get, you need high levels of collateral, and you need to be highly secure. 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. As Archit puts it, “We invest money into the program and they [Balloon Kenya] invests it back into the entrepreneurs.”

    The entrepreneurial ventures covered in Archit’s group were quite varied. Businesses included a milk bar, farming, second hand clothes sales and a mobile banking business. Three of the five entrepreneurs in Archit’s group were ultimately successful in securing financing.

    Archit says the structure of the program was uniquely different to his University based learning, “In the developed world we are taught to be employees. That’s good but if everyone is just an employee, where is the different mindset we need to tackle problems?”

    For example, in order to work out how viable entrepreneurs’ business ideas were we had to do rigorous customer testing. This meant we had to go out and talk to locals on the street, approaching them at random. Nothing at school or university prepared me for an experience like that.

    “We live in an increasingly complex world and unfortunately that isn’t taken into account within the academic world, it’s just learn the concept, apply the concept. Going there, to a different environment, it was like here are the problems, think on your feet, then apply some of things you have learnt in the real world and actually do something tangible.”

    Archit says he gained a lot from the travel component of the program, “Seeing a new country was great. Travelling to Africa, a growth continent, it’s such a poor place but it’s also such a beautiful place. Making new friends was also awesome. Because it was such a small group we got to bond really well, it was just great fun.”

    Upon his return Archit has flung himself into the hunt for a graduate job, “It’s a jungle out there,” he says but goes onto suggest that the Balloon Kenya experience has increased his employability. It has already helped him differentiate himself in the application process, “I’ve already discussed my experiences in job interviews … When you go for a job and you can say I’ve done that they say ok, this person can work in the real world.”

    Further information about the Balloon Kenya program is available at