31 5 / 2013

Hey there.

29 5 / 2013

We are in the midst of User Acceptance Testing (UAT) this week, which means the staff are testing our new system to make sure it works before we roll it out to all our loan officers and field staff.

The last time I ran a UAT was almost twelve years ago. The last time I ran a UAT it was September. Of 2011.

Many things feel similar: I get deeply frustrated when we test some functionality and it fails. I’m satisfied when we can rapidly test features and check the box: pass, pass, pass. My endurance is tested as the days stretch into nights.

And of course, I am borderline giddy when I see one of our staff finally understand how this new system will make their day-to-day job easier. As the understanding registers on their face and they start to smile, I might actually feel…what is this? Joy? It reminds me why I chose to go into IT in the first place. To make people’s lives easier, in some small way.

And yet during the absurd emotional rollercoaster that is UAT this week I can’t help but remember something else - that first time I ran a UAT when I was fresh out of college and working in DC. We were interrupted mid-testing when we heard about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. And then just a little while later that morning, I walked the floor and dismissed each of our staff, forcefully telling them to leave and go home immediately. A plane had just flown into the Pentagon a few miles away.

I have a notoriously terrible memory. But I can remember every moment of that day. I was wearing black slacks, a light blue sleeveless turtleneck shell and a black cardigan. I remember the feel of my stomach dropping when I realized the flames on television were actually the Pentagon. I remember the sound of the busy signal on my cell phone, over and over again. I remember driving my old, green Forester past the Pentagon, still aflame, on my way out of the city. I remember waking up on the tear-stained couch at my parent’s home 14 hours later to see my father walking out the door wearing Army fatigues…the change of clothes he had come home to retrieve after finally leaving the Pentagon basement, where he had been all day. And I remember driving back into the city the next day and passing that gaping, still smoldering black hole in the side of the building.

That UAT is forever stamped on my heart.

But now I have a new stamp.

I will never forget this UAT either, but thankfully it will be a memory of joy. This one is all about progress. And hard work. And building community and opportunity. And it marks the beginning of the end of a time I spent working side-by-side with the people who are actually making a real difference in the world.

When we go live our field staff will finally have the tools they need to really extend into the deepest rural areas of Kenya and reach more farmers. More farmers will make more money for their families. More families will send their kids to school. More kids will pull themselves out of poverty.


I know technology can’t save the world.

And here it’s only one small part of one organization impacting one cause of poverty in one country.

But it IS one of the pieces of the puzzle, no matter how tiny. And what other option do we have besides working hard to fill the gaps in the puzzle, piece by tiny little piece?

I’ve run two UATs. I want more of this one and less of the last one. More building, less destroying.



28 5 / 2013

Oh, hey. I moved too.

Awesome things about my new crib? (in no particular order)

 - Crazy hot water

 - Crazy good water pressure despite my being on the 3rd (4th if you’re American) floor

 - Crazy reliable generators

 - 6 minute walk to work

 - 6 minute walk to the Nicole’s Soul Train crossft box

 - An ice cube maker in the fridge!

 - And….are you sitting down…the ladies come to clean. Every. Single. Day. If that’s not luxury I don’t know what is…

Yours Truly,

Feeling lucky, very, very lucky…

26 5 / 2013

Juhudi is growing. Fast. And the old head office was a bit tired, was bursting a the seams (literally…the floor gave up and started buckling beneath our feet two weeks ago) and oh by the way, had a terribly unreliable internet connection. That’s no good when the company is gutting its IT infrastructure and moving everything to the cloud.

So. We moved!

Move out day involved a lot of men doing manly things.


And it involved moving into bright beautiful new spaces.


And isn’t that part of the allure of the move? It’s a time to go through all your old belongings and ask yourself, “Do I really need this? When was the last time I used this? Isn’t this just cluttering up my life?”

And so we de-cluttered and threw out the old and kept only what we needed to move into this new phase for Juhudi (or what is required by law). We aren’t just an incubated social program anymore, we aren’t just testing the market to see what products farmers want or need. No. We have a proven model to help farmers achieve their goals and help their families earn  more income and gain security in their well-being. And now it’s time to scale.

So we’re scraping off those barnacles of a philanthropically funded NGO and we’re looking to the future. The team is implementing new systems to help enable data-driven decisions. The staff have metrics and KPIs to hit and are rewarded not for intention but for actual results - how many new farmers are they reaching? How satisfied are the farmers? This new office somehow marks a turn in the evolution of the company. From a social test to a proven business.

The best part about turning that corner? It’s not the extra space or amenities of the new office. No. It’s that the kind of decisions the team is making has changed. In the first Board meeting held in the new office we debated the various ways we could pass along new benefits to our clients, given Juhudi’s profitability. Should we lower interest rates? Offer more agricultural training? Cover the mobile money fees that our clients would otherwise bear when using mPesa to receive their loans?

The options are many. But the very fact that we can even *have* this discussion - “Juhudi is making money, so how do we share these profits with the farmers that we exist to serve?”  - well, that’s the best part of the new office. We’ve de-cluttered and thrown out the old NGO ways. And now we’re serving the poor like a proper business, and we’re ready to scale.

14 5 / 2013


09 5 / 2013


Have you heard? Nicole likes guys with beards.

08 5 / 2013

"Hey smell this."

"Uh, what? Why?"

"Do you think my shirt smells a little mildewy? Smell it." [sticks shirtsleeve under friends nose]

[smells shirt, makes confused face] “No, it smells fine. What are you talking about?”

"I dunno. I think it smells moldy. I don’t think the girl who cleans our house is doing the laundry right - a lot of my clothes end up smelling like mildew after she washes them."

"Oh. So when the girl comes to your house to clean up after you, she hand washes your dirty clothes…and sometimes they smell funny?"

"Exactly! What the hell…"

"And did you have trouble sleeping last night because of the pea under your mattress?"

Right. Good point.

Speaker 1 was played by me, the jerk.

Speaker 2 was played by the co-founder of www.wowowo.ke.co, pronounced “woah, woah, woah” not “wow o wow”

28 4 / 2013

Happy Easter

(When one can’t go to Uganda for a long weekend one might opt to spend Easter in Kitale. And in Kitale they have very odd tourist attractions.)

24 4 / 2013

"Fahim! If you can get some days off at Easter we should use the long weekend to whitewater raft in Uganda, right!? We can just pop over the border. I can’t even stand it, this is going to be so much fun!"

"I can’t. They don’t give visas on arrival to Pakistanis. I’d have to come to Nairobi first and get a visa, and you know I can’t get the days off."

US passport holder: 1

Pakistani passport holder: 0

 ”Fahim! I’ve been thinking about the places where you can work post fellowship. Don’t you think IDB is the best bet? You can do impact investing *and* Islamic financing all together at once. Seems like the perfect place for you right?”

"It does sound perfect. Except they have country quotas and there are all ready a lot of Pakistanis working there. Now if I’d been born in the US or the UK…"

US passport holder: 2

Pakistani passport holder: 0

 ”Fahim! OK fine. If you can’t work at IDB then you could spend a few years with a US based private equity firm. You might have to defer Islamic financing for a few years but at least you’d re-sharpen your traditional investment skills right?”

"Seriously Nicole? Have you been paying attention!?* I can’t get a job with a US private equity firm because I don’t have the right kind of visa."

US passport holder: 3

Pakistani passport holder: 0

So let’s review. Because someone is born in a country like Pakistan and they have Pakistani “papers” it suddenly becomes far more difficult for them to get the jobs they want or even to travel freely between countries. And yet, any random dude born in a “developed” (aka “white”) country like the US or somewhere in Europe can basically waltz right into whatever country they want and apply for a job and have their eligibility for said job be evaluated based on (are you sitting down for this? things are about to get crazy) their qualifications! Not their birthplace!

It makes me want to scream. It. makes. me. want. to. fucking. scream.

When are we going to stop defining each other based on our skin color or the country in which we were born? Aren’t we more than that? Shouldn’t we be judged based on what’s in our hearts and how we treat each other? No…it’s clearly much easier to just scan the crowd for the ones with brown skin and keep them in the back.


Fahim is about a thousand times nicer than I am so obviously he would never say, “Seriously Nicole? Have you been paying attention!?” That was me taking a bit of artistic license with our chats. Carry on.

21 4 / 2013

About two weeks ago I got legal. No more temporary visas, no more special passes. All my immigration paperwork was processed and I was awarded a one-year work permit. Holler.

One of the side benefits of getting a work permit is that I can also apply for a resident card which will allow me to get discounts in all the National parks - this is quite exciting since my first proper visitors are booking flights this week. However, in order to acquire this golden pass I had to apply in person at the immigration office downtown.

Immigration. Where law-abiding citizens age for hours and days and weeks in line until they are so tired and beaten down that they can’t even remember why they went to the office in the first place.

Although I was ready for a litany of bureaucratic and ever-changing requirements I was pleasantly surprised when I only got rejected by the man behind the iron-barred immigration counter once. My application was rejected because my two (2) passport sized photos had been shot against a pale grey background, instead of (as he so artistically stated) a “snow white background.” I tried to explain to him that in the US snow in the city is often the color of my passport photo - dirty and grey and almost never white. He was not amused. He told me to get out of line.

Annoyed but not surprised by this turn of events I went outside and asked one of the security guards where I could get new passport photos printed. I expected him to give me the location of some photo shop several blocks away. But instead he said, “Oh just wait right here.”

I did, and suddenly an enterprising young man came up and introduced himself to me and led me to the bus stop across the street. There, in the corner of the matatu stage where it reeked of urine and other unmentionables this gentleman took my photo. I began to protest and tried to share my requirement of a white background, but before the words left my mouth this man’s business partner stepped behind me and held up a white sheet for the photo.

This was not their first rodeo.

The team disappeared to some undisclosed location to print the photos and 10 minutes and 500 shillings later I had 2 new passport photos in my hand.

I don’t want to think about the various agreements that  may or may not be set up to share this photo revenue between the guys with the cameras, the security guards, or even the immigration officers. Instead I like to think that these young men simply saw a market gap, and filled it.

Hurray for the hustle.