Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Paul Norton: Business Savvy in Kenya

Silgich StudentsBrandeis student Paul Norton traveled to Kenya this past summer to intern with the KIMbia Foundation.  Below, we continue sharing his journal entries, which will run daily for the remainder of the 2009.

Perhaps American investment bankers (if any of them still exist) could learn a thing or two from Kenyan athletes.  Paul Koech and Lornah Kiplagat serve as two of many examples where Kenyan athletes have operated successful businesses while giving back to the community around them.

Paul Koech’s school, Silgich Hill Academy, is the best-run primary school in the area.  The facilities are superior, the teachers caring, smart, and thoughtful, and the food filling, consistent, and good-tasting.  Paul even has plans to build a library at Silgich that will serve all the primary schools in the area.  In addition, Paul’s wife Zipporah has formed a partnership with a local stationary store her friend owns.  This partnership allows Zipporah to buy school supplies very cheaply for all of the schools in the area.

What really makes Paul a good businessman, however, are the many acres of farmland he owns surrounding Silgich. The farm means that food costs are extremely low for the school, and also gives the school another source of income besides school fees.  Probably the best part about the farm is that it gives the workers at Silgich an opportunity to better themselves financially.

Let me give you an example of how this works.  Rebecca, or “Mama Kanga,” who met me in Eldoret when I first arrived, began working at Silgich as a caretaker.  Mama Kanga earned the trust of Paul and his wife Zipporah through her hard work and dedication during her time as caretaker.  As a result, they asked her to take over management of the farmland.  Mama Kanga’s duties include finding casual labor to harvest and weed, and selling the harvested crops to other schools, families and businesses.  Mama Kanga takes a commission on all of the crops sold, and with the money she’s made in just a year, she was able to buy an acre of the farm from Paul.  As a single mother of two, this is huge for her.  The costs of feeding her family are much lower with the farm, and the acre also gives her an opportunity to make some extra money in addition to her commission from the farmland.  Many other workers at Silgich have saved enough so that they can buy an acre.  In the Rift Valley, an acre of farmland is an investment that can reap huge dividends.

Norton_Kenya_HighAltLast weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the High Altitude Training Centre, or “Lornah’s place,” as most runners call it.  I was there for the KenSAP (Kenya Scholar Athlete project, a program that works with top Kenyan students to gain admission to top American universities) selection weekend, where I had the opportunity to meet and interview some of Kenya’s best students.  The interviews were absolutely fascinating, and I learned about everything from the Kenyan secondary school system, to Kalenjin-Kikuyu clashes, to the Kenyan man’s “initiation ritual” of circumcision.

Back to Lornah’s place.  The High Altitude Training Centre was founded as a camp for Lornah and her training partners (fellow Kenyan-turned dutchwoman Hilda Kibet) to train in Iten, but also serves as somewhat of a luxury hotel for visiting mzungus.  At $40 a night, the rate is very cheap for what you’re getting.  Lornah has taken the money made from guests staying there to expand the HATC (it now has a pool, gym, and conference room and will be adding a non-alcoholic outdoor sports bar) and help her foundation.  The Lornah Kiplagat foundation was founded to give young women in Kenya an opportunity to pursue education and athletics.  Given that most leading social scientists have concluded that a country’s overall economic well being is very closely connected to the education level of its female population, the foundation has the potential to revolutionize Kenya. Kenyan women are already on the rise, as KenSAP had its deepest pool of female applicants ever, according to founder John Manners.

Paul and Lornah are just two examples of Kenyan athletes who have given back.  I cannot count on two hands the stores, shopping centres, and schools I’ve seen that have also been founded by other Kenyan athletes.  I can only hope that this trend continues, and that maybe we learn a thing or two from them.

Check back next week as we wrap up Paul’s story, as well as the stories of our athletes from 2009.

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One Response to “Paul Norton: Business Savvy in Kenya”

  1. Anna Tranfaglia says:

    Hi! Paul, I was trying to find you on facebook, but you have a very common name. My name is Anna and I went to Silgich Hill for the second time this past May/June. Actually, I was playing Uno with Zipporah, Mike & Paul when your package came with the gift for Nanye. She loved it! Just curious if you were planning on going to Silgich again in the future and would love to hear some of your thoughts about the school.
    Anna Tranfaglia