Gabriella Kisoi may be only 18 but she’s an IT graduate and CEO of a clean-technology company modernizing informal marketplaces in Kenya through efficient, solar-powered vegetable stalls.
Together with her college partners, Winnie Mashirima, 21, and Martin Yegon, 24, she co-founded Kool Kibanda while studying Bachelor of Business and Information Technology at Africa Nazarene University in Nairobi. Gabriella graduated last year, alongside Winnie, while Yegon is due this year.
Through Kool Kibanda, the three have designed and come up with custom-made market stalls with a cold storage unit for preserving fruits and vegetables and fully powered by solar panels as a single package. Their goal is to transform filthy marketplaces by replacing rickety stalls with hygienic, licensed and organised shops, while cutting spoilage losses with solar refrigeration and lighting.
“Our kibandas are able to transform the informal marketplace in the following ways; they’re preservative and profitable as they come with a cold storage unit, reducing spoilage, they’re easy to clean and are secure because they contain lockable compartments for fruits and veggies,” Gabriella said in an interview.
She says the goal was to give the stalls a modern touch and feel, while at the same time maintaining the traditional vibe of vibandas (Swahili word for informal stalls).
Most small-scale vendors in informal set-ups suffer huge losses whenever business is slow and they have no preservation equipment, whose high cost remains a barrier.
Yet for a daily rent of $3 (Sh300) for the Kool Kibanda, the traders can now have refrigeration and much more to preserve their perishables for up to two weeks, according to Gabriella.
As a deal sweetener, the social entrepreneurs have gone ahead to arrange for a licence for traders renting the Kool Kibanda, effectively bringing them into the formal bracket. The formal status is expected to increase the creditworthiness of smalltime traders often shunned by lenders, and access to funds.
“Our mission is that we will not stop until each and every fruit and vegetable vendor across sub-Saharan Africa has access to this tool of empowerment,” said Gabriella.
The three innovators were among the top six finalists in the Hult Prize in the Dubai challenge and spent $2,000 (Sh200,000) on their prototype.
“You don’t have to burn through stacks of cash to create an innovative product. It’s not just about the black ink, rather sustainable, green products, truly beneficial to humanity and the planet,”
The climate-smart stalls, with zero carbon, come with LED screens for advertising, sockets and LED lights.
The concept has been successfully piloted in Kajiado and is now set to be spread to informal markets in Nairobi.
“The vendors in Kajiado said they saw huge improvements with the shelf life of their goods and had more satisfied customers purchasing their products since it stayed fresh,” said Gabriella.
The group’s long-term vision is to spread reach to all markets across sub-Saharan Africa. They have since inked a partnership deal with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry for goodwill as they spread their tentacles to city markets, including estate kiosks.
Through the rollout of the solar-powered stalls, Gabriella reckons that they’re playing their fair share of climate action.
“We believe that the most effective way to change the world or reverse the tide of climate change isn’t so much about activism, but rather going out there, innovating and creating meaningful change through products and ideas.”