“Work collectively, live individually”
- Tomáš Baťa, Founder of Bata Shoes
There’s a term I learned at Kiva training – “PIVOT”.
I think it’s a cool word. For me pivoting evokes digging in one foot, turning on the spot, and heading in a completely different direction.
In Kiva Fellows training it was used to refer to the change in direction that Kiva was undertaking – motivating their current partners and bringing on new partners to utilize the Kiva platform to post more “catalytic” loans. Loans that meet basic needs like Water, Sanitation and Education.
Pivot. The word struck us all. I think most Kiva Fellows are in the middle of a pivot, be it going back to school, taking a break from work or like myself, pivoting the direction of their career.
This week I quit my job at KPMG Corporate Finance in Vancouver and ended my Kiva Fellowship early to join Sanergy - Kiva’s newest non-traditional partner in Nairobi, Kenya…
I started this journey by taking a sabbatical from my employer, KPMG. KPMG has an enviable community impact strategy that includes all sorts of great work in the traditional charity space and more recently social enterprise and impact investing areas.
These are the same emerging areas that sparked my initial interest in a fellowship with Kiva – Pivoting the model away from “shareholder capitalism” toward what Jay Coen Gilbert and others have called “Stakeholder Capitalism”. It was something I had been talking about to anyone who would listen before I left Vancouver (and some who wouldn’t).
Despite my self-righteous diatribes I think the B Lab founder does a much better job articulating his view of Stakeholder Capitalism:'
Sanergy is doing exactly what the Mr. Coen Gilbert and to a much lesser extent I, have been espousing – fulfilling a social mission while trying to create a profitable business for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Sanergy was started by three MBA students from MIT’s Sloan school of management to provide affordable, accessible, high quality sanitation in the slums of Nairobi. It is estimated there are 8 million Kenyans – that’s about 1 in 5 – that lack access to proper sanitation. As you can imagine, the effect on health and the environment is almost incalculable.
Sanergy aspires to achieve a sustainable business model through the sale of Fresh Life Toilet franchises to entrepreneurs in the informal settlements of Nairobi. Kiva is assisting Sanergy with this mission by providing its low cost/risk tolerant capital to prospective Sanergy franchisees – or Fresh Life Operations as they are called by Sanergy staff.
The Fresh Life Operators purchase and run the modular sanitation units as small businesses, profiting by charging community members a small fee for the use of the toilets. Sanergy then collects the “waste” from the toilets and converts it to energy and fertilizer which it then sells for a profit (or at least, that’s the goal). [please insert your own joke about toilets & careers here as I can’t think of anything at all]
When I told my parent’s about my plans to leave the cozy confines of Vancouver’s corporate world and join an outfit providing toilets to people who may never have had a proper one, my Dad sent me this in an email:
“Makes me think of the old Bata shoe proverb. A long time ago Bata sent two salesmen to Africa to investigate the market.
The first one reports back “no point in opening here. Nobody wears any shoes”. The second one – “What an opportunity! No one has any shoes!”
For those that don’t know, is one of the largest shoe retailers in Africa and it’s log is a ubiquitous part of the landscape.
So now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and join a social enterprise that as my Dad also points out, like Bata, seems to have a “tiger by the tail” (A tiger? In Africa?).
I’d like to thank Kiva and KPMG for conspiring to provide me this opportunity to pivot. I’ll soon find out where the rub between social mission, environmental impact and profitability lies, hopefully there is a balance to be struck.
Patrick Seeton is now the Vice President of Finance at Kiva’s newest non-traditional field partner Sanergy, a social enterprise providing affordable, accessible, high quality sanitation in the slums of Nairobi.
Patrick was a Kiva Fellow, working in Kenya this summer with Kiva Zip and field partner SMEP Deposit Taking Microfinance, a microfinance institution based in Nairobi with close to 40 branches throughout Kenya. Find out how you can become a Kiva Fellow or just more information on kiva and microfinance in general on kiva.org.