Reimagining Social Ventures During COVID-19

2020 Social Venture Challenge winners share their journey

As this year’s Social Venture Challenge teams prepare to pitch their ventures to a panel of judges, we revisit a few of last year’s teams to see how they are faring and what role reimagining and resilience have played in their entrepreneurship journey.

Kibera-Caanan Library & Youth Empowerment Center

Kibera Caanan Library

Kibera Caanan Library and Youth Empowerment Center team with a group of program participants in Kibera, Kenya.

Tell us about yourself and the name of your team 

We are Grace Bako and Dorris Mwangi, Scholars from the University of Cape Town and University of Nairobi respectively. Our Venture’s name is Kibera Caanan Library and Youth Empowerment Center, and we were among the winners of the 2020 Social Venture Challenge.

What is the challenge that your social venture, Kibera Caanan Library and Youth Empowerment Center is addressing and what has been the impact so far? 

The problem that we are addressing is the limited access to quality educational resources by children in Kibera, Kenya. We are passionate about working with children. Before leaving to study in South Africa, Grace worked extensively to reconcile several street children in Nairobi with their families. The last 5 years, we also worked jointly to run mentorship programmes for high school students in Nairobi, Nakuru, Thika and Meru.

One other challenge that our social venture identified was the inadequacy of books and libraries in the areas that we operate. We have been holding book drives to equip libraries in these areas and it has been of great impact. Our current project is an amplified version of our previous work to create a safe space for children and youth to be empowered through access to books, mentorship, and skills training.

Our resource center is accessible to over 600 children. During the pandemic, Ushirika School collaborated with us to support the children for four months through mentorship sessions.

We have been able to fundraise USD 1000 as school fees for five children under our mentorship program whose parents had their sources of income cut due to the pandemic. We are currently establishing the library and have donated at least 1800 textbooks to 5 basic schools.

How did you feel when you were announced as a winner of the Social Venture Challenge and how has winning impacted your venture?  

We were thrilled to have other people believe in our idea and to know that we have a chance of fulfilling it. Since winning the Social Venture Challenge, we have had invaluable support and insights from Heidi Litner and Byer Keith from The Resolution Project team. We have had lots of trainings by The Resolution Project on equipping us with skills to run the venture, and the seed funding has also helped us to scale our impact in terms of quality and quantity.

How have you had to reimagine your venture since winning last year? How do you see it changing again in the post-Covid year?  

We had initially planned to hold physical mentorship sessions with children but with COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings we shifted to virtual information sessions. This, however, has not been very effective since we can have access to a limited number of children because a lot of them don’t have access to mobile communication devices to connect with us.

Since schools are reopening, we will resume physical mentorship sessions with strict adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols. The number of children we work with might be limited to children from our partner school. We plan to equip the partner school computer lab with computers to run a hybrid program of virtual and physical sessions.

What have you learned about leadership as a Social Venture Challenge winner and as an entrepreneur?  

We have learned that leadership is about committing to a cause you care about. We have also learnt to delegate roles to avoid taking on too much and eventually experiencing burn out. Being leaders of an upcoming organisation has also taught us that no work is beneath us. This is because we rely on volunteers (who come and go) and as such, if a task requires our attention, we are always ready to work on it.

What advice do you have for the current Social Venture Challenge finalists?  

Making it to the semifinals is evidence that you have a great solution to a real problem. If you win, make the best out of the opportunity but if you do not, use the feedback to find out what you can improve on and try again.

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