Today was a lot of fun. We had the day to ourselves, ostensibly to work on our projects. However, many of us also took the opportunity to explore Kenya on our own a little. Some went on safari, some went shopping, and some (as I did) went to the Nairobi National Museum. Because my mother is a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum, I grew up in museums and it is always a pleasure to explore another one. This museum wasn’t terribly Nairobi-specific; it was more focused on generic natural history. However, it did have two great exhibits I wouldn’t have seen elsewhere: one on traditional tribal life and one on cave/rock art in Africa.
Before my museum trip I went for a run. This was my first time running in the middle of the day instead of early in the morning or late at night. There were many more cars on the road and the air was harder to breathe. When I returned to the hotel I blew my nose and what came out was black. Boo, pollution!
After the museum I spent time interviewing local entrepreneurs about the challenges they faced and lessons learned when starting up businesses in Kenya. I also interviewed many would-be entrepreneurs, who provided valuable insights into what they perceive as barriers to entrepreneurship. The principal obstacles seem to be access to capital (Very few banks are willing to lend to unproven entrepreneurs and the rates from those that do are daunting. There is also no network of Angels or VCs.), family culture (Those who acquire money are expected to share it with their extended families, not invest it in starting businesses.), and gender environment (Much of Kenya’s diaspora returns to start up businesses, but not women. Kenyan women who leave the country and work in more gender-neutral places tend not to return.). The biggest obstacle by far, though, seems to be lack of business knowledge. When would-be entrepreneurs talk about wanting partners, they are more interested in someone who can start/run a business than someone who has capital to provide.
I finished the day by hosting a dinner for Nairobi-based Rice alumni. We had eight people altogether with professional backgrounds as diverse as hotel management, tea exporting, and dentistry. This is what I love about the Rice network; I can drop into a random place on another continent and still find several nice, intelligent, interesting, accomplished people with whom to share stories, ideas, discussions, and drinks. Before I knew it, our dinner had passed the five-hour mark and it was time for those with children to head home. Thank you to all my new Kenyan Rice friends; it was an exceptional—and welcome—diversion from my IMD program!