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The Do-Good Startups of Nairobi

With plenty of poverty, terrible health care, and a mild Mediterranean-like climate, Nairobi has become a raucous magnet for socially minded millennials
Koczela in traffic on her way to a Penda clinic.
Koczela in traffic on her way to a Penda clinic.Photographer: Pete Muller for Bloomberg Businessweek

Stephanie Koczela arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010, when everyone was moving fast and breaking things. She had been working for the microlender Kiva in Nairobi, Kenya, and transferred to the company’s South of Market headquarters to build its global field operations. For an ambitious twentysomething with an interest in development issues, it seemed like a dream job. The work was engaging, but Koczela was miserable. She longed to be back in Nairobi, where expat entrepreneurs were launching startups of their own.

In Africa, “you are surrounded by people that are living a very fun, very hard life,” Koczela says. “You are working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at least. Most people are working to 1 a.m. to make phone calls back to the U.S. If you text someone at 10 and say, ‘Do you know how to do this Excel calculation?’ they will call you right back.” Koczela expected that same camaraderie in San Francisco but found it had been more vibrant in Nairobi.