Josh Bicknell first emailed me just before Christmas 2011. Him and his business partner, Doug, were both in their mid-twenties and were bored of the conventional employment and volunteering opportunities available to young people in the UK. They came together with a hunch that young people from around the world could join together and push opportunities through enterprise.

This is the 5-minute story of Balloon Kenya.

Hats off to Josh and Doug. Epic work and a testament to what can be achieved with an idea, vision, determination and hard work!

The pitch? Balloon Kenya brings exceptional young people from around the world to work in Kenya for 6 weeks with budding local entrepreneurs. Together, these international teams imagine, test and refine new business ideas.

They then fund the best of these ideas and help the Kenyan businesses to grow. They believe that supporting youth entrepreneurship is the most sustainable way to tackle poverty and create change.

So, how did they start?

In Summer 2012 they ran their first programme. 16 International Fellows headed to Kenya to work with around 350 budding Kenyan entrepreneurs. At the end of the programmes they invested £4880 in 20 new ventures.

Although there were challenges and not all the businesses grew smoothly – the success of Freddy’s Silage enterprise or Temako’s waste to fertiliser business gave them hope and confidence for what this could become.

Ramping up in Year 2 / 2013

This Summer they were back in Kenya with 52  young people from across the world. They had 22 people on their  June programme. Then 30 new Fellows flew out in August to work in both Nakuru and a new town, Molo. This year they invested over £13,000 in 60 businesses ranging from fish farming to rice importing to lunch delivery services.

In May they won a grant from the Nominet Trust to take the entrepreneurship content they have been developing and put it online. They have also just won a grant from the Forward Foundation to train up a group of 10 Kenyan Master Trainers who will then support budding entrepreneurs in their communities.

Who has been taking part?

20 different countries have been represented on the programme so far including: Israel, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, China, Ireland, Japan, Iran, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Cameroon, Germany, USA, France, UK, Mexico, Malaysia, Antigua.

Worried that the cost of the programme might reduce access they offered a number of scholarships and encouraged universities to sponsor students. UK universities Plymouth, UCL, Aston and Northampton financially supported 27 of their top students to join the programme. This means over 50% of this year’s Fellows were on scholarships and 46% paid £0 to take part.

Have any Escapees been getting involved?

Meet Jeremy Brown…

After finishing his degree in Design and Goldsmiths, University of London, he saw Balloon Kenya on our site and successfully applied. Whilst in Kenya with Balloon Kenya he visited a school and realised he wanted to help develop educational standards in the local community.

All it takes is a spark

It was in Kenya that Jeremy decided to found Chalkboard Kenya. They take aspiring teachers from the UK and connect them with Kenyan students and schools.

Their mission has started in Busia, on the Kenyan/Ugandan border, at Mama Orphans Children’s Home teaching young Kenyan orphans. They’re looking for volunteer teachers to join them for 6 week projects in Kenya in 2014 (you have to cover your own costs & contribute to running costs of the orphanage.)

Making the most of a good idea

Back to Josh, Doug and Balloon. Not content with one country Balloon Chile took off last week. For more information visit the website –

They are also exploring programmes in Malawi, Uganda, Sri Lanka and Vietnam so get in touch with them if you can help out here.

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Want to get involved?

We reckon this is a remarkable opportunity for anyone wanting to develop business and consultancy skills, get real experience doing international development and embark on a big challenge.

There are three 2014 Programmes (pay-to-participate) now open for applications.

Applications close on November 11th.

Siku njema! (have a nice day)

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