Paa, a Kenyan social enterprise, has emerged as the winner of Impact Hub’s micro-grant competition, with a cash prize of over Sh33,000.
Attendees had the opportunity to be grant makers for an evening at Nairobi Stew, a community dinner that funds micro-grants for community projects.
For a donation, attendees spent their Wednesday evening listening to entrepreneurs pitch their social impact projects over a bowl of stew.
Presenters had four minutes to share their ideas and answer questions about their initiatives.
The audience then voted for their favourite entrepreneurs.
After the votes were tallied, the winner— Paa— went home with all the money raised from the dinner.
Paa, Swahili for 'fly', uses water hyacinth from the Nairobi Dam as the main material to create handmade crafts such as purses and mats.
Clearing the dam of this aquatic plant contributes to environmental protection, as the fast-growing plant poses a challenge to water flow, which is highly problematic during the rainy season, causing floods.
“We heard about women who were making crafts from the dump [dam] so we learned these skills and did the same,” said Maria Omare, Paa’s founder.
“It’s a way for us to help clear the dam and employ people at the same time.”
The initiative employs youth from Kibera who collect the hyacinth and women who turn the plant into rope, which they weave into Paa’s products.
The company’s revenues are directed to The Action Foundation— a non-profit that provides rehabilitation, advocacy and economic opportunities for people with disabilities.
Paa began two years ago and has sold $2000 USD worth of products.
Omare says the microloan will help the enterprise buy leather and other products in bulk in order to create more products, which she hopes will find space in local and international markets.
Event organisers say the community dinner and micro-grant event was held to build trust.
“We wanted to create an event where it’s (trust) the central theme. You come here and put your trust in [those pitching] with your vote,” said Eric Mwangi, the Co-Founder of Impact Hub Nairobi, a co-working space who hosted the event.
Mwangi said the organisers were amazed at the turn-out, with a group of 70 people crowded at Connect Cafe, where Nairobi Stew was held.
“People are making connections here,” Mwangi said, which he points out can be more valuable than the cash microgrant.
“It’s important that we give these entrepreneurs our ideas, support and network too,” he said.
The other pitchers included Ann Mbaru, an entrepreneur who is creating Kenyan-made underwear for plus-size women.
Joe Kamau pitched for Impact Sourcing for Creatives, a start-up that runs a two-year digital skills programme, training vulnerable youth from informal settlements on 3D animation, graphic design and other digital skills.
Nairobi Stew was inspired by the first soup micro-grant event in Detroit in 2010, which has since spread to over 90 cities around the world.
Impact Hub plans to host micro-grant events every three months in various locations throughout Nairobi.
Jacky Habib is a 2016-2017 Media Fellow of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada at the Nation Media Group, Nairobi.