PKG Fellowships: Ben Hoyle (G), Part I

Ben Hoyle just completed his Master in Architecture at MIT. During summer 2021, he is piloting Kivuli, a social enterprise he co-founded in Nairobi which is focused on supporting workers in the informal manufacturing sector, known as Jua Kali. Ben’s goal with Kivuli is to facilitate contracts between informal workers and the construction industry, ensuring fair pay, a sustainable source of income, and access to capacity building services. In addition to being a PKG Fellow, Ben is a 2021 grantee of the PKG Center’s IDEAS Social Innovation Challenge.

My work this summer is to build a small venture I recently cofounded in Kenya, called Kivuli. The goal of Kivuli is to connect artisans working in Nairobi’s informal manufacturing sector with larger-scale contracts in the local construction industry. Artisans already produce goods like steel doors and windows, which are used in small buildings. However, their products and services are lacking in certain standards that make larger-scale developers unwilling to buy them. Kivuli seeks to address these shortcomings, while maintaining artisans’ agency and the role of craftsmanship in production. 

I spent the first week of my fellowship catching up with the project (which I’d put on the back burner while finishing up my thesis in May) and reorienting myself relative to the goals I had set out in my application. This included revising and rewriting my plan in more detail, and starting to read the books and papers I accumulated during the first phase of my research but didn’t have a chance to dive into. A big accomplishment was in working with Ingo Michelfelder on lean impact measurement for Kivuli. He has a system (codified in an intricate Google sheet) that I started to fill in with the impact measures I’ve had in mind for my work. It really helped my thinking to put on paper exactly what I hope to accomplish with Kivuli, alongside quantifiable metrics I can use to track progress. We want to help as many artisans as possible, but we also want to give them resources and connections that will give them sustained gains in the long-term. It will be important for us to strike a balance between the number we are able to help, and the resilience of our support. 

What’s also been important at this stage is to develop refine the hypothesis behind our work. What exactly is the heart of our intervention, and what impact do we think it will have? For the time being, we’ve tended towards a multi-pronged perspective, in assuming that the best way to connect Nairobi’s informal artisans to the construction sector is by helping them with everything from signing contracts to fabricating products. What’s to come will be a process of checking assumptions and adding detail to them. I look forward to bringing our project back from the high-level thinking we’d been focusing on during the IDEAS competition last semester, to the city and people on the ground that it’s all for. 

Another development has been in planning out as a series of workshops for this summer. We’d originally wanted to run a pilot program, where we would choose a product type for artisans to produce for a client, then run through the process of manufacturing it at a large scale. In my most recent conversations with developers, however, I’ve come to realize that finding the best product for artisans to work on with developers will require a collaborative process. We cannot predetermine the best thing for artisans to produce, nor can we be sure of what kind of product will most appeal to developers. 

In the new framework, we’ll rent an industrial space for one month, and in that time schedule between 4 and 6 day-long work sessions. A developer or architect will lead each session with a product they need for one of their upcoming projects, specifying requirements. They will then spend the day with each of the artisans present, sketching out ideas and building mockups. 

For one, this format will help us determine the best product for collaboration, and lay the groundwork for future contracts. Additionally, I think it stands to garner enthusiasm from both artisans and developers, and help both sides see the potential in working together. We’ll also be able to use the space we rent for additional collaborations with like-minded organizations, and make room for things to happen that we couldn’t predict. 

I’m excited about this new approach and am starting to figure out the details necessary to make it happen.

Interested in doing a PKG Fellowship? Learn more about the program and how to apply by clicking here.

Tags: Fellowships Summer 2021, IDEAS, IDEAS 2021, PKG Fellowships

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