It’s a Good Thing: UBC Sauder students head to Nairobi slums

Credit: Courtesy of UBC Sauder School of Business

Sauder’s Jeff Kroeker (centre) with Kenyans and UBC students

Sauder Social Entrepreneurship program teaches basic business skills in Kenya

In the early 1970s, a Montana professor by the name of Jess Lair published a book, I Ain’t Much, Baby—But I’m All I’ve Got, considered one of the forerunners of the self-help movement. Among the quotable quotes attributed to Lair: “If you love something, set it free.”

Jeff Kroeker isn’t much of a self-help guru: he teaches management accounting at UBC Sauder School of Business, after all. But his philosophy on education isn’t far removed from the age of peace, love and understanding. “I’ve always thought that education was a gift that you get—even though people think they work hard to get it here,” explains the instructor to a small audience inside his UBC office. “It seems like something that you should give away to other people who don’t have it.”

In addition to his teaching, Kroeker, as director of Sauder Social Entrepreneurship, orchestrates a four-week, student-led business skills training course held in Nairobi, Kenya, each June. The goal of the Kenya program is twofold: to increase economic opportunities for underprivileged youth with entrepreneurial ideas in Nairobi’s slums; and to provide a chance for Sauder students to learn about other cultures—and themselves.

Emielia Dahl-Sam was one of 20 students who participated in the Kenya program last year. “I’m lucky enough to be in a situation where I have this abundance of resources,” says Dahl-Sam, now in her second year at Sauder. “I know that I have the support networks to support my academic learning, my career projections. In Kenya, the discrepancy between education and resources for it is huge.”

The students—coached by Kroeker—provide basic training to young Kenyans in business strategy, financial management and marketing. They use flip charts, pens and tape; if they’re lucky, classrooms even have electricity.

The program attracts Sauder students finishing their first year, like Dahl-Sam, all the way up to those doing their MBA. They purchase their own flights and pay a $1,500 fee to UBC, but Kroeker and his team take care of the rest: booking accommodations, arranging trips to the local grocery store, and hiring a driver to take the students to and from the slums. Classrooms are typically set up in community centres, with Kenyan youth selected by on-the-ground NGOs, with whom Kroeker has developed a relationship over the years.

Last year he introduced mentors to help judge the culminating project—a pitch day where 10 Kenyans from each class (or about 40 to 50 total) present their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of local business leaders. “We don’t want to randomly equip people and then send them out into society. We have the ability to go around town and meet people for coffee; we have the resources to network,” Kroeker says, adding: “We’re not going to mentor all 200. There is a funnel effect: some ideas germinate and go further.”

For him, success is stories of Kenyan graduates who write to tell of loans received, of businesses started, of lives changed. It’s also stories of Sauder students continuing
to do good in the world—including Dahl-Sam, who recently co-founded a
UBC social venture, I Know a Girl, that teaches confidence-building skills to female students entering male-dominated industries.

Kroeker, ever the accountant, pulls out a pen and scribbles an equation on a piece of paper: Give/Get > 1.5. “I always say to students, we don’t have much control over the ‘get’ in our lives. Many of us ‘get’ quite a lot. But we do have control over the ‘give.'” As he sees it, success in this life is making sure the “give” outweighs the “get” by a significant factor. To help yourself, in other words, you have to first help others.

Why Kenya?

The two slums that UBC Sauder students have focused on are Kibera and Mathare. Kibera has an estimated population of more than one million people, while Mathare has about 500,000—each in just a few square kilometres of Nairobi. In addition to poverty, both slums are plagues by disease, unsafe drinking water and endemic violence.