Balloon ICS is an amazing project not just because of the support it allows us to provide to our entrepreneurs, but because it brings together diverse, international teams of young people from around the world.
Each ICS team comprises volunteers from the UK as well as local, in-country volunteers who bring their own set of skills to the group, along with their vital local knowledge.
In this, the first in a series of regular posts about the inspirational people who make Balloon’s work possible, we caught up with in-country volunteer Alum, Ekoom Stephen, who has used his experience with Balloon ICS to grow a social enterprise of his own.
Before joining Balloon ICS, Ekoom felt lost, trying to figure out how to get his idea of The Farmers Guide Uganda off the ground. His idea was to offer agricultural consultancy and agribusiness training and investment to help solve the huge unemployment problem in Uganda. We asked him what first motivated him to apply:
“I applied for several reasons. Firstly, to cool off the stress I had encountered trying to build this company with no capital, no team and no clear plan for success. Secondly, I was inspired to do the programme to get experience working in a cross-cultural team, working within communities and building skills in business for myself, and passing these opportunities on to entrepreneurs.”
In fact, having experienced the programme once, Ekoom decided to apply again in 2016, this time as an ICS Team Leader, “after realising how great the first experience had been”.
Ekoom saw that becoming a team leader would help him improve his management skills and, as a graduate in Development Studies, allowed him to act in line with his believe that economic empowerment is a major key to development.
“The programme is such an amazing opportunity that shapes you into an asset of not only your local community but the global community as a whole. You can never be the same after doing the programme and it has been so important to my personal development. I was able to meet great young minds from both Uganda and the UK and these are friends who have helped me shape my own enterprise by advising and setting up partnerships.”
"Balloon has made me realise that through entrepreneurship we can actually solve poverty and the unemployment problem in the world."
Balloon ICS is a programme that not only has an impact on individual businesses, but which is changing entire communities by creating networks of young people who are determined to make a difference in their world.
We asked Ekoom what he had achieved since finishing his time as a Team Leader with Balloon ICS:
“I was able to rethink my idea and my approach after reading and being trained in the Balloon enterprise curriculum, and of course getting support and advice from Balloon friends. This has helped the company grow from just being a Facebook page guiding farmers to a full consultancy firm offering several services and products.
We’ve worked hard to get great feedback on our first projects, and now have contracts from other companies, NGOs and farmers groups because of how we offer our service.
Since then, we’ve also managed to turn over 15 million shillings (about £3,100 at time of writing) through offering support to aspiring agripreneurs for 9 month cycles.”
This is obviously an impressive achievement from a standing start with no capital, and it’s great to see that Ekoom has used the principles of the Balloon curriculum – Learn – Create – Test – to fuel his business growth.
With such extraordinary growth under his belt already, we asked Ekoom what was next for The Farmers Guide:
“I’m currently building the company and trying to come up with a winning team and strategy that will see the company move into Impact Investing, creating jobs and markets for the farmers we work with.”
And, has Ekoom’s experience with Balloon changed him and his aspirations?
“Balloon has made me realise that through entrepreneurship we can actually solve poverty and the unemployment problem in the world.”
Well, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves!
If you are interested in joining Balloon ICS, either as a volunteer from the UK or from Kenya or Uganda, then please visit the Balloon ICS webpage for more information and details on how to apply.
If you’re a Balloon alumni with a great story to tell, we’d love to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.