Student’s African summer brings a wealth of experience

Last year we told you about Dan Garlick’s adventures with the Balloon Kenya project. This year, Megan Snape shares her story.

A driving force behind business innovation in Kenya

BK3 (2)Megan Snape, A Sheffield Hallam Sport Business Management student, recently received funding and support from Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union to spend her summer in Nakuru, the fastest growing town in Africa, as part of the Balloon Kenya programme. Balloon Kenya is an award winning social enterprise that brings students and graduates from around the world to work in Kenya for six weeks with budding local entrepreneurs, with an aim to tackle poverty and bring about positive social change.

Speaking to Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union upon her return, Megan talks about the application process, her time in Kenya and how the opportunity will help with her future career aspirations.

How did you find the Balloon Kenya Application Process

2014 was a busy year for me and I only slotted in my application between numerous library stints and meetings. It was only after I’d sent off my application at 4am, that I went back and checked the Balloon Kenya (BK) website and thought “I’m such an idiot, I remember now why it looked so good!”

How did you feel when you found out you had been successful?

When I found out I’d been successful I felt absolutely shocked! I’d been told I’d know the decision by the weekend, so by the following Tuesday I’d already beaten myself up about the interview and resigned myself to the fact I’d missed out on this amazing business project. So to then receive a call from the Students’ Union it was the most shocking thing I could think of.

Tell me about your Balloon Kenya experience?

I’ve always wanted to get out and do something worthwhile with my summer. But the idea of becoming your stereotypical ‘gap-yar’ student made me cringe. Especially whenBK2 (2) from the start I’ve been openly very selfish about my motives to travel and had no intention of pretending to be in love with a charity just to make myself look more employable.

I applied for BK because it sounded different to all the other charity programmes, but I never thought I’d learn so much or be so motivated by it. BK doesn’t give away donations- it teaches local entrepreneurs how to make business decisions based on evidence and research, something BK refers to as ‘challenging assumptions’. More than this however it taught all of us how to challenge our own assumptions about western business.

What was the highlight for you?

For me I never felt like I was working for a charity. The process wasn’t even a mentoring one in the end. It was a team effort between me, my partner and my entrepreneurs to get them a loan. They became the driving force behind their business innovation and pulled apart, scrutinised and tested my western ideas into something that suits their life, their family and their ambitions.

BK5 (2)I also satisfied my selfish ambitions. I met 23 other people with a passion for entrepreneurship and business. Overall we came from England, Scotland, Wales, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Chili, Texas, Pennsylvania, Somalia and Egypt. We studied business, religion and philosophy, education, anthropology, responsible charity, music and marketing. Some didn’t even study, they travelled, had husbands, children and jobs. Between us we enjoyed Boxing, travelling, yoga, painting, fashion and drinking with the locals. We have met up since and are a very close group with many memories.

Would you recommend fellow students apply to for Balloon Kenya?

Without a doubt. I did it. I am terrified of flying alone, terrified of new places, new foods and new people. I think of myself as being a very independent person, but this was a huge learning curve for me. Some people were leaving the UK for the first time in their lives, others were seasoned travellers just joining in for 6weeks before continuing. You don’t need to already be studying business. People are accepted for all kinds of different reasons. Some were natural entrepreneurs, others were conducting research on music and politics. You just have to know why you want to go.

How do you think this opportunity will help you in your future career?

Before this process I was considering starting up my own business. Since BK I feel so much confident and capable of doing this and have learnt and practiced how to move it from paper to reality. I have a strong network of professionals and students, some of which have found job interviews for each other and all of which I know I could turn to for advice within their own industries. I feel confident saying I can consult, and am knowledgeable about responsible charity and working with other cultures.

Each academic year Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union offers funding for a student to complete the Balloon Kenya programme, applications for Balloon Kenya 2015 are now open.