CEI Innovator Interview: Kidogo

January 27, 2016Duncan McCullough

Kidogo is a social enterprise that provides high-quality, affordable early childhood care and education to support the healthy growth and development of young children living in Africa’s urban slums. Kidogo leverages an innovative entrepreneurial model to deliver sustainable and scalable care in informal settlements.  Since our last interview, the organization has made exciting strides. We spoke again with Sabrina Premji, about Kidogo’s selection for support from Spring (a small-business accelerator), upcoming plans for expansion, and more:


Thank you again for taking the time to share your experience with us. It seems like your organization has been quite busy since our last interview.

It’s been a bit of a crazy few months to say the least! Since we last spoke, we’ve concentrated on proving concept on our “hub & spoke” model. Both of our “hub” Early Childhood Development centers currently operate at full capacity with waiting lists. And we’re thrilled that our center in Kangemi reached operational break-even within the first few months of opening. That means that the childcare fees being paid by parents (roughly US$0.75 per day) are enough to cover the monthly operating costs (e.g. rent, teacher salaries, food and curriculum materials) to keep the center running, without the need for external funding. We’ve also rolled out our “spokes” program, where we are working with 5 “mamapreneurs” who run informal childcare centers to help us co-design the elements of a business-in-a-box that can improve the quality of community-based childcare.


The CEI blog has an engaged and diverse readership base, but your profile in Vanity Fair is a pretty big deal! How did that come about?

We were named one of the 18 most promising East African start-ups to change the lives of adolescent girls and selected to participate in the SPRING accelerator offered through the support of DFID, USAID and the Nike Foundation. Vanity Fair came to Nairobi during the 2-week “bootcamp” of the accelerator to profile the program. They loved what we were doing and wanted to see our work in action, so we invited them to our hub center in Kibera. A few months later, we saw Kidogo in the magazine. It’s still a bit of a shock to us.


What kind of business support has the Spring accelerator provided?

The Spring Accelerator has been helpful to understand how girls fit in the value chain and how we can tailor our services to maximize our impact on their lives – from the teenage mothers who bring their children to Kidogo to the girls who were previously pulled out of school to take care of their younger siblings. Spring’s financial and design support is also enabling us to launch our third hub and further prove our model of quality, affordable early childhood care & education delivery. We’re grateful to be part of the program.


Kidogo has long-term plans to expand to other countries throughout East Africa. What aspects of your model do you think will be most important in allowing your organization to scale-up?

As we think about the components needed to transition towards scale, whatever that scale might look like, we’re putting a huge emphasis on systemization. In the start-up world, things are chaotic. You’re constantly on the go. This year, we’re focusing on documenting and codifying our processes as much as possible. For example, we’re taking everything we’ve learned from setting up our first two childcare hubs and documenting it in a “Hub Playbook” so that we have a plug & play approach for launching future hubs. We’re doing the same with our teacher training and curriculum. We’re also building out a robust monitoring & evaluation system so that we have a good pulse on how things are operating at every level of the organization. We see this as a crucial component to ensure that we’re not just scaling, but we’re scaling with quality.


You’ve spoken before about the initial hesitancy of parents in informal settlements to pay for your service, given the historical model of free provision by so many development groups. Have you seen a shift in parents’ expectations?

Expectations of free handouts are certainly hard to change when they’ve been engrained in communities over decades and decades. I think what worked in our favor is that working mothers were already accustomed to paying for local childcare.  The childcare might be unsafe or congested, but there was still a willingness to pay for it because there were simply no other options. The issue for us came, particularly in Kibera, when they realized Kidogo was an external organization. And since their experience with external NGOs was ‘free services’, there was an expectation that we’d follow suit.

Over the last year, we’ve seen a shift – the fact that our centers are full with long waiting lists is a testament to this. Part of it can be attributed to time; we’ve had the time to build relationships within the communities we work in; we’ve had the time to demonstrate that we see our parents & children as consumers whose needs we need to meet, rather than as beneficiaries who should take whatever is given to them. But we’ve also seen that parents are beginning to understand what quality childcare looks like and the difference it makes for their children. They value quality and are willing to pay for it. These incremental shifts on the demand side are exciting.


What advice would you give to a young person passionate about education, and determined to make a significant impact?

I think people who are attracted to this type of work are people who have grown tired of the status quo, or who see a better way of doing things. We’re an impatient bunch who know that every day that goes by without action is a missed opportunity for a child. It’s our nature to want to jump in and shake things up right away.

The biggest thing we’ve learned is sometimes we need to stop doing things, and take a moment to listen. Really listen. Particularly when working in lower-income environments where there’s an inherent imbalance of power, this idea of being intentional about creating the time and space for conversation is so important. I think that’s a key element that separates organizations that are fleeting and those that persist over the time – the ability to deeply understand the people you work with and work for. Listen more. That’s the advice I’d give.


Sabrina Natasha Premji is a social entrepreneur and global health practitioner who leads Kidogo's Strategy, Partnerships & Impact. Prior to co-founding Kidogo, Sabrina spent 4 years working with the Aga Khan Development Network in Kenya & Tanzania, where she managed an Integrated Primary Health Care Start-Up Project, led the Social Innovation portfolio of a $13.5M maternal and child health grant and explored eHealth and community midwife franchising initiatives to curb the high maternal, neonatal and child mortality rates in East Africa. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice at Columbia University in New York City and is working with the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network to promote a child-integrated approach in the post-2015 global agenda.

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