Another man's treasure: Resourcefulness in Kenya

Resourcefulness is perhaps the most essential trait for any entrepreneur.  In Nairobi’s Kibera district, the largest slum in Africa, that trait is apparent everywhere you look.  In an environment where most residents earn no more than $2/day, resourcefulness is the means for survival, and entrepreneurship a vessel for hope. 

Traveling around Nairobi, and Kibera in particular, evidence of this “scrappiness” permeates the sights.  Security spikes made of broken shards of glass line the walls of housing compounds.  Houses are quickly erected with a patchwork of recovered metal (usually corrugated steel and tin).  Open spaces hum with the sound of men welding together scrap metal into auto parts, tools, and craftsman design jewelry and tools made from cow and camel bones discarded by local butchers.

Modest homes made from a patchwork of scrap metal
Security spikes made from broken glass
Jewelry crafted from discarded animal bones

Last week I had the pleasure to meet Wilson M, a resident of the Kibera slum in Nairobi.  His story, in particular, stood to me as an inspirational story of entrepreneurship and resourcefulness.  Working nights as a security guard, he was able to save enough money to buy a handcart to make money transporting loads across Kibera by day.  While working two jobs, he took out a loan to help grow his own business, purchasing a second handcart.  In Kibera, where there is no formal trash collection process, Wilson was able to make money by hauling people’s trash to the dump.

As his business grew, Wilson took out a second loan to purchase more wheelbarrows, and with that loan began employing local youth to help with the transport of trash from around the slum’s densely packed communities.  With support and training from Carolina for Kibera’s Trash is Cash program (a Kiva Zip trustee), Wilson further grew his business by leasing a plastic recycling machine. 

Today, Wilson and his ten young employees make a living by recycling.  He and his team collect trash from around the slums, and comb through the trash to sort plastics based on their type and color.  They then press the plastics through a heavy duty processor that shreds them down into small pieces of plastic.  Finally, the plastic shreds are sold back to plastic suppliers for a profit of 15 Ksh ($0.17) per kg.

Wilson, with a bag of plastic ready to be sold
Bag full of recycled plastic

Wilson’s drive and resourcefulness, coupled with loans from Kiva’s international lender community, have helped him grow a successful enterprise that simultaneously cleans up the slums and provides young people with employment opportunities. 

Like Wilson, Kibera’s entrepreneurs are full of resourceful spirit and everlasting hope.  You can support others like Wilson through

About the author

Kunal Kothari

Kunal's interests in economic development, cultural exchange, and egalitarianism led him to the Kiva Fellows program, where he is working on advanced growth and impact models for Kiva Zip Kenya. Prior to Kiva, Kunal's career focused on the intersection of operations and technology through consulting, sales, and operational roles at Citrix and Google. He also co-founded a clean energy non-profit operating in rural Mexico ( and led consulting projects for Full Circle Fund and grant partners, including the Not For Sale Campaign and OneDegree. Kunal is passionate about using economic opportunity as a strategy to advance human rights and minimize radicalization.