KARIBU (“Welcome” in Swahili) KENYA!
It’s been a few weeks since I first arrived in Nairobi to begin the Africa Business Fellowship (ABF) program. I’m spending the summer as a fellow at Liquid Telecom Kenya (LTK), an IT solutions/telecommunications company working to digitally connect Africa. I’m excited to spend my summer helping LTK tackle challenging projects while also exploring all that Kenya and the greater east Africa region has to offer.
If you’re reading this, I assume you’re likely someone who is interested in pursuing the fellowship. When I applied, I used ABF’s blog posts to help me understand what being a fellow would entail so provided below is my best attempt at showcasing a day in the life as an ABF fellow.
A typical day usually goes like this….
I wake up and meet other ABF fellows who are part of the #5AMWorkoutoutCrew to head to the gym. There’s lot of gyms in Nairobi, but if I’m being honest -- most are mediocre and overpriced. Luckily, one of the Kenya fellows discovered Smart Gyms, a new gym that opened this summer with modern equipment, classes and a price tag of about $30 a month.
I know what you might be thinking -- 5 AM?! Crazy time to wake up everyday, right? Let me explain: 1.) Traffic is crazy in Nairobi and the only way to workout in the morning and avoid the traffic jams is to wake up at 5 AM. 2.) Food in Nairobi is good and we’ve been eating lots of it -- needless to say, working out is a must in this city. 3.) There’s alway something fun or interesting going on at night that conflicts with the thought of going to the gym in the evening.
I head back home to shower, change, etc. and hop back into another Uber by 7:30 AM to avoid more traffic jams.
8:00 AM to Lunch
I arrive at work. I’m working on two major projects for LTK this summer more or less as a strategy consultant. The first project is focused on researching market, customer, and competitor intelligence for the company and presenting recommendations based on the results of my analysis. The second project is focused on implementing a change plan focused on internal process improvements. Given the lack of significant data and resources in Kenya, I am learning how to be resourceful and gather insights in a less transparent environment -- which has been both challenging and fun!
Most of my mornings are spent performing research and analysis, as well as meeting with project stakeholders. I also spend time in departments meetings that are helpful in understanding LTK’s product offering, our clients needs, and our strategy.
I usually bring my own lunch and try to network with my new colleagues in the office. I really enjoy lunchtime because I get to find out everything from what growing up in Kenya is like to how people feel about the upcoming national election. Also, I get to learn and practice a little bit of Swahili over lunch (sidenote -- everyone here speaks English, but Swahili is also an official language). So far, I have 7 Swahili words under my belt -- maybe I’ll be fluent one day. (baby steps, people...baby steps)
Post-Lunch to 5:00 PM
After lunch I either spend my time getting out of the office to go into the field to better understand our products/infrastructure or to sit-in on client meetings. These meetings are extremely beneficial as they offer a first-hand perspective on customer needs that I wouldn’t find by digging through documents and excel sheets. Meeting with clients is also a great way to learn about business dynamics in Kenya.
At the end of my day, I spend time following-up on emails and scheduling meetings for the rest of the week. I also spend time updating my final project deliverables with insights gathered from the day’s research and meetings.
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM
The drive home is long and is still taking some getting used to. I spend about an hour on the road getting home. During this time, I usually relax listening to music or catching up with friends from the US who are just a few hours into their days. Also, I’m in search of some good podcasts to kill the time. (any and all recommendations are appreciated!)
6:00 PM - Bedtime
As I mentioned above, I try to spend my evenings networking with professionals in the area and trying out recommended bars/restaurants (I’ve discovered that networking is extremely easy in Kenya and the response rate on LinkedIn is crazy high -- ask someone to meet for a quick beer or coffee and most likely the answer is yes). Through this, I’ve gotten to know some really great people in the city outside of the office. One interesting thing about dinner in Kenya is payment. There's a really cool mobile product, M-Pesa, that is accepted as payment almost everywhere. People use it to transfer money from each other (similar to Venmo in the US), but they can also use it with merchants at restaurants, bars, retail stores, etc. M-Pesa is one of the many innovative products coming out of Kenya -- a very interesting place to be right now from a technology perspective.
After dinner, I take another Uber home and spend time either catching up on US news and current events or chatting with friends. Then it’s off to bed to prepare to do it all over again...and that my friends is a day in the life as an ABF Fellow in Kenya. (Quick clarification -- this is a typical weekday...on weekends, I DO NOT wake up at 5 AM. I usually spend time during my weekends with the other ABF Fellows either exploring Nairobi nightlife, which we’ve discovered starts for most people after midnight, going to a Jidenna concert, or doing touristy things such as visiting the Nairobi National Park)
I hope this information was helpful in understanding what it’s like to spend the summer as an ABF Fellow in Nairobi. It’s been a great experience so far and I’m excited to explore more over the summer! Kuwa na siku njema! (Have a good day!)