What we should know about you
Questions answered by Simon Dixon, Co-Founder and Director
1. Imagine yourself/yourselves 5 years ago in comparison to the situation you are in today. Which achievements surprise you the most?
Five years ago we had just started and we were housed in a semi derelict chicken shed (Yes! We started in a chicken shed!). To think then that five years later we would have built over 100 homes, 11 classrooms and other structures too was unimaginable. That and raising almost $1 million in investment/grants together with winning the internationally recognized Sankalp Africa Award in 2019.
2. What was a turning point in your career as an entrepreneur / for you as an organization?
Finding the right team in the beginning to walk the journey and keep me sane (and from making mistakes that an expat so often can make, no matter how long they have been in country). Winnie and Symon Maara were awesome, especially in those early years. Their patience and willingness to try my crazy suggestions, but, also suggest some far better ones. Working together to create the first home and manufacturing process etc etc was made fun by the relationship, trust and respect we had for each other.
3. What was a troubling time that you managed to overcome?
The COVID-19 pandemic – 2020 in particular – the initial uncertainty and fears. Sales dropped off a cliff in April 2020 and only started to recover at the end of 2020. Sustaining the business and the team members salaries was a significant challenge. We were fortunate to have a good team who agreed to take a reduction in salary and also a donor, who were an invaluable partner who provided a “Covid Resilience” grant at the key moment in 2020.
Keeping personally positive to help the team keep the faith was a challenge. Luckily, the commitment of the whole team was rewarded and sales picked up in early 2021 enabling salaries and more to return to normal.
4. What recommendation would you give to someone who thinks about starting a social enterprise?
I worked for another social enterprise first which gave me a lot of insights and lessons. These ensured we moved faster and avoided many of the pitfalls. If you can’t do that, then ensure you have a network of other social enterprises to support you, bounce ideas off, and share experiences. We had a number of those around us (Nairobi has a large network of social enterprises) who again provided invaluable support. Both Winnie and I are now giving back that support via mentoring other people who are brave enough to want to start their own social enterprise journey!
Questions answered by Winnie Gitau, Co-Founder and Director
1. What is your biggest success as an entrepreneur?
Providing an alternative material to build cheaper, decent, and affordable dwellings for people in the lower income group. That said if the technology can and will make owning a home a reality for the lower middle class or anyone who is unable to build a brick house a reality this is a success to me. The role of making precast technology part of everyday construction in forums, household discussions, etc.
2. What is your biggest learning as an entrepreneur so far?
The journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Take time to enjoy the low/slow times, work on the back office stuff – because there will be times when eating has to be scheduled. A calm before storm.
3. What drives you personally to keep your social business running?
Affordable housing is an agenda set by the government to provide or meet the housing gap. Every time a client (Kenyan investor who is a micro landlord) calls to ask how they can build a decent house that would fetch about $40-100 a month in rent I am humbled. These are people who see a gap and don’t wait around for the government to act solo. They do not necessarily have disposable income but have access to loan facilities which the tenants do not have because of their economic background as well as the activities they engage in. Yes, they need a return on investment, more like a patient return on investment as it will be over 5 years to recoup. Some of them understand this and actually it is an investment that will benefit the future generation, i.e. their children. The immediate for the less fortunate are met and will continue to offer the said service for a longer period of time “ All factors held constant”. Therefore I make it my business to try to keep the construction cost down by always thinking about alternative ways of saving money or using something more efficiently. A catalyst of change.
- Builders for Africa’s Future 2021 – Winner
- Sankalp Africa 2019 – Awards Winner
- MIT D-Lab East Africa Fellow 2019 (Winnie Gitau)
- Women in Real Estate Kenya – 2021 Award Winner (Winnie Gitau)
- Accelerator – Miller Centre for Social Enterprise – 2019 cohort