WASA Kenya Trek: Spring Break 2016
Over Spring Break, two WASA board members (Ben Harms ’17 and Lauren McHugh ’17) led 32 other club members and partners on an 8-day trip to Kenya.
The group began in Nairobi, where they got to experience the capital’s culture and hear from a range of business leaders. Following the immersive city experience, the group spent several days on a world-class safari in the Maasai Mara, taking in Kenya’s breathtaking topographical landscapes and unique wildlife. The group ended the trip in Diani, just south of Mombasa, immersing themselves in Swahili culture while enjoying the white sand beaches along the Indian Ocean.
The trek leaders wanted to share a few key takeaways from their trip:
Nairobi as an innovation and startup hub
Our first order of business after stepping off the plane in Kenya was setting up SIM cards and M-Pesa accounts. The ability to make mobile payments has become a basic necessity in Kenya, and is what we used for transactions with taxi drivers, booking agents and safari guides. This innovation is symbolic of the broader fast-moving tech culture of Kenya, and Nairobi in particular. We visited the iHub, an open space for the tech community, which is the birthplace of startups like Ushahidi (a crowdsourcing software for tracking data in crises ranging from social unrest to natural disasters). Leaders from mKopa, Sanergy, BitPesa and m:Lab spoke to us about the industry challenges they face, such as the demand for tech skills outpacing the supply of coders. They also touched on opportunities for local startups, including the supportive and collaborative network of entrepreneurs across the city offering help and advice to fellow entrepreneurs. Lastly we heard from a Penn PhD candidate on thinking “Beyond M-Pesa,” and evaluating media messaging around tech and Africa.
We dined at restaurants that highlight the importance of immigrant influences on Nairobi’s restaurant culture. We feasted on tibs, wat, and roast mutton served over enough njera to cover our 20ft table, at a popular outdoor Ethiopian restaurant. At a lauded Indian restaurant in the heart of Nairobi’s Westlands nightlife area, we shared authentic homemade paneer dishes, ginger chicken wings and fish curry. The trek’s beer of choice was Tusker, a local lager produced by East African Breweries (Ltd). EABL has successfully maintained market dominance (over 80% market share) in Kenya, fending off global beer giants like SABMiller and AB InBev. A group also experienced Nairobi’s handcrafted beer subculture at Brew Bistro, one of Nairobi’s first microbreweries. Brew has won global awards for its house beers, best enjoyed to the backdrop of their Thursday night live music.
The business of tourism
Kenya is rightly renowned for its tourism – from its sprawling savannahs to its rich coastal history – and we certainly took advantage of its natural beauty, along with many other visitors. The sector had suffered over the past 5 years due to a number of circumstances – so we as trek leaders were enlightened to see the boost in popularity both in the Maasai Mara and at the Kenyan coast. The tourism industry is immensely important to Kenya’s economy. In 2015 it comprised over 10% of the country’s GDP and accounted for over 10% of its workforce. Looking forward, we’re optimistic about Kenya’s innovative, investment-heavy approach to protecting its fascinating tourism offerings. The country is a becoming a world leader in eco-tourism, it aggressively protects its wildlife and natural assets, and is increasingly integrating local culture into tourism in a sustainable way (as our trek members experienced at a traditional Maasai Village).
Be on the lookout for the WASA 2017 Kenya Trek next spring!