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TEDxKibera: An Intellectual Call to Arms

August 17, 2010

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” quoted Tim Githau in his talk about the Future of Children. With Albert Einstein’s words, he challenged the young audience at the third official TEDxKibera held on August 14th, 2010 to pursue intellectual development as the key to life opportunities. As executive director of the Kenya’s Children Parliament Foundation, he spoke of his own experiences in sharpening his mind and shifting his thinking beyond his then humble upbringing to become a successful children’s media consultant. The pursuit of knowledge, a call to intellectual arms was a theme woven between the four speakers of the day.

Following an introduction to the history of TED and TEDx in Kibera by Tonee Ndung’u from Nailab, Caren Wakou of Picha Mtaani (“Street Exhibition” in Swahili), opened the speaker series with her experiences traveling throughout Kenya to document personal stories of youths during the 2007-2008 post-election violence. “Why did so many youths resort to violence and how can we help youths become agents of peace?” she asked. Through traveling street exhibitions, the historic images are a platform for national reflection and dialogue, promoting community healing and reconciliation.

The seeds were sown for the screening of the feature film Togetherness Supreme shown later in the afternoon, after the final talk. This vibrant production of Hot Sun Foundation, documents the true story of a youth artist in Kibera and the complexity of family, ethnic and social ties leading up to the riots there. When I turned around to look at the audience, I saw a sea of contemplative and emotive faces.

Aly-Khan Satchu was up next with an enthusiastic and practical talk on Basic Financial Success. His mother’s adage, spend less then you make was the driving message. And from his days of managing tremendous balance sheets in Credit Suisse London, he further emphasized, invest the surplus.

What an appropriate message to share to the young people — deferring instant gratification leads not only to financial wealth but also to personal leadership and success. These themes were expertly tied into career advice about information age, the power of mobile platforms and how brainpower can level the playing field.

Between the multiple digital cameras, flip handcams, professional videography and laptops, TEDxKibera also improvised a multi-media talk by author Richard St. John. The previously recorded talk of Eight Secrets of Success is an amusing and concise set of best practices (passion, push, work, focus, persist, ideas, good, push, serve) collected from lives of great leaders and successful business figures.

With all these tools and words of applicable wisdom, I do not doubt the youth in Kibera will continue the exchange of ideas and act as the source of innovation for their community. They are already answering the call to arm their minds with knowledge and amassing intellectual skills as the medium of value exchange. It is small this bustling group of movers, shakers and thinkers that will create the momentum for change, and the youths are at the front of it in their everyday lives.

You can see other moments from this inspiring TEDx event in my flickr set and reach me at


Adolescent mothers, Nairobi and abroad

July 21, 2010

Kate Mitchell at Maternal Health Task Force shared a great website aggregating data and maps about adolescent girls. It’s definitely worth exploring the maps on health and well-being…

This raises an issue that is important to us at Jacaranda Health. In poorer areas of Nairobi, rates of adolescent pregnancy are high and accompanied by significant maternal health challenges — adolescents are less likely to give birth in a facility; less likely to be educated about family planning, STI prevention, and HIV care; and often face social stigma when seeking maternity and antenatal care.

A recent report by PopCouncil, Adolescence in the Kibera Slums, chronicles and quantifies the experiences of young men and women living in low-income areas — where are their parents, what are their livelihoods, where (if) they go to school, relationships and sexual behaviors. Some findings:

16% of adolescent girls age 19 reported having babies, but only 62% of them indicated wanting those pregnancies at the time. 43% of adolescent girls surveyed said their first sexual experience was coerced.

This 16% figure is one of the lower ones we’ve seen. Another very thorough survey of informal settlements across Nairobi, Population and Health Dynamics in Nairobi’s Informal Settlements, also measures these issues. A few examples from this long report:

Only 22% of girls age 15-17 were still attending school.

Over 50% of girls had had a child or were pregnant by age 20.

Clearly there is a need for economic empowerment and better social support structures — and just as importantly, maternity and reproductive health care that meets the needs of these young women. At Jacaranda Health, we have working on how to incorporate care for adolescents into our model of antenatal care and maternity services. We have been talking to people who focus on adolescent reproductive health, from local experts, NGOs, and pediatricians to organizations like Population Council and the Nike Foundation.

The next post will address a few good solutions we’ve seen, and ways we are planning to incorporate adolescent health into our model of care… Meanwhile, if you have any ideas to add, feel free to share it with us.

Field Study in Eastern Nairobi

July 13, 2010

Kasarani Maternity & Nursing Home (Private Clinic)

Today, Nick took Farai and and me to the field to see first hand what the eastern part of Nairobi is like. We went with our driver Kaira, who provided both orientation, local information and security for our visit. We visited the “estates” along Outer Ring Road, Komarock Road and Thika Road, which are government built low-income housing suburbs. Some of these neighborhoods are likely Jacaranda Health target markets for the mobile and ground clinic.

This was an important scouting trip to help Farai who is developing the marketing plan to identify possible clinic catchment areas, gather real estate data points and also help both of us observe the environment in which we will operate. We also saw the different healthcare organizations already in place, which range from NGOs, government and employer-run community clinics, for-profit social enterprises, multi-functional chemists/pharmacies to dodgier mom and pop health clinics that seem to operate without any regulatory license. In particular, we came across Kasarani Maternity and Nursing Home, which seems to the largest provider in Kasarani Estates and important for us to understand what the market offering is like.

Summer 2010: Jacaranda Health on the ground

July 9, 2010

Since Jacaranda Health was founded in January 2010 by Nick Pearson, two new faces have joined the team as summer associates. Farai Shonhiwa and Jane Del Ser are on the ground in Nairobi, helping Jacaranda Health launch its end-of-summer-pilot in testing the mobile health clinic unit to serve the informal settlements and low-incoming housing estates of eastern Nairobi. Eastern Nairobi is a rapid-growth area driven by urban migration and unbounded real estate for development.

Early Birds

Here, Nick, Farai and I are meeting with Bridge Academies International to learn about how this social venture has scaled quickly in the districts that overlap with Jacaranda’s target markets (they’re none too happy about my snapping pictures at 8am in the morning, but such is life and it’s the only good shot of the two together).

Jacaranda Health is an early stage venture that aims to use ICT in the maternal healthcare sector through a combination of clinical, systems and business innovation. There’s a lot for us to do this summer, marketing research and strategy, development clinical protocols, data systems and mobile technology assessment and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, healthcare and technology innovation is an especially exciting sector to work in and Nairobi is an excellent place to be for social entrepreneurs. It’s just brimming with folks local and from elsewhere who want to make an impact and also deliver sustainable business models. It’s almost as if doing well by doing good is not just a cliché but a realistic challenge to grapple with and bring to fruition.

Feeding Time

But hey, Farai and I will make sure to see the other beautiful and inspiring parts of Kenya during our two-month stint. Why just this past weekend we visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. My friend Lindsay had told me that these orphaned elephants are cared for and rehabilitated to return to the wild. It’s quite a sight to see a group of baby elephants sloshing around in the mud and playing pranks on their caretakers, whom they regard as their mothers. My favorite part? The baby elephant-sized milk bottles!

The Ubiquitous Jacaranda Tree

May 4, 2010

Jacaranda Tree

Pronunciation: \ˌja-kə-ˈran-də\
Etymology: New Latin, from Portuguese jacarandá a tree of this genus, from Tupi jakaraná, jakarandá
Date: circa 1753

    is any of a genus (Jacaranda) of tropical American trees of the bignonia family with bipinnate leaves and panicles of showy usually blue flowers. It’s native to tropical and subtropical regions of South America (especially Brazil), Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

    In Africa, this beautiful flowering tree is everywhere. We thought it was appropriate to represent a social venture that aims to bring low-cost, high quality maternal health to all of East Africa through a network of ground and mobile clinics combined with innovative EMR and mobile technology.