On August 3, 2009 – with the help of my cousin who works at American Airlines – I flew standby out of JFK on flight 116 to Nairobi. Stepping out of Jomo Kenyatta Airport to a warm Kenyan afternoon, my plan was to consult for six months with a number of social enterprises, and then return to Harlem equipped with the experiences and insights gained from the base of the pyramid (BoP). Eights months later and still in Kenya, I've realized that – despite being a consultant – my plans rarely work out, and those insights are far from developed.
As I've said numerous times of late, poverty is a very complicated crisis, and it was definitely optimistic (read: naïve) of me to think that six months would reveal the type of sustainable solutions I was hoping. Although every opportunity I've had has been nothing short of transforming, collectively they've taught me how much I still have to learn.
So with that realization, the trip – which has evolved into more of a journey – will continue tomorrow as I board another flight, heading further south, to the land of Stephen Biko, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and the 2010 World Cup.
With a GDP more than 10x that of Kenya's and per capita income of more than $13,000, South Africa is by far the most developed country in sub-Sahara Africa. Yet despite this economic success, poverty is still rampant, with more than 45% of Black Africans still living in poverty and the highest HIV rate in the continent. Socially torn by the weapons of apartheid, the country seems to have a racial tension that I've only imagined in the Jim Crow American south. The result: Blacks are still stuffed into the same slums (or townships) they were exiled into during apartheid, their unemployment is over 44%, and the homicide rate is over 50% (10x higher than the second worst country in Africa).
Overwhelmed with these types of statistics, stories and rumors, I'm extremely eager (and anxious) to dig deeper, uncover truths, and hopefully identify (existing and potential) solutions. My prayer (not plan!) is that my project at Dalberg will provide these opportunities, and that I can also become involved with different community based organizations in the townships (e.g., Soweto, Alexandria, etc.). Either way, I'm excited to board the next leg of the journey, and am definitely looking forward to blogging from Joburg soon!
I'll also really miss all my friends and family in Nairobi, a few of whom are pictured below .
Njenga and O at a Community Transformers' concert in Mathare
Manasa and Leah at my "see you later" happy hour with Acumen
Ngong Hills hike with the family (not pictured) over Easter weekend