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Balloon Ventures

About

Do you want to develop outstanding start-up and enterprise skills? Help change lives? Experience a new culture and travel?

As featured in the Financial Times, the Guardian and Virgin.com, Balloon is an award-winning social enterprise defeating poverty through entrepreneurship, not aid.

Since 2012 Balloon has placed 250 volunteers in Africa, worked with over 1200 entrepreneurs and invested £150,000+ in micro businesses.

Our approach to development is a first – combining international volunteering with startup education, consultancy support and investment – and our ambition is to scale the model globally to create 1000s of jobs.

Over the course of our six week programs Global Enterprise Fellows work alongside budding local micro entrepreneurs to design and implement business ideas. You will have the option to work in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana or the Philippines.

Founded
2012

Reviews

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Samantha
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

During my six weeks in Kenya, I learned more about a realistic approach to entrepreneurship than I did in four years of business school. During the first week, the co-founders Josh Bicknell and Doug Cochrane teach an intensive entrepreneurship course. Their passion for international development is contagious, and by the end of the first week I felt more than prepared for the following five weeks.

The entrepreneur selection process is improving with every program, and I was lucky enough to have really talented entrepreneurs who stayed focused and on-track throughout the length of the program. They all had great business ideas and they all received loans, and it was such a surreal thing to be a part of that. I’ve remained really close with two of them, and have been able to see firsthand how these loans have affected their lives. It has also encouraged them to pursue other business ventures and take smarter risks. Kenyans are some of the greatest people I know, and these relationships will continue for many years.

The social aspect of Balloon Kenya is definitely worth mentioning. I made some of my best friends on this program. The weekend trips are SO fun and a necessity with our hard work during the weeks. One weekend we were in Lake Naivasha, and ended up going on a late night safari! We saw hippos, giraffes, zebras, AND a lion named George! Getting to see those animals at night was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The volunteers chosen for this program are some of the brightest – I truly believe that bringing young 20 somethings together who have a common goal is a big driver to the success of the program.

I would hands down recommend this program to anyone who is interested in pursuing international development, or anyone who is a little unsure on what career path they're interested in taking.

What would you improve about this program?
I would increase the transparency on the administrative side of things. A lot of decisions are made that directly affects the volunteers, and the cause of these decisions isn't always communicated. This tends to rub strongly-opinionated 20 somethings the wrong way.
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Hannah
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The training we recieved was invaluable and we hit the ground running from day one (after a short rest after arriving). The whole programme was organised so that we were always active, communicating and sharing ideas and experiences, learning first hand and totally immersing ourselves into the daily lives of the people we would be working with. Balloon Kenya has given me all that I need now to pursue the career I have always dreamed of; whether that be social enterprise, business or community development, I feel well prepared and even more excited about what is possible. I can't see myself being where I am today or where I might be heading without the privilege of the experience that is Balloon Kenya.

What would you improve about this program?
The only critical comment that I can provide is that I felt the programme could have been longer. The first week of training was enough, but the following five weeks to work with our Kenyan groups flew by and I would have liked a little longer to allow more time for our Kenyan groups to really flourish as they all grew in confidence so much from the start I think we could have pushed a little more if we just had another week or two. Also, the programme, the people and Kenya itself was so good to us I could have stayed much longer!!
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Aisling
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The time I spent on the Balloon Kenya summer programme was a truly formative and enjoyable experience. The staff were well informed and passionate, encouraging and good fun. The programme strikes an excellent balance between work and play and gave me great insight into potential future career paths. I would recommend the programme to anyone looking for experience in international development or work with a social aim.

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Maxine
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

6 weeks of intense work collaborating with local Kenyan entrepreneurs, from school teachers to craftsmen to chemists. I was initially drawn to Balloon Kenya as this was an opportunity to work abroad on meaningful projects, unlike that which boils down to aid. I had travelled within Africa before and was particularly interested in development and therefore this was a perfect hands-on experience in an environment I knew I loved. I was not expecting nearly as much personal development on the entrepreneurial front as it really taught me to approach tasks both in Kenya and when I returned, with a different mindset. I truly believe the entrepreneurs we worked with benefited from our input and the learning was very much mutual. It was hard work but there was also time to play. Weekend trips included visits to Nairobi, safaris, climbing mount Kenya or having a weekend off, depending on what took your fancy.

What would you improve about this program?
I can genuinely say that there are no things I would improve about the program concept, some logistical things which went wrong are a continually developing and changing anyway.
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Amanda
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This was an incredible 6 weeks and was not at all what I expected. Teaching the Kenyan Entrepreneurs was challenging at times but we were all well prepared in the first week when we had an intense training course.
On the second week we met our Entrepreneurs and gave structured lessons to them. I was nervous about teaching as I hadn't taught before but I soon became comfortable and was able to personally tailor the lessons plans by the fourth week.
On the weekends we had the option to go on excursions such as a rural village stay, camping in rift valley, walks up the Meningai Crater, Visit Mombasa or Nairobi, Safaris in Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara.
If we had enough energy after the busy weekends and hard working days we would sometimes go out in the evening to the local clubs.
I learnt loads on the Balloon Kenya experience, met some inspirational people and had a brilliant time. Most importantly I know my participation was hugely appreciated by my Kenyan Entrepreneurs as many were able to get loans or were able to improve their business without the loan.

What would you improve about this program?
I know the programme is constantly changing but I would have structured the weeks more as the last one was rushed to get the financials right.
Also Doug and Josh should look at getting a safe deposit box fitted to the hotel to look after our passports etc.

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

Alumni interviews are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you decide to intern abroad with Balloon Kenya in Kenya?

Dan: In January last year, mid way through a Finance Placement with German giants Bosch, I began to look at ways I could spend my summer. Many of my friends were heading to the Balearic’s for an alcohol fuelled summer, but I wanted to do something different that would help with my final year of University and also with the ever increasing competition in the graduate market. Whilst applying for internships with major banks I stumbled upon Balloon Kenya, a project based in Nakuru, Kenya that works with entrepreneurs in Africa’s fastest growing city.

Dan visiting a Masai tribe!

Balloon Kenya offered a direct link with my course and enabled me to use what I had learnt on my years placement and my first two years at University and the business side attracted me. I could see benefits for both parties with the entrepreneurs and I both gaining something.

Balloon Kenya encouraged you to endulge in the local culture planning a weekend in a rural village and also allowed you to take weekends to travel and explore Kenya.

What made this experience unique and special?

Dan: There were lots of opportunities to volunteer abroad, however few had a unique link to business like Balloon Kenya offered. Balloon Kenya allowed me to see a business world which differed heavily from that of the western world, which I thoroughly enjoyed learning about.

Over the process you build really strong bonds with both the entrepreneurs and the other fellows and the programme definitely has a family feel to it. I still keep in contact with the Kenyans I worked with and also the fellows from across the world that I forged strong friendships with.

Balloon Kenya wanted us to experience as much of Kenya as possible, which was evident through the varying weekend trips they organized for us to see the country and culture. The weekend in a rural village was an eye opener at the beginning of the trip. The visit allowed us to spend a few days experiencing their lifestyles, we helped build mud huts, beat kidney beans, milk cows and then spent the night with a host family. We spent a weekend camping by Lake Naivasha and some of us went on safari whilst others climbed Mount Kenya.

The mix of helping locals and also experiencing their culture and country made the experience special.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Dan: I returned to University with more confidence in presenting, having spent my summer teaching groups it helped my presentation skills. I’ve shared my experience with up to audiences of 200 since coming back and it hasn’t phased me.

Dan working at the local shoe stall!

Despite the Kenyans I met being happy and willing to share everything they had it made me realise how fortunate we are in the UK. I had the chance to see different struggles that I cannot witness on my door step and made me appreciate what I have a lot more.

I’m currently in the process of applying for graduate jobs and hope my experience in Kenya will help me stand out in the highly competitive graduate market. I’ll be able to share my experience in interviews which will hopefully give me the edge.

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning abroad in Kenya?

Dan: Go for it, step out of your comfort zone and experience something different! There were a lot of fellows who weren’t from a business back ground, yet they all thoroughly enjoyed it! The structure of the course allows somebody to come with little business knowledge and learn and feel confident to deliver it to the Kenyan entrepreneurs, due to the support from the Balloon Kenya team.

More Interviews

Staff Interviews

Staff interviews are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Kiran Sahib

Job Title
Program Manager
Kiran joined the team in 2013 after learning about Balloon Venutres while interning at the Young Foundation. Having graduated from SOAS with a BA in African studies and Development studies, Kiran has a keen interest in aiding social and economic development in Africa. Kiran spent a year in Ghana working on two small agri-businesses, which fuelled her desire to support small businesses and start-ups.
tea fields

What does the future hold for Balloon Kenya - any exciting new programs to share?

Kiran: Balloon will be expanding into Uganda in the next few months, to deliver our ICS Entrepreneur Programme. Plans are being made to move into Mbale, which is a city in Eastern Uganda. This will be the second country that we move into, Kenya being the first, and we are so excited!

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Kiran: I think the key to a successful company is having a strong committed team who are passionate about what they do and have the right knowledge to run successful programs.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

Kiran: The best story I have heard from a returning student is from a volunteer called Anna. Anna was partnered up with an entrepreneur called Gideon who had opened a fruit stall and was keen to drum up business.

Through the ‘getting to know your entrepreneur’ exercise she found out that Gideon had set up the stall after coming out of rehab, because of issues he had with alcohol and drugs. He set it up not only to support his livelihood but promote a healthy lifestyle amongst the youth in Kericho.

His passion and drive for ensuring the youth in Kericho were healthy seeped into his sales plan and new products, which were integral with helping him to secure a loan to grow his business.

What unique qualities does your company possess?

Kiran: Two recent graduates started Balloon (Doug and Josh) and a key focus has always been to help young people develop useful transferrable skills that employers look for.

They have built a team of staff who are passionate about nurturing young people’s talents. As a result the entire organization has a innovative, fresh, youthful feel to it and has a core focus to support young people to get the careers they are keen to have.