During college, I took several trips to Africa on volunteer projects. During the summer of 2006, I lived in Kibera, Kenya. Though Kibera suffered from high unemployment rates, I met several groups of people who were using what they had to make a life for themselves.
There was a group that dug through piles of trash to look for bones from food scraps. They collected these bones, cleaned them, cut them, polished them, painted them, and made them into beautiful bracelets. There was a group of artists who took whatever materials they could find and fashioned them into works of art. Another group of youth tried to make a living by forming a trash pickup service.
The slum was full of creative and skilled people with ingenuity and initiative. Despite the difficulty of their circumstances, they did whatever they could to overcome their obstacles. They’re dreamers. They just lack the opportunity to thrive.
I started thinking of ways to provide them with that opportunity. The problem was that they didn’t have a market to sell to. Being in a slum, Kibera had very few tourists pass through, so they were forced to sell them at a very cheap price to vendors, who would then sell them in the touristy areas and make the profit.
My thought was that if I could connect them with the global market, they would have the opportunity to sell their hard work and talents to a new source of income. As I started making plans, I realized the challenges I faced. The products they made, such as wooden carvings, purses, jewelry, etc, though very nice and well-crafted, weren’t in high demand, especially during a recession. It’s not everyday that someone decides to buy a wooden elephant. Plus, items like theirs would have been extremely expensive to ship, making an impossible profit margin.
After letting that dream sit on the back burner for a few years, I came back to it again recently and thought of something that could work. By utilizing those same skills and resources, but just modifying the product, the people in Kibera could actually produce something in high demand. The market for laptop and tablet cases continue to grow with the devices themselves.
Inspired by companies like TOMS Shoes and Krochet Kids, who demonstrate that business can have a positive impact on communities around the world without relying on aid, I took a risk to step out and try to change my own corner of the world through Intrinsic.