August || Local Support Grows with More Outreach

The Good. In July we reported that we were having difficulties with one of our partners, so in August we moved to our own building in Mathare. In our new location we have been able to focus more on recruiting, training, and building excitement about our work in the community.  We invited community leaders from Mathare to visit our main office in Kawangware. Over thirty community members attended and were very excited and supportive of our work.  

In August we also made a lot of progress documenting and standardizing our training.  We updated and finalized our training manuals so that we can easily replicate and control for quality of training across all locations. We also created a morning meeting curriculum to refresh our morning meetings with new material on sales as well as leadership and team building. This new material will inspire our agents, build camaraderie, improve their sales and increase our retention level. 

The Bad. In August our training and jobs numbers were lower than we expected, which also leads to lower sales. We encountered problems with our training and recruitment as many other nonprofits in the new areas we work pay people to attend their trainings. We’re able to get high numbers of people to attend the first day of training, but because of the payment expectations, the number falls on the second day after they learn that we will not pay them. We believe that our training is valuable and, since it leads to a job opportunity, we should not have to pay people to attend. This expectation of being paid to attend training also perpetuates the handout mentality, where we are trying to build a model that offers a hand-up. With greater local engagement, however, we hope to convince community leaders of the value of our intervention so that they can help us recruit and retain youth who are really ready to work their way out of poverty.

July || LivelyHoods is Hiring!

The Good. In July, LivelyHoods hired two key management positions to increase our capacity in operations and fundraising. Millicent Chepkemoi is our new program manager and will oversee our training, recruitment and marketing efforts. We’ve also hired Shannon Murphy as our first director of development to lead our fundraising efforts. Visit the LivelyHoods Team Page to learn more about our passionate and diverse staff and board of directors! Beyond expanding our team, July is a month to celebrate as we’ve exceeded our job creation goal and our revenue goals. We are proud to say that we’ve earned over one million Kenyan shillings for the second consecutive month  (nearly $13,000 USD). This milestone was possible because of the hard work of our agents (Jesse, our sales agent of the month is featured below) and because we have been steadily increasing the number of agents each month, nearly quadrupling our sales force since January. We are also proud to report that in July, our conversion rate of youth trained to jobs created was 75%, the highest it’s been all year! 

The Bad. We’ve been having difficulties working with one of our recruitment partners and have decided to end the partnership. This contributed to our low training numbers as we weren’t able to train any new agents in this location. We are setting up our offices in Mathare and developing other partnerships for recruitment in the area. From this experience we’ve learned that from the onset of the relationship we need to be clear with our partners about our expectations and have a signed MOU that defines each partner’s roles. Another challenge that affected our training numbers was that in Kawangware, our HQ location, we have more agents than we are able to effectively serve with our current space. We had to split our morning meetings into two sessions to accommodate the large numbers. We decided to discontinue training in Kawangware in July until we are able to increase our capacity to manage a greater number of agents.  

                              

LivelyHoods’ Sales Agent of the Month: Jesse Angaluki

June || Reflecting on the First Half of 2014

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The Good.  As Quarter 2 of 2014 came to a close we did a lot of reflecting and planning as a staff, culminating with our Quarterly Staff Meeting. Our biggest successes this year have been with opening new locations, training in large numbers, and surpassing our sales goals. We are proud of all that we’ve done so far and are excited to see what we can accomplish in the second half of the year. We were lucky to have the help of two amazing Summer Fellows in June, Conor Kelly and Breanna Chandler.  Conor designed our annual report before arriving in Nairobi and during his time with us designed a new catalog with new products including cell phones, refrigerators, and new cookstoves. Breanna helped develop new training manuals for on-boarding, sales and business training, train the trainer and leadership training. A big THANK YOU to Conor and Breanna for their hard work and dedication.

The Bad. This year our biggest challenges have been around job creation and securing better terms with our suppliers as we grow. In the spirit of transparency, we decided to publish the actual figures for the number of jobs we have created and the number of youth trained to give some context to the percentages we have been tracking so far. While in many months our job creation numbers were slightly lower than the goals we set for ourselves, our overall number to date (249) is still on track. While we are proud of this, we are still working hard to achieve more consistent jobs created numbers on a monthly basis. With our suppliers, we are working closely with them to secure a minimum of 30-day credit terms and consignment where possible. This helps us to get more products to our four locations and out into the field, where they can be marketed and sold. Without better terms, there may be bottlenecks with product supply, and therefore product sales, which is bad for us and for our suppliers. 

May || New Sales and Training Records Broken!

The Good. In May we trained more people and sold more products than we ever have in a single month. LivelyHoods is also officially over the 500 youth trained mark, which we will celebrate as a major milestone for the organization. We trained 88 people in four different locations this month, including a new location in Mathare North, which we are testing out in partnership with Destined Youth Initiative Kenya. We sold over $11,500 in products, with sales of the energy saving stove from Burn Manufacturing leading our product line. We hope to see this trend continue through the rest of the year!

The Bad. As we’ve posted in previous months, we are working to improve our conversion rate from youth trained to jobs created. We fell just one short of our goal of creating 18 new jobs in May, which is a major improvement over the past few months. We are seeing about a 20% conversion rate each month, so we’ve mainly solved the job creation issue through training more people. While this means we are increasing our impact on youth through our training, we want to see our conversion rate go up to 30%. Over the next few months we will introduce incentives for training and recruitment staff to try to get them more engaged in the conversion process. 

April || New Shop Launches in Makadara and Kangemi

The Good. April was a month of launches for iSmart. We opened a new location in Makadara, which is already a strong performer with 11 sales agents. Our first training in Makadara was done in partnership with Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL), an NGO working with victims of gender violence all over Kenya. We hope to continue to work with WEL and their network of women to expand our sales agent distribution system. We also launched the Sunny River and iSmart partnership through our Kangemi location. Kangemi residents can now purchase drinking quality water from a tap in our shop while charging their phones, all powered by solar panels on the roof! 

The Bad. We saw an improvement in the number of jobs created this month over last month, though we still fell slightly below our goal of creating 17 new jobs this month. Our staff is trying new approaches to vetting trainees, which will hopefully yield even better conversion rates for next month, given that our training numbers remain consistently high. Revenue fell slightly this month, possibly due to the long Easter holiday and the transition from the last of our CH-4400 stock to focusing on selling CH-5200  stoves by Envirofit. The CH-5200 is assembled locally in Nairobi and will be available in a more consistent supply than the CH-4400 has been in the past. We hope that with enough marketing and promotions, we can make this stove just as popular as its predecessor. 

Two new customers enjoying fresh, purified drinking water from the Sunny River and iSmart shop in Kangemi. 

March || A New Monthly Revenue Record!

The Good. Sales hit a new record of KSH976,139.00 for a single month! Each of our three locations performed well, particularly our new location in Makadara, which is now responsible for 21% of our sales. Last month, resellers were responsible for 50% of our sales. This month, sales from our sales agents brought in 84% of our record-breaking revenue. Accordingly, the average net income per sales agent went up and surpassed our goal of an above average salary for the first time this year. The more we sell, the more our agents make, and the more lives we change in slum communities. 

The Challenges. On average this year we are training 50 youth per month. This is much higher than our averages in previous years of around 20 per month. We are thrilled to be making an impact on more lives through the business and sales training we offer, however the number of jobs we are creating out of that training fell short of our goal this month. It could be that we are not recruiting the right people for our training, or that the higher numbers in the classroom are resulting in lower individual attention for trainees. We discussed this issue in our Q1 staff meeting and have come up with some experiments to try over the next three months to identify the problem and increase our conversion rates. 

February || Marketing Events are Back and Sales Keep Rising

The Good. Sales exceeded our goal this month by KSH135,980, with resellers contributing 50% of our total sales. Sales agents also performed well, with Martin Maina selling KSH30,500 worth of products in his first month and winning the Sales Agent of the Month prize. We held three table marketing events this month in Kawangware and Kangemi, all of which generated KSH53,100K (8% of total sales and 17% of total agent sales). Prices were reduced for the Powapack, Firefly, Powerpoint light, and Burn cookstove (#2 in revenues and the first time it’s been in the top 5 products sold), which led to increased sales of these products. 

The Challenges. There were a lot of products returned with warranty issues, namely the Ramptons blender with mill (7), irons (5), and kettles (2).  Turnaround time is roughly one week from pick-up to return, however, which is faster than it had been previously. The bad news came in that Envirofit is ceasing to supply the CH4400, which has been our number one seller for the last three years. We are hoping that the other clean-burning cookstoves in supply will pick up in demand and fill that gap. 

Martin Maina with his Sales Agent of the Month certificate and prize. 

Perspective | | Meri Crowther on Being a LivelyHoods Fellow

2013 Summer Fellows, Adrienne Hopkins and Meri Crowther, helping iSmart Sales Agents, Caroline and Eric, with a promotional marketing event. 

This past summer, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move to Kenya and spend 10 weeks as a volunteer with LivelyHoods in Nairobi. One of my areas of focus as an MBA student at Columbia Business School is social enterprise, and this time with LivelyHoods gave me valuable insight into the challenges faced by nonprofit organizations. Along with two other volunteers, I gained hands-on experience testing and evaluating revenue-generating business models that LivelyHoods could leverage to expand more sustainably. Specifically, I examined distributing iSmart’s product line, including clean-burning cookstoves and solar-powered lights, into shops within urban slums.

My days were a balance between working from the office alongside LivelyHoods staff and heading out in Kawangware with the sales agents. Both environments were so much fun! Mornings at LivelyHoods opened up with a regular sales team meeting where we learned about new products, discussed sales plans for the day, and sometimes played games to stay sharp. If I was heading out into Kawangware for the day, I joined two sales agents who served as my guides. All of the sales agents and staff were so friendly and welcoming! They shared their communities with me, gracious served as interpreters when needed, and made me feel very safe and comfortable in a new environment. Out in town, we spent our time speaking with store owners and learning about how products are bought and sold within the slums. I was so impressed by these young people and their aspirations to better their lives, and it was especially gratifying when someone would leave iSmart to enroll in higher education or take a new job.

Outside of my work at LivelyHoods, I had so much fun taking in all that Nairobi and Kenya had to offer. Along with my roommate Sheila, a fellow classmate and LivelyHoods volunteer, I built a life in Nairobi that included taking up yoga, enjoying dinners and happy hours with other MBA students, and traveling on the weekends. We visited Diani and Lamu, both beautiful beach towns on the coast, spent a weekend in Uganda, and spent one week on safari in the Masaai Mara before heading back home. One of my favorite trips was to Hell’s Gate National Park, where I was able to ride a bike alongside giraffes, zebras, and warthogs! This opportunity to meet a new community of people, learn about an emerging market in depth, and see a different part of the world is one I am very grateful for and I hope I can visit Nairobi again soon!

January | | Starting 2014 with Great Sales

The Good. We are so proud to have started the year off by breaking our sales goal. This was largely due to a former Sales Agent and Training Manager who is now employing around six other people to sell clean-burning cookstoves outside of the Nairobi area. This is part of a greater B2B strategy that we are working on in order to provide our products at discounted prices to entrepreneurs and organizations that will create their own sales forces and create more jobs. 

The Challenges. After the holiday break, many of our sales agents were slow to return from visiting their families outside of Nairobi. This, in addition to high training turn out but low conversion from training to employment, led to a smaller sales force than we anticipated for this month. Also, many of our Sales Agents complained that customers were low on expendable income this month after the holidays and with school fees due. We planned for this seasonality in our high-level sales goals but are now thinking about ways to support our agents so that their income is not negatively affected during low sales seasons. 

2013 | | A Year of Growth and Learning

The Good. We had 38 sales agents distributing life-changing products in their communities in December, more than any other month on record! After working on improving our recruitment and retention this year, our sales force will continue to grow in 2014. Our second store in Kangemi is seeing growth as well and is now responsible for 41% of in-store sales. All of the loans posted through Kiva to finance our daily consignment model have been fully funded. 

The Challenges. Our total sales for the year were 72% of our goal. We are proud of the way our team weathered diverse challenges in 2013, such as the tumultuous Presidential elections in March, changes in our pricing due to new VAT laws, and increased fees for marketing events from the city council. We also know to anticipate these challenges in setting our goals and strategies for 2014.