International Citizen Service Entrepreneur Programme
Volunteering in Kenya with a Hydroponic Farming Company under the umbrella of Voluntary Services Overseas
In the autumn of 2014, I was selected to participate in a new and innovate volunteering programme entitled, International Citizen Service Entrepreneur (ICSE). My allocation was set for the Democratic Republic of Kenya in East Africa. The programme, which is sponsored by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and other established charitable and voluntary organizations, aims to tackle poverty in some of the world’s poorest communities by supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses in developing countries. The programme has a strong focus on business, and the skills that volunteers need to make a positive difference.
My work placement was an innovative small medium social enterprise which was dealing with the manufacturing, installation and marketing of simple, affordable and commercial hydroponic farming systems. The company, called Animal Mineral and Allied Limited, operated in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and employed about 14 people. During the three months that I spent at the hydroponics company, I designed successful branding, marketing, customer service and business strategies and represented the company at numerous conferences and public events including at the United Nations Office and Word Bank Business Incubation Centres in Nairobi. Some of the most notable outputs of my direct involvement with the company included a 50% increase in sales, a reduction in advertising and marketing expenditures of about $1700/month, a new user-friendly website and social media pages and a substantial expansion of the clients and collaborators network. Ultimately, I contributed to the development of the company, which in turn resulted in more added value to the local agricultural community. Last by not least, the work experience contributed directly to my personal development, improving both my hard and soft skills. The mutual beneficial collaboration stands out as an example of a successful international and sustainable development story where the north and the south met to generate value and opportunities.
My accommodation in Kenya was provided by a host family, which was supported financially by DFID and VSO and in turn by the fundraising that I carried out before the departure to Kenya. For a period of three months, I lived with a surrogate family composed of mother (Edith), father (Nelson), brother (Andrew), sister (Tamara), housekeeper (Grace) and my national volunteer counterpart (Teresa). My family members were hospitable, intelligent and professionally successful individuals. All family members were very engaged with their work and passions. Under these circumstances, living with a surrogate family was a pleasant and enriching experience. I had many long and philosophical conversations about life, society, and the universe with my surrogate brother and numerous business, political and economic oriented debates with my “adoptive” mother. Grace was a truly hard-working woman that has never ceased to impress me with her household skills, whereas Nelson was an energetic and very righteous individual. Tamara, my young surrogate sister, has proven to be an incredibly intuitive and intelligent young girl. She has already explored several western societies including USA and Switzerland and shared several liberal views. With such an inspiring and open minded family, cultural differences did not caused much inconvenience. The programme as a whole was a brilliant opportunity to expand my horizons, develop new or existing skills, help underprivileged communities and encourage active citizenship and sustainable initiatives.