Thursday, August 30, 2007

Graduation and Growing Up

Most students think that graduation day is their day; the fruitful culmination of several months or years of study. In reality graduation is for the parents and guardians whose hopes and dreams are carried by their children. Graduation is the proof that their emotional and financial investment in their children's education has not been in vain. It's no surprise that "parents" always outnumber the graduands by 5 to 1 at any graduation ceremony.

Yesterday was a special day for me as I attended such a graduation. But I was not the one graduating, and nope, there is no Harry Jnr yet. Yesterday I was privileged to be the chief guest at Mwangaza College in Nakuru on the occasion of their 13th graduation ceremony.
I was invited to the graduation by Br. Brendan Foley, the current administrator of the college and my former high school headmaster. As chief guest I had to give an inspiring speech to the graduands.

I was invited six weeks in advance so I had enough time to prepare the speech; but the truth is an entreprenuer's mind is a fickle one, and mine more than most. Plus you add my self-confessed LMS nature and you should be able to vividly picture me mentally fine tuning my speech half an hour before I was set to speak.

Prepared speeches have never been my thing anyway and I love to speak without reference notes as it gives me the flexibility to change the speech to fit the mood. The other speakers were Bishop Peter Kairu of the Nakuru Diocese and Br. Brendan who both gave stirring motivational speeches so I decided to tell my story hoping that it would inspire the graduands.

The interesting thing was that as I told my story I also learnt something. In high school I was always up to no good fuelled by my highly profitable contraband foodstuffs business (I told you I'm an entreprenuer!) Eventually things got so bad that I quit the school and was faced with my first true 'adult' decision; to be or not to be? Up to that time in my life I never really had to face the long-term consequences of any decision I made. This time it was different - the choice I made would live with me forever and I would bear the failure or enjoy the success that followed. Eventually I did make that choice and I realise now that that is also the point I can say grew up.

The graduation was finished off by a fashion show from the fashion and design department. Nothing like young girls strutting their stuff to get the crowds swelling. Br. Brendan had told me the fashion show was the most popular part of the ceremony. I believed him; men, women and children were engrossed and entertained for close to two hours as design after design was catwalked on stage. As soon as the show ended the crowd practically vanished into thin air giving testimony to the fashion show's popularity.

As I drove back to the Nairobi I felt quite pleased with the day. Here's congratulating all Mwangaza graduands and hope I made entreprenuers out of some of you.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Genius features on Business Daily

In case you missed the piece on Genius Executive Centre in the Business Daily here is the link

Safaricom throws down the gauntlet

What a wonderful new service from Safaricom. If you have been hesitating getting your rural internet cafe set up, then you have no more excuses. Safaricom has launched a flat-fee (up to a point) internet connection product that is very affordable.

The service branded as Bambanet costs KShs. 1,999 (USD 30) per month and needs you to buy a USB modem for KShs. 5,999 (USD 90). For this you get to download 700 MB per month and for anything over that it will cost you K.Shs. 10 (USD 0.16) per MB.

I can positively confirm that this offer is by far the best internet product in Kenya at the moment:

1. It's relatively very cheap.
2. It's easy and cheap to setup
3. It's available almost everywhere in Kenya.

Way to go Safaricom, let's see if your competition down on Mombasa Road takes up the cue.

Internet, Charity, and Miraa - Day One

Back in July my good pal Eric Mibuari, an MIT alumni, invited me to help him set up internet access at a computer centre he founded in Laare, Meru. The idea was to use my internet in the village model which I had already deployed in two other places. I jumped at the idea, not only is Eric a fun guy, but I had never been to Meru and I needed a holiday from Forex trading. So together with another of my pals, Dru, we piled into a 4WD and headed off towards Meru.

Now, I have never been to Meru so I didn't really know what to expect. I borrowed the 4WD from a friend suspecting I'd be in trouble without it but I was pleasantly surprised to find well paved roads most of the way.

There was another reason I borrowed the 4WD, it was because it had enough storage room. The previous week Nakumatt (Kenya's leading retailer) had announced the opening of its Meru branch and I had my eye on a big-screen TV that was going to be on a special half price offer. I was sure of getting it as I would be in Meru on the day right after grand opening.

A rapid learning experience my trip was to prove, the first thing I realised was that Meru is a very wealthy town. If the fact that the TVs were all sold out on day one by 11:00 am did not convince me of this fact then it was the brand new Toyota Hilux pick-ups scattered everywhere making up 1 of every 3 cars. I was to learn in due course why this was the favoured vehicle.

Eric was already in Meru and asked us to rendezvous with him in Maua - a town 50km north of Meru and near the Meru National Park. We finally got to Meru at about 6pm and I discovered the second thing about Meru; at 1800M above sea level and off the slopes of Mount Kenya, the place is extremely cold. By luck Dru and I had both had packed heavy woolen sweaters, although the cold seemed to seep through those too. While waiting for Eric, who was coming from the centre, we took a tour of Maua. To our surprise we found that half the town's occupants were of Somali origin. Now for a non-Kenyan to understand this you must appreciate that rural areas are usually homogenous in ethnic makeup. We expected at least 90% Meru ethnicity. Somalis however are extremely capable merchants and Maua has a very valuable and tradeable commodity, miraa. So like flies to honey they flocked in their hundreds to the small yet extremely rich town.

By the time we got to Maua I had been driving for six hours and over 400km but when we finally met up with Eric he insisted on taking us to see the centre. So after checking in to our hotel we drove on to Laare, about 10km from Maua. The centre is temporarily hosted by the Laare Catholic parish. This stoked the fire of conviction that churches form a good backbone for such community projects; direct access to the community and structural resources.

Our trip to the parish was also our first chance to interact with locals of Meru - the priests. Kimeru language is not so much spoken as it is sung, with alternating pitch, tempo, and rhythm. It was fascinating to listen as the priests and Eric weaved kimeru in and out of the English conversation. Our hosts generously served us some hot tea and bananas (incredibly huge bananas) as they found out about our mission to Meru.

Eric also showed us the computers and equipment that had been donated by MIT for use in the centre. An impressive number of relatively new PCs, laptops, routers and switches all the way from Boston were stacked up in one corner of the priests' living room waiting for us to set them up the following day.

We finally left at around nine o'clock and slowly drove back to Maua. Slowly because it was a pitch black moonless night and the cold mountain air hitting the warmer tarmac caused instant rising mist on the road.

Used to Nairobi's fast pace we found ourselves still eager to explore the place at that late hour. However the few places we checked out were lifeless (it was a Tuesday) so we decided to go to the hotel and strategize on the following day. Before retiring though we purchased some of Meru's finest.

So while chewing on a few choice stems, we tried out the EDGE internet connectivity from the hotel room using my laptop and my cell phone as a modem. The connection worked quite well and I was even able to open my forex trading platform and put in a few trades. (Isn't technology wonderful - you can buy and sell off Wall Street while in a hotel in Meru right on the slopes of Mount Kenya!)

I finally gave in at 1:00 am as even the cathinone in the miraa could not erase six hours of driving. I left a 'cathinoned' Eric sending emails and on the phone with his colleagues in Boston late into the night.

Read more about my Meru trip on day two

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Still here...

Thanks to all readers of this blog who keep coming back even though I haven't posted stuff for quite a while. I'm keeping this one short but check back soon for my adventures over the past three months.