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Lifting Millions of People Out of Poverty

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Have you heard of the social enterprise KickStart? It develops affordable technologies for small African businesses. It states its accomplishments in this way: “Since 1991, 160,000 successful new businesses have been started in Africa using our tools. Today more than 800 new businesses are being created each month. Since each of these enterprises supports a family, we conservatively estimate that these businesses have already lifted 820,000 people out of poverty. Each year these businesses generate over $130 million in new profits and wages and have created 70,000 new waged jobs. In Kenya alone, the users of our tools are generating new revenues equivalent to 0.6% of the GDP.”

KickStart aims “to create a new, successful, scalable, replicable, and sustainable solution to poverty.” It does this through what the company calls a systematic approach to the end of poverty. The five steps are:

  1. Identify opportunities
  2. Design products/tools
  3. Establish a supply chain
  4. Develop the market
  5. Measure and move along

This approach is important and interesting because most business leaders today would say it is too costly and unsustainable. But KickStart founders, Martin Fisher and Nick Moon, think differently.

First KickStart looks for business ideas that can be launched with no more than “a few hundred dollars” and that recoup that investment in a matter of months. Then it designs the specific tool or equipment needed for the venture, making it “useful, productive, safe and durable.” Most of this work is performed by designers, engineers, and technicians at KickStart’s Technology Development Centre in Nairobi. Next KickStart builds a supply chain to produce and distribute the product. The tools are mass manufactured in existing factories, then purchased and distributed in local shops by those who know the regional market well. Thus a profitable, self-sustaining supply chain is established.

For the next step, to develop the market, KickStart uses marketing and sales techniques that expose and popularize the product or tool, creating demand. Over 200 sales representatives are located in the countries where the company operates: Kenya, Tanzania and Mali. They demonstrate the products and organize demos. The idea is to familiarize those who can use them with the tools so they can start businesses or increase their existing efforts. This helps get more people out of poverty.

The simple money-making tools KickStart has designed, promoted and mass marketed include the soil block press and cooking oil press, in addition to irrigation technologies and pumps that have become their focus for the basic reason that “we feel that this is where we can have the greatest impact on global poverty.”

KickStart has measured how long it will probably take for its tools to reach the point where they sell at a profit. Meanwhile the company uses donor funds to subsidize the losses on its products. It estimates needing 12 to 14 years from the time a tool enters the market to when it sells profitably. But it declares that its five-step process “will change the way the world fights poverty.” 

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