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PATRICK GATHITU

Kenya,

Patrick is helping Kenyan consumers, many of them farmers, to connect with technologies that will allow them to increase the earnings from their farms and small-scale business ventures.

This profile below was prepared when Patrick Gathitu was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.

INTRODUCTION

Patrick is helping Kenyan consumers, many of them farmers, to connect with technologies that will allow them to increase the earnings from their farms and small-scale business ventures.




THE NEW IDEA

Patrick sees that scattered access to information about affordable technologies and simple innovations is a primary deterrent to the productivity of Kenyans—many of them rural people whose livelihoods are tied to the land. Without this access, small-scale business efforts, even of enterprising people, are doomed to low productivity and earnings.

In an environment in which tradespeople buy and sell for profit, not bothering about the product’s usability to its purchaser, Patrick helps Kenyans make good choices about what technologies to buy and how best to use them on their farms, in their microentreprises, and so on. He identifies several hundred promising, affordable, and appropriate technologies. He shows people how to use them and offers continued support to small-scale business owners as they expand their ventures. Having begun his work in Western and North Rift Kenya, Patrick hopes to build a network of inventors, farmers, and civil society groups across East Africa to foster efficiency and entrepreneurship.




THE PROBLEM

Today, increasing numbers of university graduates in East Africa emerge from educational institutions prepared to compete for jobs that are very scarce. Kenya’s education system generates job seekers rather than job creators, and ultimately saddles the overstretched government with dependents. For more than 15 years, the government has encouraged the formation of small businesses and the continuance of small-scale farms by making financing mechanisms available to help enterprising Kenyans start ventures or take their farms beyond subsistence level. However, available technologies, especially in the agricultural sector, are imported and expensive; even with financial supports and credit opportunities, most small-scale farmers can’t possibly afford imported technologies. If technologies are affordable, another problem exists, and this relates to information availability. Appropriate technologies can absolutely benefit small-scale farmers; however, in Kenya, scant information exists to guide a farmer’s purchase. Furthermore, there’s no system for gathering feedback from consumers or for sharing best practices in using technologies to support higher incomes. On the supply side, local inventions are often far better than imported solutions, yet again, there is no real system for supporting local inventors in reaching a broad consumer base—a local solution may be shared with neighbors, but not more broadly.




THE STRATEGY

Patrick is stimulating entrepreneurship and productivity, especially in the agricultural sector, in three main ways: he aggregates locally made technologies, making them available for sale to farmers; he teaches customers how to use them to raise their incomes; and he supports citizen groups in seeing that they can generate jobs and solutions, that they change their circumstances and livelihoods, and their world.

To carry out his work, Patrick has created a dual organizational structure with a marketing and sales arm—called ETANG Kenya—and a capacity building function, called Akili Ni Mali (Wisdom is Wealth). ETANG aggregates local agri-based technologies and makes them available to farmers. To date, Patrick has gathered over 500 technologies, which he and his team find by scouting out the best technologies already on the market and available at trade shows and on the Internet; understanding from farmers and citizen organizations what’s actually working on the ground; and talking to growing network of local inventors in the Jua Kali Sector (Informal Sector), a group he is nurturing and connecting to income-earning potential through ETANG Kenya.

Patrick recognizes that for his work to be relevant and cutting-edge, his portfolio of products must represent the best options available to small-scale entrepreneurs. He keeps prices low by partnering with large-scale citizen sector organizations such as Approtech (Kick Start).

If identifying the right portfolio of technologies is the first key ingredient to ensuring competitive advantage, the second is packaging the product with a servicing and educational component, so that consumers learn to use, maximally, the tool they buy. Patrick therefore holds training courses and sessions for farmers and groups of farmers; these almost always touch on or directly address themes that are bigger than any one product: how to start and run a small- or medium-sized enterprise, how to expand a client base, how to reach scale through cooperative formation. To facilitate this educational dimension, Patrick has a demonstration project in Eldoret, and aims to open a center in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, in the near future.

Patrick sees great value in fostering a spirit of what’s possible among Kenyans, a spirit of entrepreneurship and invention. He has introduced the beginnings of an incentive structure to draw in the best inventors of technologies that actually work, that willbenefit both his effort and the broader society. For example, he offers awards and scholarships to inventors, and connects them in a network.

Having begun his work in western Kenya, Patrick is drawing in allies to aid the expansion of his effort throughout Kenya, and even beyond to other parts of East Africa. Through existing agricultural societies, chambers of commerce, unions, and research institutes, he is spreading his work. Furthermore, international development agencies, such as USAID and the European Union, support his work.




THE PERSON

Patrick has been part inventor, part entrepreneur from an early age. As a science club member in secondary school, he devised a biogas digester and a parabolic solar heater; however, his creativity was neither appreciated nor nurtured. Nor did he find a way to connect his inventions to real-world applications, thereby improving the circumstances and earning potential of small-scale farmers through the use of the technologies.

Patrick pursued his interest in social science at university, enrolling at one of the leading agricultural universities in Africa. There, he began to think about how to get emerging technologies into the hands of farmers who could use them. With Ashoka’s support, Patrick hopes to reach much of Kenya and beyond in the next five years.

In 2004 Patrick won a highly competitive British Council scholarship and is a pioneer and alumnus of Pan Africa Leadership Training Programme. The program brings together leading leaders in different sectors across Africa and trains them in leadership. Having been recognized by the Kenya Government for his contribution in Agriculture Development, he currently sits in various district development committees in his area.




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