Building a Sustainable Business in Kenya
In celebration of International Earth Day, we spoke with SoFi member Patricia Griffin about how saving on her student loan debt allowed her to take the leap in starting her own sustainable business in Nairobi, Kenya. Read on to hear what she had to say about the importance of bringing nutrition, employment, and lasting improvements to poor communities throughout East Africa.
Tell us about Snack Afya.
We are Africa’s first coconut chip manufacturer, sourcing fruit from small farmers at fair market rates to help lift them out of poverty through sustainable commerce. We then sell the product in previously inaccessible markets.
I’ve chosen Kenya because the country has a vibrant social enterprise ecosystem and I’ve fallen in love with the people. One in particular—my Kenyan husband.
What can you tell us about building a sustainable business?
I believe that good leaders do not squander their profits. They instead use the money to have a positive effect on the health, education, food security, financial inclusion, and energy for impoverished communities.
What impact does your business have?
We’ve purchased 10,500 coconuts from 11 smallholder farmers, who as a result earn 275% more from us for the same produce due to our policy of paying fair market rates. One farmer used the money to pay for a family wedding. Another re-stocked inventory in his small, roadside canteen. Many use the money to pay school fees for their children. I value this kind of positive impact because it comes through a dignified business transaction that empowers the farmers to choose their own outcomes.
What goes into selling your product in local markets?
Bringing the product to market required 18 months of research and testing as we pivoted and learned from our failures. We created a minimum viable product and iterated it multiple times before deciding on coconut chips as a start. We designed the product packaging, tested it, and printed a first batch of packages. We harvested 4500 coconuts and dried them in our small kitchen workshop to create a first batch of inventory. In the past 2 months, we’ve knocked on doors and talked with hundreds of decision makers who are willing to risk stocking a new product on their shelf, especially if they can receive the inventory on credit and get a good margin for it. We are currently stocked in 17 stores across Kenya and have seen exponential growth in sales over the past few months.
After starting the business, how do you feel?
I’m feeling: 1) Encouraged by the good favor we’ve received from the market and the fast sales growth; 2) Motivated by the impact this business can have on subsistence farmers and their families, and; 3) Scared by the financial risk we’ve taken, especially when I still have student loans.
How did refinancing your student loans with us help?
Not having the burden of high monthly interest rates on my grad school debt made me take the leap of faith into entrepreneurship faster than I otherwise would have. Coming in third runner up in SoFi’s 2 Billion Together contest was also encouraging as I saw how many people were willing to support me with their vote. I’m taking a big risk with this venture, but I know that it has the capacity to make a huge difference for the communities in Kenya.