Birth of a social enterprise part 5 – Will They Like It? Moment of Truth 2

Birth of a social enterprise part 5 - Will They Like It? Moment of Truth 2

Well, having finished the prototype house (the easy bit!!?) we now have to find out what the customers think.

So far these blogs have been very much about the product development process. Even before all that started we have been engaging with the target communities and understanding their needs, preferences in key areas, what is important to them and, importantly, what is not important (see BOSE 7 for more on this).

The strongest feedback we received was that what everyone aspired to was a permanent home. While people have created great homes in the metal sheet houses in the slums, they are still that a metal shack and feel temporary. That means they are insecure, get very hot in the African sun close to the equator, you can hear everything your neighbours do 2-3 houses away, yes everything!!! Imagine a family with 3-4 kids living in a 10 or 12ft2 house and you living with your family the other side of a 1mm thick metal sheet. Imagine a couple of youths in a house next to family! However considerate people might be (and many are not!) that would be a challenge. But, despite all these challenges, people are amazingly resilient and adaptable. You would be amazed to visit one of the houses, once inside, they are warm and welcoming homes. People will always make the most of what they have.

Imagine though, the difference a concrete wall would make. Our solution is not just about the fire issue. The current homes feel and are temporary. Families want a feeling of permanence, security, safety, comfort – a home. 

When we showed people computer mock ups of what we were planning we received this feedback:

                “That would be amazing, a permanent home”

                “I would be so proud to live in that” a big smile and then “my friends would be soooo jealous!”

                “To have a real house that would be great”

                “Where can I rent one of those”

                “You have to do this!”

This was all last year when we were questioning ourselves a lot, should we do this, are we crazy…. Etc. The feedback was hugely motivating and encouraging.

However, fast forward 3-4 months and we now have the real thing not a mock up. What will they think now?

Winnie had done a great job preparing the interior of the house to make it like a home.



We arranged for a small group of people, both tenants and landlords to visit from 2 informal settlement communities, Kangemiwhere we plan to start our sales and also Mukuruwhere Simon has worked for almost 3 years with Sanergy. These are very different communities, different house types, social and political dynamics etc and we wanted to see if the feedback was different.

From Kangemi we had JJ, Wilfred and Ruth, all landlords and Francis a tenant. In addition there was the matatu driver (Matatu=minibus) and his mate, again both tenants in Kangemi. The day they visited it was very hot and they arrived just before noon just as the sun here, close to the equator, is getting to its peak intensity.

The initial reactions were along the lines of “Hey that’s nice!”, “Smart!” etc.

Then, lots of close scrutiny. Winnie, Symon and I split up and showed different people around the Manufacturing Facility (AKA Chicken Shed – refer BOSE Blog 3). There was strong interest and lots of great questions. There was also a lot of banging of the wall, testing the solidity. JJ in particular kept banging the wall and smiling. “This is strong!”

Mum all relaxed!
Scrutinizing the House!
Scrutinizing the House!

We then sat down as a group in the house to take chai and mandazi to learn more about their thoughts but also about them as people and the community they live in. (We will do another blog shortly describing Kangemi as we see it and more detail than the Wikipedia links in this blog).

Taking Chai and Mandazi
Taking Chai and Mandazi
The Kangemi Team
The Kangemi Team

What was great during that chat was how at home and comfortable they seemed in the home, they were particularly appreciating how cool it was compared to outside. Heat gain in mabati houses and the equatorial sun makes houses unbearably hot especially in the afternoon, this is also unhealthy especially for the kids. 

Finally, it was time for them to leave, there was a certain reluctance to leave the comfort of the house and go back into the hot sun and very hot matatu. For me it was these moments, how relaxed and comfortable they all were in the house. The laughing, how quickly the time passed in the house. What was great for Winnie, Symon and I was how it felt like a home during that meeting. A great day.

Next it was the Mukuru team, these guys were three Sanergy team mates. Dennis, Victor and Felister. Felister is also a landlady and has been a great source of information and ideas from the very beginning. It was therefore great to see her reaction to the house that she has had an integral part in forming through being a fine thought partner through the design evolution. Felister’s motivation from first hearing about the idea is to be able to provide a better home for her Mum. We hope, in time, to help her deliver that and if we do, that we be a blog of it’s own!.

The Mukuru Team
The Mukuru Team

The feedback again reinforced the Kangemi feedback and the only main difference was house size. In Kangemi where there is a little more space the need was for 12 x 12ft houses whereas in Mukuru it tends to be predominantly 10 x  10ft.

All in all a great exercise and reassuring feedback.

Next job to find a show house location and build it. We need to make our product more accessible. The prototype location is 30km outside Nairobi. We want a show house inside Kangemi. See the next Blog for more on this.

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