Co-founder of kukua, Sabrina Bagus, with entrepreneur Julius Muwonge.

This Berlin start-up is empowering African entrepreneurs with expert advice…

ITR8 Berlin
Feb 6, 2017 · 4 min read

The Berlin start-up scene is saturated with mobile and fin-tech companies all competing to be the next big thing. But take a closer look to see some real game-changers in the mix — start-ups with true social impact.

One example is kukua, a social start-up co-founded by Sabrina Bagus. We hosted kukua as our first start-up-in-residence at ITR8 — our way of supporting sustainable entrepreneurship through business consulting and co-working resources. We recently sat down with Sabrina to find out why she is on a mission to make a difference…

1. Why did you decide to create kukua?

While working in my former corporate job, I suddenly felt a need to do something meaningful. The typical Gen Y mindset, some might say.

At first I thought creating an NGO would be the solution. After diving deeper, I started to see the game that’s played with developing countries, using them as a money machine based on pity, concealment and corruption. I realised that donations don’t provide sustainable support for developing countries, and that I’d need to find another strategy to create lasting change.

With my former colleague Semir, and the help of local university professors and sociologists, we developed a concept for a social enterprise. The goal: to provide long-term support to people in developing countries, independent from governments or donations.

Co-founder of kukua, Sabrina Bagus

2. And how is kukua providing this support?

We pair entrepreneurs in developing countries with business experts from German companies, to provide practical support through a skill exchange. For the German experts, their companies enrol in our program as an economic and impactful HR component. It not only helps to retain and motivate their employees, it also adds to their overall CSR strategy.

We use our international network to match the entrepreneurs with experts, providing support for the exchange in the first month, as well as ongoing coaching and intercultural training.

3. What have been the highlights so far?

People’s willingness to help! I used to work in the media industry, so I wasn’t really used to this level of support and generosity.

The other biggest highlight has been the journey to expand our network in Africa — especially Kenya and Uganda. It was awesome to travel to places and witness the contrast of tradition and technology. For example, most roads in capital cities weren’t even paved, but you could still order food online. No Google maps, so the delivery guys phone you for directions!

Truly intercultural — kids in the Katanga slum of Kampala, Uganda.

4. How can you measure the impact of kukua’s work?

Measuring results is an important part of our concept. We don’t just want to create social impact, but also prove that our service has real monetary benefit for the German companies as well.

To measure the impact for the developing countries, we stay in touch with the entrepreneurs to frequently evaluate their progress. For the participating German companies, we start and finish our projects with an anonymous survey on work-life balance and employee satisfaction, to measure the changes in an objective way.

Furthermore, we conduct surveys and one-on-one interviews throughout the program to gain feedback from both participants — to resolve any issues and ensure both participants are getting the best experience from the program.

5. What is the hardest thing about being a social business?

Being taken seriously!

As soon as the word ‘social’ is in your business concept, the industry thinks your work is worth less. We are competing with companies that charge several thousand Euros per day, for similar employee development programs. However we still face resistance from clients, who question why they have to pay for our services at all! Just because we’re a ‘social’ business.

If you want to be successful as social startup, you have to prove your outcomes even more than usual. Use KPIs, evaluations, interviews and supporting documents to affirm the impact of your work. And always remember — if you have developed a social project with proven outcomes, your impact is worth much more than industry wants you to believe.

Establishing cooperations with a Ugandan microfinance organisation.

6. Advice for someone wanting to create social impact?

Do the groundwork. Spend time researching and proving your business concept and accept constructive criticism.

What problem do you want to solve? Are you really creating a solution? Or is it just a nice-to-have? And then — dig deeper. Don’t be content with the first solution you might find. Think of all the geographical, cultural, logistical aspects involved.

Another way to create change is to join our program at kukua! We’re always looking for companies that want to create sustainable impact.

Do you know a social start-up making a difference? Nominate them to be our next start-up-in-residence!

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