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10 November 2016

Startups in the slums

Matthias Nederveen visited Kenya to explore the opportunities for setting up businesses for youngsters with disabilities.

Abel has a shop of corrugated iron and cardboard that serves as a shoemaker. He makes good quality shoes and sells them to its customers. He sees an opportunity to accept larger orders through schools, but he’ll need a machine to run more production. Maybe he can get microfinance, but he needs to bring in an amount of money himself. Abel participates in training for micro-entrepreneurs working in Nakuru. These are not fancy startups we work with, but entrepreneurs from the slum Manyani.


We provide training for three half-days: in the morning the participants come to the training; in the afternoon they go back to work. This half-day work is needed, otherwise the families have nothing to eat. Most have completed primary school or secondary school at most. They are lively and creative people, but because they just sit around the subsistence level there is not much room to invest in their business.

The training is aimed to make their businesses more resilient. They focus on what they can improve this month to attract more customers or just to provide some better services or products.

Kenn has a shop in second-hand clothes and sees an opportunity to sell modern clothes to women. His customers can not afford new clothes but still want to look nice and neat. By text messages he will alert customers to new collections.

Emmy has a hairdressing salon. She thought about buying a hair dryer, but after talking to customers, she discovered that there is more need for manicure. She is now investigating whether she can develop these services.


The group of trainees consisted of a mix of men and women, young and old, people with and without disabilities. The beauty was that sex, age or disability played no role in the group, all participants came to the training because they wanted to strengthen their business, not because they belong to a particular group or class.

We have invested heavily in the design of this project. This investment – from own resources – it’s been worth twice over: we now have a programme that we can scale up in a cost effective manner. So we can help more microentrepreneurs. Whether they are male or female, old or young have and whether or not disability.


This project is a good example of how we want to work in the Lab:

  • Everyone is welcome. Barriers to participate need to be eliminated wherever possible: training materials and methods adapted accessible to the language and level of participants and location.
  • Before we start proper research is done to the circumstances and problems of the trainees. In this project we have done this through research, field visits and interviews with entrepreneurs with the aim to offer the most relevant training.
  • We work together with various organisations, with training organisations for entrepreneurs, with the association for street vendors and with a government agency for micro-entrepreneurs. So we join forces and offer a stronger programme.
  • There is room to experiment and learn. That was true for the participants: they made plans in the morning and talked to customers in the afternoon to test and adapt the ideas. And that was also true for us as organisers: We have taken a lot of time to reflect and used the feedback to adjust and improve the programme.

Matthias Nederveen, interim director Light for the World

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