Wharton MBA Students Help a Kenyan Organic Honey Business

Below, read the diary of the students in Kenya.  The students wrote a business plan, financial model and also set up a foundation to allow the business to pursue its desire to reforest the area. We will post a summary of the business plan they wrote next week.


Greetings from Africa!

We reached Nairobi yesterday and things have been great. Yesterday was spent in socializing and getting our body clocks on to the Kenyan time zone. We met with Dr. Mukuria from Refuge and his wife who showed us around. We also visited a local Giraffe Park and saw the African Giraffes in their natural habitat.

Today we had our first meeting at the Refuge Headquarters. It has been a very steep learning curve and we are extremely excited to be here.


We left Nairobi and arrived in Narok, a small town along the Great Rift Valley just outside of the Mau Forest. We visited an elder of the Ogiek Tribe, who, along with Dr. Mukuria, is the visionary behind the idea of selling the honey his community collects. The business plan we construct will support honey sales to provide the Ogiek with an alternative source of income. The community lives in extreme poverty. The elder lives in the slums of Narok with his wife and six children and they live on $6/day in a corrugated aluminum shack. He welcomed us into his home and that is where we conducted our first business meeting.


We drove three hours along a wide, washed-out dirt road to get to the Mau Forest. We passed through the farmlands of East Mau, which are primarily the source of the deforestation in the area. We then met with members of the Ogiek who live at the edge of the forest.They took us on a hike into the forest to collect honey. The Mau is a natural pharmacy. Our Ogiek guides pointed out roots that act like Neosporin, tree bark that cures colds and nuts that they mix with honey to treat stomach issues. We watched as an Ogiek elder rubbed sticks of wood together to lite brush on fire he used to smoke the bees out of their hive. He then stuck his entire arm into the hive to collect the honeycombs. We tasted the raw honeycomb that will later be filtered into Mau Forest “Highland” Honey.


Our Ogiek guides invited us into their homestead where we planted three seedlings in their tree nursery. We were invited to sit inside a mud hut where we asked our guides and the elder of the homestead many questions about their culture, community and concerns about deforestation in the Mau Forest.

The Ogiek culture is interesting and ancient.  They are a peaceful people who believe anger is a disease. The community consists of only 10,000 people, many of whom live in cities now instead of the forest. Many have been relocated but they still rely heavily on honey and subsistence farming. They are very open to ideas of how to preserve their culture, which cannot be separated from the preservation of the Mau.

5/21 – 5/22

After visiting the Mau Forest, our team traveled to the nearby Maasai Mara National Reserve to explore a potential market for the honey product. The Massai Mara is by far the largest tourist attraction in Kenya with approximately 290,000 visitors per year. Hotels in the Reserve are thus a significant potential market for REFUGE’s locally produced honey. In addition, the Mau and Reserve ecosystems are closely intertwined. The primary source of water for Reserve wildlife is the Mara River that originates in the Mau Forest. Any disruption of the ecosystem within the Mau Forest would directly impact that of the Reserve.

We arranged meetings with several hotel managers to gain insight into the Reserve’s tourism market. From these conversations, we were able to map out the hotels’ sourcing strategies (most products are shipped in from Nairobi) and customer bases for similar honey products. Additionally, as we researched more about the culture of the Maasai people, we learned the Maasai once sourced Ogiek honey to produce honey wines used in traditional Maasai ceremonies. Our trip to the Reserve truly shed light on how intertwined the Mau Forest is with this area of Kenya.


The team arrived in Nairobi on sunday night and geared for the second phase of the project. With the first week completed, the team now has a good understanding of the people, processes and environmental aspects of the project. In the coming week, the team will put their nose to the grindstone to start developing the full business plan. This will include meeting a number of hotel purchasing managers and conducting financial and strategic analyses for the business. Our goal for the remainder of our time in Kenya is to construct an in-depth, actionable business plan that the Ogieks can use build themselves a sustainable future.


While a sales experiment in the short span of time was not possible, the team was able to visit the potential collaborators in Nairobi and obtain valuable selling data points from them. The Wharton brand opened many doors and got our team into meetings with several top hotels in Nairobi. We were able to have a candid chat with a renowned head chef who was also a Penn Alum. From this we learned a number of insights about the restaurant market in Nairobi, where REFUGE could potentially supply specialty honey for tea and desserts.

5/25 – 5/26

Back in Nairobi, we worked as efficiently as possible to complete the time-challenged task of writing the business plan. The team members paired-off to continue gathering information from Nairobi hotel purchasing and gift shop managers, and to rigorously work at the hotel on the final plan. As the plan unfolded, it became evident that there was a solid business case for the market potential for REFUGE’s honey in hotel gift shops and restaurants. It was impressive to see the significance of the growing trend towards locally sourced and environmentally friendly products. One hotel, even had a “green team” with full-time resources allocated to oversee and improve the hotel’s environmental impact. We were cognizant to emphasize the number of lives that could be positively impacted by the potential sales of Mau Forest Honey.


It was with a great satisfaction that we were able to hand over an in depth business plan, complete with a 5-year financial model. In addition, we were also able to provide a foundation for supporting the social impact vision of reforestation. We are confident that given the projections of honey sales over 3 years, Refuge will help plant over 16,000 indigenous trees in the Mau and help increase the average income of the Ogieks by up to 65%!

Whats happening in the Mau today?
Here is the latest update on Honey sales; exactly one month after.
June 27

More about Refuge and Zanaa Africa

Mukuria’s Blog

WIVP website

One response to “Wharton MBA Students Help a Kenyan Organic Honey Business

  1. Pingback: Wharton MBA students write business plan for Kenyan honey farm | IGEL @ Wharton

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