‘The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.’
– Chinese Proverb
Leroy Mwasaru knows he has given his 18-year-old brother, Leon, deep shoes to fill. “The ceiling’s already broken for him, and it’s up to him to exceed what I’ve done – from his perspective it’s clear that things can be done; it’s not about dreaming, it’s about doing,” he says pragmatically.
The 20-year-old social entrepreneur from Kenya is one of ALA’s freshest alumni, having graduated on Friday along with his peers from the Class of 2016. Dreams, he says, were a recurring theme at ALA. “Most times, even during graduation, we were told that if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. We all dream, but it’s all about doing something that chases that dream…”
Leroy knows a thing or two about making dreams come true. Graduating from ALA is tough enough, yet he did so with the distinction of being named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in the Business sector, in recognition of his award-winning startup, GreenPact. This social enterprise, which started as a high school project, offers Biogas renewable solutions to institutions and rural and peri-urban homes in Kenya. The company has since expanded operations and outreach, with three branches – in Nairobi, Western Kenya and Coastal Kenya – and is currently focusing on providing for small-scale farmers and institutions. This initiative saw Leroy walk off as Pioneer African winner for the Harvard Social Innovation Collaborative held at Harvard University, with his work featured by CNN, Forbes, Huffington Post, CCTV America, Grist and various Kenyan print and broadcast media.
‘Most times, even during graduation, we were told that if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.
We all dream, but it’s all about doing something that chases that dream…’
Not bad for a boy from Eastlands, who credits his mother’s strict parenting for his successes. “My mum was the police: she set rules and curfews that basically modelled me; I would have turned out very different otherwise,” he reveals.
Leroy is undoubtedly different to his hometown peers. “Things that excite people in my age bracket, don’t necessarily excite me,” he says. “Fun there was staying up late, doing drugs, playing around with girls, clubbing… I grew up knowing that that’s not my kind of fun.” Fun, for Leroy, is what led to his entrepreneurial success. “I had this habit in high school: I used to walk around with a notebook, noting down different problems and possible solutions; that was fun for me. I thought other people would maybe be doing the same, and I thought it was normal; I didn’t think I was being extra,” he laughs.
Identifying problems and seeking practical solutions is an ALA ethos, and Leroy’s two-year tenure at this leading African educational institution only served to enhance his innovative streak. A self-described ‘reader by day, writer by night,’ Leroy not only honed his writing skills with a regular Huffington Post blog post highlighting his journey at ALA, he also piloted and founded an alternative summer program, CampBuni: a five-day Human Centred, Design Thinking camp for teenagers.
“I thought: instead of applying to summer programs in the US, why not create our own? I spent three days in my dorm coming up with a curriculum,” he recalls. This offering is very different to ALA’s entrepreneurial BUILD-in-a-Box camp. It was my Original Idea for Development (a requirement for Year 1’s Entrepreneurial Learning course) and initially meant to be Student Enterprise (SE), but didn’t make the list.
Leroy enlisted a few classmates, eventually making up a team of 11 to run the first camp. “It exceeded expectations – we even got awarded the Resolution Project Fellowship,” he says. The Fellowship, granted at the 2017 One Young World Summit in Bogota, accompanies a $3 000 grant and mentorship. CampBuni’s success also led to Leroy’s invitation to participate in UNLEASH, a global innovation lab centred on the UN SDG, at which he was the youngest participant.
“CampBuni’s long-term goal that it won’t be just an annual camp; with backing from our corporate partners, its offerings will include training for pre-university scholars in different skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, design thinking. We’re also looking forward to engaging schools in the long run with weekly innovation labs, and we see ourselves in the consultancy space in the long run, working with governments and NGOs on how to engage youth and scholars, and how they could make design-thinking education accessible to youth,” notes Leroy.
CampBuni is now a registered limited liability company, bringing the number of businesses Leroy manages – along with Greenpact and a Fast Moving Good (chilli) and Distribution Company he co-manages with his mother, Petronilla, a fashion designer by profession – to three.
Then there’s CommCycle, the student enterprise he co-founded in his first year at ALA. This online platform enables members of the ALA community to give, sell or buy items amongst themselves, and was named the best Performing SE, and Leroy is determined to make sure it outlives his tenure.
“The normal shelf life of a SE is 2 years, and we put a lot of energy into ensuring CommCycle’s sustainablity; we had a group of dedicated Year 1s shadowing us from second term, and we’re very confident with the work they’ll do,” explains Leroy.
Accolades and Awards
The accolades and awards are not going to his head, though: “My mum always told me that the moment you allow the fame to get into your head, that’s the beginning of your downfall – so these different awards, fellowships, and recognition is a check, a knowing that this can be done to many other people like me,” notes Leroy.
“At times I force myself or nudged by my mentors to look back and reflect what I really want. Because after the One Young World conference last year, I had just turned 20, and I felt a heavy sense of responsibility – not just to achieve, but to make sure a couple of things are done for the world. I don’t necessarily want to change the world, I just want to make the world suck less…”
The burden of responsibility is one ALA graduates are only too keenly aware of. “The expectation and responsibility is now at heart, maintain and utilizing the connections made here and build new connections while continuing to add worth to the collective mission of ALA,” he says.
‘My mum always told me that the moment you allow the fame to get into your head, that’s the beginning of your downfall’
Graduation, adds Leroy, was an affirmation of his journey. “Recurring thoughts this past week was of the immense amount of social capital at ALA that I walk away with and share; I’ve been breathing rare air for two years, and it’s now a responsibility for me personally to duplicate what the world should really look like.”
This does not mean that he is too too keen on starting any initiatives for now. “It’s addictive but I will refrain so I can optimise operations on the ground to a level I’m satisfied with,” he says. He’ll be taking a year off to stabilise and enhance his businesses, then resume studies next year, majoring in Econometrics and Behavioural Science.
For now, he’s excited to be heading back home, spending time with family, and pandering to his weakness: watching sunsets. Oh, and of course, giving back: “I’m definitely going to spend a portion of my time volunteering – education is a cause close to my heart, and I want to serve the less priviledged, minority groups eucation on differnet social issues still affecting Kenyan communities.”