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37 THREE A Million Reasons Entrepreneurship Is Good for You LORNA RUTTO COLLECTS PLASTIC. She started doing this as a kid, crafting bits and pieces into earrings. Today she gathers a bit more. Like about 1,500 pounds of it. Per day. And instead of making earrings, she sorts and shreds the pieces, melts them down, pours the molten liquid into an injection molder, and manufactures plastic lumber. She makes poles, beams, and planks. These she sells for fencing; for flooring; for picnic tables; for livestock enclosures; for signage; for shipping pallets; for decks; for garden planters; for roofing. Rutto’s lumber does not rot. It does not need any chemical treatment, does not splinter, and is of no interest to termites and mold. It can outlive and outperform conventional wood timber. Rutto’s lumber can be found all over the place. Municipalities affix road signs to it. Fancy hotels, international banks, and national parks use it for fencing. Rutto has done well for herself. Newspapers, conference panels, and awards ceremonies have celebrated her story and innovative business model. And 100 percent recycled plastic lumber offers huge environmental benefits. Trash is recycled and trees saved. Rutto estimates that for every twenty-five posts made from recycled materials, she saves a mature cedar tree.1 38 PEACE THROUGH ENTREPRENEURSHIP Like many manufacturing operations, Rutto’s factory is in an industrial part of town. But the town is not Seattle, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or any eco-friendly, innovative metropolis. The town is Nairobi , Kenya. When Rutto founded EcoPost in 2010, the news out of Kenya was focused on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to investigate election-related violence that had killed 1,500 people and displaced hundreds of thousands in 2008. Those events had startled a world that viewed Kenya as East Africa’s economic rock. Tourism dropped off precipitously, decimating the country’s primary source of foreign currency.2 The ICC went on to charge Kenya’s leadership with crimes against humanity. In the next few years, tourism began to recover and a general election went off smoothly (despite an expectant, almost eager-for-failure Western press). But then came the September 2013 Westgate terror attack, in which more than sixty civilians were killed in an assault and subsequent siege at an upscale Nairobi shopping mall. The militant Islamist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were retaliation for Kenya’s military incursion into Somalia, where Kenyan and Somali forces were pursuing an al-Qaeda cell. Today, on top of environmental challenges (Nairobi generates over a million pounds of plastic trash a day), Kenya sits uneasy, facing worrying demographic and economic trends: “500,000 youth enter the job market every year with limited employment prospects,” laments EcoPost’s website. Unemployed youth are thought to be prime recruiting material for Kenya’s radical Muslim groups. Those who feared that Westgate was just a prelude were proven right in April 2015, when al-Shabaab struck Garissa University College in Kenya’s North Eastern Province toward the Somali border, killing at least 150.3 Lorna Rutto is doing something about the jobs crisis. Her factory pumps out plastic building materials a few miles from the Westgate site, adjacent to a horrific slum and near Eastleigh, a neighborhood dominated by Somali migrants, who, these days, fear harassment from Kenyan forces ostensibly on anti-terror patrol.4 Part of EcoPost’s mission is to “create sustainable jobs for people in marginalized communities,” and these entrepreneurial efforts are making an impact. Rutto employs a core staff of fifteen, but over 500 people pick plastic trash off of Nairobi’s streets and bring it to EcoPost. Rutto buys the scrap plastic at a per kilogram rate, thus providing wages to vast numbers who otherwise might be idle. A MILLION REASONS ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS GOOD FOR YOU 39 EcoPost is good for Kenya. As we will soon see, EcoPost—and the kind of entrepreneurship it represents—is also good for you, me, and the United States of America. This book is about why the U.S. government should spend more money supporting entrepreneurs like Rutto. If the United States could shift its international economic development resources—even slightly—so that more American aid dollars were directed to bolstering the entrepreneurship ecosystems that are essential to nurturing startups like EcoPost, then we would see a lot more EcoPosts. And that would be a very good thing. I jokingly say there are a million reasons entrepreneurship is good...


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