Mary Njoki: Glowing from the inside out

Mary Njoki
I had an idea of starting a company that embraced clear communication with its clients & employees Click To Tweet

Mary Njoki is a young leader in the entrepreneurship industry in Kenya. Unemployment is a major challenge faced by Kenyan youth but Mary Njoki defied the odds and began her own company. Glass House PR was created with a starting capital of around Ksh. 6,000 (around $57).

Having studied a different course work in college, she gained her first experience in the media when she interned with K Krew. Her internship ignited her love for Public Relations. Later, she secured a job with an Information Technology company that absorbed her as a marketer. In August 2012, she decided to begin her journey as an entrepreneur. Her contribution to the media industry has been impactful since then.

She admits that starting the company was not an easy and a smooth road. The first year of business was rough because she could not make money. Mary realized that there was a lot of groundwork needed for her company to gain establishment in the industry. Presently, her company has worked with the big companies such as Google and Facebook. Her company is award winning in Kenya and Africa. Mary has won an award in South Africa as a young female entrepreneur.

Who is Mary Njoki beyond Glass House PR?

I am a young woman who is a sanguine-phlegmatic. I seek to serve others while finding fulfillment. My temperament enables me to be social with people and learn from them.

I love prayer. I am a church leader and a sibling of one. Also, I am a leader of different associations in Africa in line with entrepreneurship like Africa Rise. My temperament comes in handy for her career because I able to be articulate and relatable to while addressing people on stage.

How did you create the name of your company?

When I planned to create my own company, I opted for expert opinion about my decision. I approached a brand manager who I told that I had an idea of starting a company that embraced clear communication with its clients and employees.

I was asked by the brand manager what I had in mind and I said, “I wanted clarity and transparency”. This was because of my previous experience at work where I consistently saw this as a challenge.

The manager wrote a list of names that brought out clarity and transparency. Once I saw Glass House PR I instantly realized that this would be the name I would work with.

The first year of Mary Njoki's business was rough, she could not make money Click To Tweet

How have events impacted Glass House PR?

I keep myself updated on the events that can develop the company. I also create events in line with marketing for our company which enables the company to grow.

What is the most important aspect of your life?

I think it is growth. I am actively seeking to grow mentally, physically and spiritually. Growth is key in developing a person holistically.

What is your advice for young people?

Always understand that life is about learning. This will help you grow. It is challenging to live in a world that is information centered. Our generation has a weakness of thinking that we know everything because there is a lot of information released for us. But learning to have an attitude of learning and interacting with people who can mentor you enables a person to grow.

Also, understanding that we live from the inside out. We ought to be people who feed ourselves from the inside out. We cannot give what we do not have. However, learning how to live from the inside out by feeding our souls and spirits makes us live as complete human beings.

Our generation has a weakness of thinking that we know everything because there is a lot of information Click To Tweet

How has Glass House PR impacted the society?

Glass House PR has developed a hangout for young entrepreneurs dubbed a billion start-up. A billion startup is a network of 100 entrepreneurs which enables people to learn and interact with other entrepreneurs for development of their company.

It has created a network for young entrepreneurs. Glass House PR is teaching young entrepreneurs on different levels without a fee. It is offering training for free for young entrepreneurs.

What is the future of Glass House PR?

Glass House PR will be the ultimate outlet for content in Africa. It will build more products to integrate the company as a content hub in Africa. I think that the world offers a platform for everyone to use their skills and improve the world. This gives everyone an audience of their own to become the best in their industry.

If people will live a life on the inside out they will achieve satisfaction. It will make people live true to themselves and the world. The attitude of living a life from the inside out will make a person glow. It will make them glow genuinely without faking anything as opposed to the common belief in the society. This will make people live honest lives that reflect who they are from the inside out.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Joyce Muthoni: Starting entrepreneurship at a young age has given me time to make mistakes

Joyce Muthoni
The name Viral Gorrrila came from a need to have our audience be curious about what we do Click To Tweet

She calls herself a spirited individual and she has accomplished a lot in a short span of time. Joyce Muthoni is the founder of Viral Gorrrila and has worked in her first business for 6 years.

She started her first business Proteque Consulting while still on campus, just before she graduated. After six years of running it, Joyce started a balloon business, retailing helium balloons. In under two years, her balloon business is now getting into retail stores and expanding into other regions in Kenya, after successfully setting up the Nairobi and Mombasa offices.

The balloon business led to the founding of Viral Gorrrila, a digital marketing agency. It was because of digital marketing activities that her balloon business grew its client base. Joyce quickly saw an opportunity to venture into an untapped industry and help companies gain more market share through digital activities.

Tell us why you choose the name Viral Gorrrila for your business.

Viral Gorrrila is a digital marketing company that deals with a number of things including website design, Google analytics, Google ads, social media marketing and advertising, and content development. I believe that content is king and conversion is queen. the coining of the name Viral Gorrrila came from a need to have our audience be intrigued, attracted and curious about what we do.

The essence of our work is to ensure that as many people as possible get to learn about our clients’ brands and services. The ‘viral’ bit is coined from this while ‘gorrrila’ came from the word guerilla in guerilla marketing. The goal of the company is to develop creative, captivating and memorable content for our clients and this is what guerilla marketing is about.

Our creative content seeks to fulfill this and create advocates out of the audience. The Viral Gorrrila term in its self-symbolizes disruption, doing things differently, changing the way digital marketing has been done in our country and helping our clients and other brands see the value of change. The “rrr” in Gorrrila reflects this.

Why do you say you’re a new kind of digital marketing agency? What makes you different?

There are a lot of agencies in the country, some with a wealth of experience and others starting out and learning the ropes as they go along. We have a strong team that is conversant with Google advertising and social media advertising.

We also have a deep focus on creative content development and we have ventured into animated productions in 2D and 3D for our clients and are pursuing a digital channel that will air only animated content made in Kenya. This will, later on, open up to airing content from the rest of Africa.

What exciting projects are you working on lately that you can share with us?

My work and keen interest in the animation field has led me to work with a local gaming and animation company that is making great strides in the market. I was approached by the Director of ISHAKA LLC, Mr. Sagwa Chabeda, to assist in the project concept and fundraising.

We are currently working on a gaming, animation and manga franchise that is set to take the African, European and American markets by storm. It is a bold statement to make but it is a viable endeavor. We have attracted interest from some international production and distribution companies who are looking for new content to market to the world.

The ball is in our court and we want to tell our African stories and help the world understand who we are, our cultures, traditions, and heritage. We want to give our viewers an authentic display of the different countries in Africa, one story at a time.

My keen interest in animation has led me to work with ISHAKA a local gaming & animation company Click To Tweet

You started your business while in school, what was your experience being a student entrepreneur?

I started my business in my final year of campus. I had some work experience previously in my father’s company and it was here that I made the decision not to pursue employment after my education. Understanding my personality and passion, I knew what my dreams were and I didn’t want to wait to pursue them.

The great thing about starting my business while I was still on campus was that I got business referrals from my fellow classmates who were older and already running their own businesses. I also received advice from them on business planning and execution. On the other hand, I was inexperienced in many things and my lack of experience cost me a lot of money and brought a lot of tears. I had no HR, finance or management skills. My background was in marketing. I had to quickly learn the ropes and continue to keep an open mind, learning attitude, build tough skin and pursue continuous development.

Starting entrepreneurship at a young age has given me time to make mistakes, understand my strengths and grow into the business woman I am today. I am now very clear on what I can and cannot do and this has helped me to avoid taking up projects that I know I will not be able to adequately serve. Starting early has also been beneficial in giving me time to grow my network and I can confidently say I am a very resourceful person.

I have come to appreciate the pains and pleasures of entrepreneurship and I have a big heart for those who want to venture into business. I appreciated the assistance I got when I was on campus as I started out and I would not hesitate to help anyone seeking advice as an entrepreneur.

You have to tell us about your balloon business, how did the idea to run this come up? How exactly did you use digital marketing to grow it?

The idea of Helium Balloon Company started as an accident from a marketing campaign I was running for a client, that failed. I had been awarded a contract to do a guerilla campaign for one of the leading FMCG companies in Kenya. The plan was great, we intended to use helium balloons to promote their confectionary products.

This strategy failed on the day of execution because the reaction and interaction with the balloons were overwhelming and we could not fulfill the intended purpose of the campaign. We went back to the drawing board and decided to use air balloons instead. The campaign was well received by the market on the promotion day and everyone was enjoying bursting balloons and eating chewing gum until the county council officers of Nairobi arrested me and part of my team for a violation of environmental cleanliness. This was something I should have had a permit for but was not included in the licenses I had procured from the county offices. Long story short, I was not paid by the company for any of the work. I lost about $7,000 and was left with 3 helium tanks almost full of gas.

I was depressed for a while because I had invested all the money I had in the campaign. After a while, I got back on my feet and a year later I decided to just sell the gas off and return the tanks to the supplier. I had to figure out how to let people know that I was supplying helium balloons and get them to buy from me. I used my personal Facebook page to talk about them and ask people to buy them. Slowly, I sold off one tank of gas, then two and finally when the third tank of gas got finished, I looked back and realized I had run a small business from my dads’ house and it had brought revenue.

I could have returned the tanks at this point but I decided not to because for the first time in a long time I felt rewarded for my efforts in business. I made the decision to start the business formally and register it as a limited company. I sought funding from friends and family and invested in a website and Facebook advertising for the company. To this day I have only used Facebook advertising and Instagram as marketing tools for Helium Balloon Company.

The company has grown in reputation and size within the market and a lot of our customers are now referral based. We are among the top three suppliers of helium balloons for events. We are now going into the mass market retail of balloons and party items. Our plan is to be the leading supplier of helium balloons in East Africa in the next four years and then venture into the rest of Africa.

What practical advice would you give to a young woman looking to work with companies like Safaricom, Chase Bank, Foreign Services Institute, and other brands you’ve worked with?

I would encourage any lady who wants to work with top brands in the market to first package themselves and their service offer very well. Work on your personal brand as well as your corporate brand. Let the way you present yourself and the quality of your brand material communicate the quality that you intend to bring to the table.

It is important to do a good job because your business will grow once people trust you and believe in your work. The second thing I would encourage one to do is to build their business networks by joining business clubs and attending functions like trainings that will not only enhance their business skills but also expose them to people who work within these organizations.

The third thing I would advise a young lady to do is to maintain her professional integrity. Carry yourself with respect and other people will respect you. It is the only way to build a sustainable business relationship with any organization.

Work on your personal brand as well as your corporate brand @JoyceMuthoni Click To Tweet

What is the number one tool that has helped you manage your many hustles?

The number one tool that has helped me to manage my many hustles has to be the “human resource tool” aka my team. I have come to appreciate and value the benefit of having great people working for you. My business ventures would not be where they are today if I did not have the support of my staff.

They have encouraged me when I felt like quitting, they have made me more responsible because I know that their livelihoods depend on my ability to lead and grow the companies. They have also helped me to learn to let go and trust that work will get done. I have seen tremendous improvement in their work and that encourages me to delegate and work towards bigger things.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Everlyn Nguku: Textile design and fashion technology is amazingly dynamic

Everlyn Nguku
Meet Everlyn Nguku the woman setting Africa on a new journey toward advanced textile manufacturing Click To Tweet

Everlyn Nguku is one of Kenya’s few and little-known textile scientists. She was more of the artsy type growing up. But while she was in University studying fine arts, her interest shifted to a more scientific angle.

Unbeknown to her at the time, this shift in interest would catapult Everlyn to establish East Africa’s first silk quality control laboratory, and set Sub-Saharan Africa on a new journey toward advanced textile manufacturing.

What exactly does a textile scientist do?

A textile scientist specialises in various areas including; new technologies related to fibres, innovative textiles; textile chemistry, polymer and fibre science, processing, fabric development, quality issues among others.

Textiles are multidisciplinary in nature.

How did you come across this as a career?

I did not start out as a Textile Scientist. I studied Fine Arts for my first degree and looked forward to a career in teaching design or design related activities (I am the “creative” in the family).

However, as I studied my course, my passion for fabric and pattern shifted to fabric construction. I was intrigued and keen to understand the technical aspects of fibres and fabric. I then did my masters and the study focused on four natural textile fibres. This was the beginning of my journey with silk and science at International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

I began to look at textiles beyond the design element. My Ph.D. focused on silk properties. I had to understand the science behind the silkworm that produces the silk, processing technology and quality of the resulting fibre.

You are researching on the African Silkworm; tell us a bit about that?

My work actually revolves around the domesticated silkworm Bombyx mori, although there are several commercial species of silkworms. B. mori is the most widely used for silk production; it is reared indoors and feeds on the mulberry leaves.

This activity is referred to as sericulture, which is the practice of raisings silkworms to produce raw silk- the yarn obtained from cocoons spun by the worms.

I take an interdisciplinary approach and multi-faceted research of silk that focuses on optimizing silkworm rearing techniques, and cocoon production, with a key focus on fibre quality and value addition initiatives for the production of various quality silk products.

The research explores the mechanical behaviors of the silk fibre, which are key building blocks in the production of quality silk fabric. We also design silk fibre testing procedures to assess and systematically study the quality factor, tenacity & elongation, friction and wear traits.

How many women are involved in this research?

Within the institution, I am working with five female technicians who undertake rearing of the silkworms and processing of the cocoons and raw silk.

A textile industry needs more professionals who understand the science and the business sense in manufacturing and processing the raw material, how can Africa tap into this?

The industry is labour intensive and has the potential to offer significant employment opportunities.

There is a need to equally invest in the skills and qualifications of people and promote the technical qualifications for people in the textile and apparel industries.

African Universities do offer degrees and masters in textile design and fashion technology. What can be done to ensure that more of these graduates become the backbone of this industry?

This sector in Africa is amazingly dynamic; however, it appears to be fragmented. Consequently, its potential remains largely unexploited possibly due to organizational weaknesses within the industry. In order to integrate graduates into the industry, there is a need for governments within the continent to prioritize the sector, unlock the potential, overcome existing problems of the textile industry and address issues that hinder the growth of the manufacturing industry.

This strengthens and improves the entire textile industry and value chain for it to be competitive and remain relevant. In addition, possibly review the rules on textile imports especially the influx of cheaper clothing which seem to hamper the local industry in Africa.

The industry should also recognize the potential of textile design and fashion technology graduates and the dynamisms they inject into the growth of the commerce and therefore need to nurture and engage this local talent.

Some of the challenges you face revolve around ignorance and general disregard of research from a policy level. How are you pushing to get more attention on this issue and more government investment and commitment to grow the textile industry in Kenya?

I am a member of Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) Technical Committee on Blankets, Nonwovens, Threads, and Fibres. This is a forum that presents an opportunity to interact with the main industry stakeholders on issues related to textiles, standards and to an extent policy.

Who would win in a fight, Wonder Woman or Black Widow?

Hmmm…I had to look up the Black Widow…. didn’t know much about her 😄

All the same, my take is Wonder Woman.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Ifrah Arab: This is just not a joke for me

Ifrah Arab
We faced a lot of challenges being in a conservative community they weren’t ready to accept change Click To Tweet

Ifrah Arab is only 20 years old, but she is on a mission to alleviate poverty and inspire more women much older than herself into enterprise. Through this effort Ifrah was a 2016 Anzisha Prize finalist and a 2016 Echoing Green semifinalist quite a mean feat.

Ifrah grew up in Garissa town, a conservative community where women were never encouraged to have economic independence. In 2015, when her mother passed away, Ifrah felt the need to uplift mothers in her community. She founded SuperMom, a door to door distribution network that gives Kenyan women in disadvantaged areas access to quality and essential consumer products.

Within two years of operation, she now has 50 women now selling products door to door earning an income and making household items accessible to thousands. Ifrah hopes to draw in 2,000 women in the next two years and double their incomes.

How many commodities is SuperMom now selling door to door in Garissa County?

We sell a whole range of products. Our main ones are consumer goods which include sugar, salt, flour etc. mainly basic everyday use consumer products, clean green energy, sanitary products and health products.

Garissa has a relatively large Muslim population some of whom are conservative when it comes to women working. Has SuperMom encountered any challenges around this with the community?

Yes, we faced a lot of challenges mostly because of, as you said it, being a conservative community they weren’t ready to accept the change. Most of them saw it as a breach of culture and all that and we faced a lot of opposition.

Ifrah Arab personally interacts with the women in her SuperMom network. Click To Tweet

How are you overcoming this challenge?

We overcome this challenge by using a new tactic. We decided to first approach the community elders, religious leaders, local women groups and made them understand our mission.

This made it easier for us to then penetrate the larger community because now we had people they trust endorsing us.

You were a 2016 Anzisha Prize finalist, how has this experience improved your outlook and operations at SuperMom?

I learnt a lot from the Anzisha Prize. I met different young people from Africa who shared the same vision of making Africa great.

They were all young problem solvers aged between 15 and 22. It was wonderful being able to meet and build networks with people of the same mindset and share ideas.

You were also a semifinalist in the Echoing Green Fellowship of 2016? What are some of the lessons you learnt from that process?

I wasn’t able to make it to the finals for Echoing Green but the feedback they gave me after the selection process has helped SuperMom grow.

We were able to take in all the advice we got from them and that was really great.

What are some of the most successful pitching techniques you use when seeking funding for SuperMom?

When I am pitching SuperMom I always make sure I am clear and the audience clearly understands what SuperMom is all about. I also make sure to always show traction.

What we have done so far to earn that trust. I always give my story too. It makes people understand the reason why am doing this. That it’s just not a joke for me.

When I am pitching SuperMom I always make sure the audience clearly understands Click To Tweet

What keeps you going?

I personally interact with the women in our network. Every time I hear any of the women talking about how SuperMom has improved her life it motivates me to do more.

What big plans do you have in store for SuperMom?

The problem we are trying to solve is not unique to my community. Several other marginalised communities in Kenya face the same problem.

My vision is to expand and reach these other communities. We are also not covering all the products needed so also to form more partnerships so as to increase the number of products in our catalogue.

What’s the one thing you would not leave the house without?

My phone.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Frenny Jowi: Never muffle your dreams thinking that you are not ready yet

Frenny Jowi
Reaping profits from the media space while vouching for public-interest journalism is Frenny Jowi's hustle Click To Tweet

Frenny Jowi is a journalist, a digital media and PR consultant. She also creates media coverage strategies with a bias on social media campaigns. Currently Frenny is the lead consultant at Media Focus on Africa, as a media relations trainer, digital journalism trainer, and radio producer.

For 4 years Frenny had a successful career at one of the world’s leading international broadcasters, the BBC. While working for BBC Africa both in Kenya and the United Kingdom, she led several productions including creating digital content for younger audiences and news coverage of historic president Obama visit to Africa.

Showing off her inner #MotherlandMogul, Frenny is also the Founder Image Masters PR & Communications, where she works in partnership with the UK-based Peter Burdin Africa Foundation and world roving Ilona Eveleens Media.

To top that all off, Frenny also works as a volunteer youth mentor and freelance journalist.

Tell us, how did you get to the BBC from a local Kenyan media house?

I worked briefly at a little-known community radio station, Exodus Network, then moved into a giant newsroom, the Nation Media Group headquarters in Nairobi. It was my first real experience of working in a converged in newsroom. I enjoyed the complexity of things. KTN came to recruit from my school when I was in my third year. My adventurous self then jumped into TV journalism. All this while, the editors made me file international stories as a trainee reporter.

The tone of the wire copies about Africa made me uncomfortable. I wondered, where was Africa’s genuine voice on the global debate and take on issues? I wanted the news through African eyes for the world. As a young African I was best placed to tell the story. The international broadcaster I had grown up listening to, was the first to spot my talent, so I joined as an intern after doing some voice test, translation and script writing interviews.

I started off as an intern at the East Africa Bureau in Nairobi and quickly gained skills as a bilingual reporter and producer for BBC Swahili and many other BBC World Service Programmes/ My favourite was and still is the Fifth Floor Programme.

I told the African story as I had dreamt. I was nominated for the 2014 Kenya Annual Journalism Excellence in Journalism Awards.

I told the African story as I had dreamt - Frenny Jowi Click To Tweet

What prompted you to move back to Kenya?

Moving to London to work for the BBC was one the most exciting moments in my career at the BBC. I loved London’s palace gardens! Kensington was my best, the Gothic architecture and the Thames during summer.

After one year of doing so much including producing President Obama’s visit to Africa, my work visa practically sent me packing! That was not a bad thing, I was to wait for one year cool off period to renew my work visa, but then came flooding ideas of what I could do at home instead of a rigorous visa application process.

At the time when I lived in London, there was a growing anti-migrant sentiment. My work visa had labeled me such, migrant staff. London treated me well, but I don’t want to shy away from saying the migrant stories made me very uncomfortable.

I was working from the centre of the world when waves of Brexit became more pronounced. I was right at the centre of one of the world’s most influential broadcasters when news of drowning African migrants would dominate the news for weeks. Meeting my former schoolmates who had settled in London permanently, we often talked much about we could do for the continent, it wasn’t just talk for me. I am back home to do something for the continent.

Why do you call yourself a media entrepreneur?

When I started working in the newsroom, I realized the industry was evolving fast and profits were put first. I felt that this compromised storytelling as public interest was given second priority or none at all.

I also saw the potential in digital migration and social media that opened up space for multiple media houses. This was supported with more democratic space in Kenya, that allowed countless radio and TV stations to operate freely.

So, I sought to reap profits from the growing media space. At the same time, I wanted to rigorously vouch for a public-interest journalism model. Despite lacking experience in running a business, I registered my company and started off pitching for work as a communications consultant and content producer. I was confident the myriad new radio and TV stations needed quality content. It was just the right time to turn my journalism skills into a strong business idea.

My company, Image Masters, had been a dormant Facebook page for four years. I breathed life into it, created a company profile and hit the ground running producing for the BBC’s Arts Daily Programme. I then moved on to consult for KTN, a leading TV station in Kenya that was then setting up Kenya’s first 24-hour news channel.

Since then, I have worked with many other clients create alternative educative content for younger audiences. My biggest project now radio plays and shows themed on women leadership. I have a bias for social media which many organizations are now embracing as mainstream.

One year on, I am now proudly self-employed and working with great partners to deliver for clients. I am leveraging on partnerships to compensate for the need of staff. The future can only be bright.

What is the first thing any young woman who wants to start out as a media entrepreneur do?

Let confidence and courage lead you. Never muffle your dreams thinking that you are not ready yet. Carefully reconsider your talents, skills, and networks. Figure out how much of your abilities are lying underutilized. Get to work.

I know you may suddenly think, ‘oh I don’t have the experience’ Think again, you can lay paving for a new path and prove the untested ground. Don’t be lured into the comfort of the already obvious that’s assumed to guarantee financial stability and predictability.

Why do you choose to remain a journalist even as an entrepreneur?

I believe in the power of good storytelling. Stories make or break our world.

I still feel that the African story is yet to be told in it’s totally and I am still searching to see the African face, accent, and style in the global story. Most international broadcasters still have a very western tone to the African story, and now China is here for a hundred years I am told! We can’t leave this African story to others to tell.

What steps are you taking to remodel the paradigm of journalism in Africa?

Wow! This is the tough question now… I have been in talks with partners and organisations that work with journalists. It’s not easy to say this is what we should or should not do. But it’s clear that what we need is a bold type of journalism that brings to life the true story of Africa that is rich, yes rich.

Look at all the young and old brilliant people living in and outside the continent. Africa’s boom of oil and gas discoveries, bursting with solar energy, the resilience of nations despite political upheavals and a draining colonial past.

In my experience, I find journalists and their stories trapped in between commercial interests of media owners and political muscles of the repressive governments. True media freedoms remain slippery.  We cannot remain silent about it. We need to protect the space for quality public interest journalism. Everyone is responsible, the audiences, the journalists, and the government.

Why have we let our public tax-payer-funded national broadcasters to fall into the hands of politicians and freedom-smothering governments?

Frenny Jowi: True media freedoms remain slippery. We cannot remain silent about it. Click To Tweet

What cheers you up?

Seeing the impact of my work on people’s lives.  Also when I travel for work, that’s to find a story, I feel so cheered up!

What are you most proud of when it comes to your work?

Many times, I have worked beyond bare minimum working hours to get a story aired or published. I do it from the bottom of my heart believing it will make a difference no matter how small.

Last year I volunteered to write one story about the struggles of breastfeeding working African mothers, my story formed part of a global debate on breastfeeding and maternity rights for mothers.  Stories are all I can give the world.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Leila Mohamed: Nurturing Africa’s brilliant young female leaders and living authentically

I am unafraid of mistakes, I gauge my growth by how fast I make mistakes in a given week Click To Tweet

Leila Mohamed is a wordsmith, a loving soul and a force to reckon with in education, health care, and organizational leadership. She heads admissions and strategic partnerships for the Zawadi Africa Educational Fund; an organization that has sent brilliant African women to universities in the United States, across Africa and Europe for the past 15 years.

Leila has interacted with ambassadors, and rubbed shoulders with top business and humanitarian leaders including the serial entrepreneur Dr. Chris KirubiEva Muraya (CEO Brand Strategy and Design Group), Connie Nielsen (Actress and Co-Founder of The Human Needs Project), Diana Ofwona (UN Women Regional Director for West and Central Africa), just to name a few, in a bid to create networks to help Zawadi Africa in its commitment to its scholars.

She graduated from St. Lawrence University and has a Master’s in Public Health Management from the University of Southern Maine in the United States. SLA contributor Kerubo Wall, also a Zawadi alumna, has known Leila for the past five years. She caught up with Leila to highlight the crucial work she does.

Who is Leila Mohamed?

I was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya and I am the second born in a family of seven children. I enjoy running, creating value at work and for people I care about. Most importantly, I enjoy being authentic and braver every day.

I spent a significant part of my life in the US for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees through the Zawadi Africa Educational Fund – an organization that secures full scholarships for African high school graduates with leadership potential and coaches them throughout their academic and professional journeys.

What gets me out of bed every day is the allure of progress. Not only for personal and professional development but also for my immediate family, my Zawadi Africa family and the opportunity to be impacted by the powerful stories of the young girls we work with in our offices and in the high schools we visit.

You head alumnae relations for Zawadi Africa, what are the greatest aspects of this job? What are your fondest experiences?

Alumnae relations is a significant part of what I do at Zawadi Africa. We have an all women team running the program and my colleagues are passionate about women’s empowerment. I love to win, so it is exciting to work with other diligent women to create opportunities for our scholars. Shoutout to my colleagues, Eva Ntalami, Lilian Kwamboka, Hajara Musah and Rose Nyaondo.

As a Zawadi Africa alumna, I feel a special connection to this transformational program as it directly impacted my life for the better. As the alumni relations lead, I support a team of Zawadi Scholars to organize our annual US leadership conferences. I enjoy this role because it involves paying attention to the needs of our scholars and finding ways to amalgamate those needs into a theme and list of speakers who would speak to their current needs.

As a Zawadi Africa alumna, I feel a special connection to this program as it impacted my life for the better Click To Tweet

At our leadership conferences, our scholars are inspired to discover and use their strengths and passions to invest economically, socially and academically in Africa. The opportunity to spend time interacting with, and asking questions of key leaders in various industries is often life-changing for these young women, many of whom are the first to attend college in their families.

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Our past speakers have included Mr. John Pepper (Retired CEO of Procter and Gamble), Atsango Chesoni (Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission), PLO Lumumba (Former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Director), Patricia Ithau (Regional Director Stanford Seed – ‎Stanford Graduate School of Business, Kenya), Suzan Kereere (Head of Global Merchant Client Group – Visa), and Peter Nduati (CEO – Resolution Health), just to name a few.

This year, Zawadi Africa celebrates 15 years of giving the gift of higher education to more than 350 incredible young female leaders across Africa and mentoring over 20,000 high school girls. To celebrate this landmark, Zawadi Africa is stepping up its fundraising to reach higher heights and I would like to take this opportunity to highlight our GoFundMe page as a convenient means that friends can support us through. Please do consider helping our noble cause of creating a pipeline of Africa’s next generation of women leaders. To the people who have supported us, we thank you.

You post a lot on your social media about authentic living. Could you speak to that?

Most of what I talk about in my social media can be summarized by a quote by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, “… It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”

I am passionate about growth beyond the realities of our destruction -particularly the excellence an individual brings to their area of work and/or relationships. The Philosophy of Living intrigues me -how do we thrive despite life’s successes and turmoil. The separation of one’s worth from one’s gains or losses. Maintaining one’s sanctity of humanity and joy despite what it is you acquire or lose externally. Tough times shape us into stronger beings, and more importantly, the constant reflection and being connected to one’s own humanity helps us understand the ultra-complexity of people.

SLA Picture 1

The beginning and end of living an authentic life is not only practicing being true to oneself, which is a moment to moment agenda, but also being humble and being open to feedback. This is what I reflect mostly about on social media with my family and friends. The things I analyze are simple, from random conversations with family members, a stranger in a bus or a colleague at work. Being true to oneself means to honor and trust your journey -the beautiful and the ugly.

You feel wholesome and at ease with the world you when you answer honestly to what makes the most sense to you. Life is short, make your own rules and your own definition of what success really means. But of course have a circle of advisors and mentors, because being pushed while you are comfortable in your skin can mean significant growth for an individual.

Being true to oneself means to honor and trust your journey - Leila Mohamed Click To Tweet

I think of you as my older, wiser sister. Every time I got on a Skype call with you in undergrad, you oozed wisdom, love, and comfort. How do you achieve that?

That is very kind of you to say, thank you.

Wisdom, love, and comfort are good things to be associated with. The person I am today is a conglomeration of experiences I went through, and observations and recalibrations I had to make as a result of personal lessons from life and interactions with other people. I owe a lot of my humanity to my mother, for her strength in character and spirit is something not short of a dream and goal for me. Although I was raised in a low-income family, our household had immense joy and comfort. My Zawadi Africa sisters and family have also had a significant part in my growth.

I am unafraid of mistakes, in fact, I gauge my growth by how fast I make mistakes in a given week, I only make sure I do not repeat a mistake. Failing fast, failing forward. Philosophy blogs and books have helped my thinking. From spirituality to friendships, I have always been curious about how I could better my work and family relationships. I learned a great deal from my mother whom I consider one of wisest people I know of, she is down to earth and has immense faith in life in itself. She has seen it all but still works hard with an undeniable sense of hope and gratitude.

SLA Picture 4

Do you have a blog where you write?

Yes, I do. I reflect a lot about my journey, and the opportunities life presents on my blog. I also include reflections on interesting TEDtalks. There is joy in creating and magic in putting yourself out there. I have struggled for a while even about sharing this link with people outside my circle of very close friends, less than five people actually know I am the author of the blog.

I, however, have a good group of followers who happened to stumble upon my blog. It is time I became braver and let people see my random thoughts on my blog. So here it is – The Magic of Process.

What are your sources of wisdom and encouragement?

My favorite books are everything by the British Philosopher Alain de Botton, Founder of The School of Life – especially “Essays in Love” and “Status Anxiety”.

I also refer to books by  Eckhart Tolle “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth”.

Blogs I frequent:

  1. Productive Muslim – a blog by Mohamed Faris (Abu Productive) about meshing Islamic principles and habits with work ethics.
  2. Blood and Milk – A blog by the international development expert Allana Shaikh.
  3. Zen Habits – A blog by Leo Babauta that focuses on simplicity and productivity.
  4. The Lazy Yogi – A lifestyle blog by a wise 28-year-old meditation enthusiast who is currently a medical student.
  5. Shaping African Conversations – A blog by a good friend of mine, Martha Wakoli, seeking to inform and educate the public on the progress in her home country, Kenya.
  6. Tim – a blog by Tim Ferriss, an American author, entrepreneur and public speaker (One great book he wrote is the 4-Hour Work Week).
  7. Abba Anxiety – A cool blog by a close friend of mine, also a Zawadi Africa alumna, Abba Arunga, that uses comics to describe most of the authentic feels we have in work spaces and in life.SLA pic 6

Any words of wisdom to the younger you, or younger women?

Do not be afraid of real hard work.

You are what you train yourself to be. Dr. Susan Mboya-Kidero, the Zawadi Africa founder, recently shared some advice on this. “…You will be overextended and overexert yourself especially in those first few years where you are trying to distinguish yourself from the pack. Don’t fear hard work. It is like exercise. It toughens you up. And enables you to do more.

And the more you build your muscles the less you sweat each time you face a mountain of work. So, go ahead. Overexert yourself. It’s the only way to build the stamina you will need to get to the top. Aim high. Be ambitious. And if you fail, don’t let that get you down. Pick yourself up. Learn life’s lessons and start again.”

There's nothing more painful than lack of progress, whether you are a billionaire or the person who cleans the street Click To Tweet
No matter what is happening around you, do not stunt your introspection.

Certainty brings comfort, comfort brings about stagnation, and stagnation can be all dandy when you do not have deadlines and excellence in delivery at stake. There is nothing more painful than lack of progress, whether you are a billionaire or the person who cleans the street.

If you do not feel like you are advancing in some way or delivering your true potential (growing beyond your current comfortable confines), then it will be a wasted opportunity and you will feel frustrated and unhappy.

Sometimes we try to get motivated or regain drive and we get stuck…this can mean that you might need a “system reboot” -something to jolt your inside system, to fill your cup. So, try it out, go see your family, take time out and travel to someplace new, take on a new hobby that excites you etc.

Details are important, but when dealing with people, always seek to be a “big picture” person.

Be aware that you are not perfect, you can hurt people and when you do, be sincere and heal the situation. Humanity is ultra-complex and it is way too easy to get lost in our truths and narratives. Be gentle with people, you do not know what other people are battling.

It does not hurt to be kind at all times. You will not lose a thing. Be aware and tame your ego. Remember that humility does not mean you let people step on your toes, stand your ground, but also invest in keeping your heart soft and forgiving as easily and as often as possible.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Jackline Aseyo Kidaha: God gave me a beautiful mind to inspire others to dream bigger

I believe in touching one life at a time - Jackline Aseyo Kidaha Click To Tweet

Jackline Aseyo Kidaha is a Kenyan lady who founded Golden Hearts for the Vulnerable (GHV Initiative), a CBO in Kangemi, Nairobi.  The 24-year-old is also the Program Coordinator at Edge Disability Mainstreaming Partners (EDMAP AGENCIES), an organisation that convenes disability mainstreaming training and workshops for government ministries and parastatals.

As a young social entrepreneur still in her baby steps, Jackie believes in youth power as key actors to development and agents of positive change.

Why do you say that youths are the best agents of change?

Young people make up the largest population in Africa. The youth are growing up with high energy, creativity, innovativeness, and talents which I believe are key to the attainment of various Sustainable Development Goals.

All this needs to be tapped into as it’s not only for individual benefit but also for the betterment of the African continent to bring up social and economic shifts.

What are your expectations from this generation?

Much sacrifice and aggressiveness in reaching this goal of restoring our mother continent to abundance, wealth, and diversity.

The previous generation achieved the political emancipation but I expect the current youth of Africa to achieve the socio-economical emancipation. Thus this generation of young people needs to be more open-minded, proactive in identifying gaps and addressing them.

Can you give SLA readers a sense of where GHV Initiative is at the moment and what plans you have for the future?

GHV Initiative (Golden Hearts for the Vulnerable) in a glimpse is a registered community-based organization in an informal settlement called Kangemi (Nairobi). It was founded in March 2015 and was officially registered in March 2017. Our main goal being to empower the vulnerable groups in informal settlements with relevant information on life skills, talents and helping realize their rights as enshrined in various legal documents. This is to give them a voice to speak up, be their own decision-makers in life and be actors in development too.

So far I can contently say that we are a notch higher compared to when we began as GHV Initiative. We are now equipped to challenge and ready to bridge the gaps identified in our community. More so I can frankly say that as the Founder I now have a more reliable, committed and dedicated team that I work with to ensure that we achieve the overall GHV vision.

jackiephotoOur future plan as an initiative is setting up a centre which will compose of unique an art space; crafts making and a talent space to nurture the spirit of dancing. The centre will entail teaching crafting, dancing, communication and entrepreneurial skills to more groups.

We are also strategizing on coming up with a charity clothing line/boutique within the centre where well-wishers can to donate. This will have clothes for both boys and girls from ages 5 to 16 to enhance decency and boost their self-esteem which is critical to many of them, especially those in their teenage years who are shy in relation to how they are dressed thus pulling down their self-confidence.

Our empowerment program doesn't give fish but teaches target beneficiaries how to fish themselves Click To Tweet

What programs do you provide and what are some of the setbacks you have faced?

We have two programs so far. One is ‘Limited Edition’ which is a continuous life skill program for teenagers. It mainly seeks to equip young minds with knowledge of life, its challenges and how to overcome them by sticking to their principles. The program aims to reduce issues such as early pregnancies and unsafe sexual behaviour leading to school dropout as early as primary level. Being limited editions means that they are not easily swayed by things which will cost them their lives and not realize their dreams.

The second one is ‘Nifunze Nijitegemee’ (meaning “teach me so that I can be independent”) which is a continuous empowerment program that seeks to teach practical skills. We believe in not giving the fish but teaching the target beneficiaries how to fish by themselves. This is to enable them to shift their talents and skills gained into profits thereby making them sustainable.

Rolling out the programs at the beginning was a great challenge, as with any idea or innovation to be diffused both early adopters and laggards are present. Our target beneficiaries are diverse, have different mindsets, knowledge gap levels, lack of enough resources in terms of funds for facilitation and other logistics.


What kind of response are you getting from the vulnerable groups you are empowering?

From the activities conducted so far by GHV Initiative, we have received positive and overwhelming feedback. This has stimulated and motivated us to do more despite the challenges.

We are constantly receiving calls and messages from the previous schools, children centers and hospital visited encouraging us to do these activities more often.

How are you measuring the impact or effectiveness of GHV Initiative in your community?

We utilize the theory of change in executing and evaluating our programs’ effectiveness. We have set a number of indicators and respective tools to measure that.

For instance, in determining self-esteem among the teenagers we use the Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale which has ten brief questions that an individual is asked to respond to.

After each activity conducted we monitor and evaluate the success and gaps to measure the impact of our programs.

Jackline Aseyo Kidaha is showing the world that something good can come out of the slum Click To Tweet

Besides education, how else are you empowering the people of Kangemi?

I personally make DIY things such as cards, hair accessories, bow ties, crocheted mats, scrapbooks and journals all with an African touch or theme.

Art is cool. I believe in touching one life at a time thus teaching those around me who are still figuring out the next step in life how to make the above stuff and getting small markets for them too. I do this during my free time just in the house.


Are there any GHV Initiative stories you really want to tell?

I have always believed in my life being someone else’s inspiration not to give up on themselves. I would really like to share my personal journey as a young lady with big dreams living and overcoming challenges in the slum until the birth of GHV Initiative.

Moreso demystifying negative perceptions and assure the world that something good can come out of the slum and there’s more rising girl power in transforming African continent.

Tell me about something you would happily do again

Serving humanity, saving the vulnerable and doing charity.

When I do these I feel more accomplished. I have or would not regret doing this for the rest of my life. I believe God gave me a beautiful mind to inspire others to dream bigger and be their own change agents.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Tabitha Tongoi: Authenticity matters

Write from personal experience has helped @CravingYellow remain consistent Click To Tweet

When a post on your blog clocks about 40,000 views in under 24 hours, I think it’s safe to call you a highly successful blogger. Tabitha Tongoi creator and owner of the Craving Yellow blog, still gets astounded to know that she reaches that many people with her effervescent nature and views on life’s ups and downs.

The 26-year-old Kenyan, natural hair enthusiast and lover of all things yellow has been blogging for over two years now. Tabitha touches on everything hair, beauty, lifestyle and of course, finding yellow i.e. finding joy in life’s simple pleasures. She has lived, worked and studied in four continents, her current home being Melbourne, Australia.

Tabitha is currently on holiday in Nairobi and SLA contributor Diana Odera caught up with her to get to know more about life as an African blogger in the diaspora.

Who is Tabitha outside of the craving yellow moniker?

Personally, I feel like I’m a thinker and I’m a writer. In my free time, I’m always thinking of new ideas, researching on creative projects etc. I love the mind space. I’m always engaging with my mind so I guess I’m a bit of an introvert; I spend a lot of time observing the world and people.

When it comes to my extended life – I’m the last born of 3, I have an older sister and an older brother who just got married last year.

Career wise – I am getting into the blogging space, I studied Political Science, which was never meant to bring me here but here I am.

I’m a bit of a nerd, I love to read and study, I‘ve always loved school. I also love to give and I love to encourage others and see them succeed.

How did the Craving Yellow movement begin?

It started when I was in my last year of uni. I had just come back from England, which was an amazing experience that made me grow into myself, learn how to formulate my own ideas and be confident in myself. Once I was back in the US with that mindset, I took a class on the power of documentary photography in telling new stories that are untold.

I had just finished reading Americanah and I was so inspired so I decided to turn the camera on myself and tell my story because I felt there weren’t enough women in the diaspora who’s stories were being told, if any. So I started off on that premise, I knew I loved hair and people would talk to me about hair so that was a constant conversation starter.

Hair was the hook but I also wanted to talk about other things e.g. who are you? When you go home what type of conversations are you having with yourself as a young African woman living abroad? It gradually took on a life of its own from there on. I saw a lot of my friends get into depression, addiction and just losing themselves so it was also about touching on these types of conversations and experiences that women face.

I was so inspired so I decided to turn the camera on myself and tell my story Click To Tweet

Your blog focuses on your natural hair journey as well as beauty and lifestyle topics. How do you go about creating great content that is relatable and consistent?

The premise has always been my hair because that is what I can teach people about as a skill I have. I haven’t been as regimented as I’d like to be because I have a full-time job and run the blog on the side.

On average I make sure to release 2-3 youtube videos, mostly on hair and hair reviews. On the blog, I put out two posts a month on hair and for lifestyle topics. I think that because I write from my own personal experience, the type of content stays consistent. I don’t write what everyone else is writing about so it just comes to me naturally. When I’m not able to write, I don’t force myself at all just to appear like I’m writing.


At any point, have you felt the pressure from trolls online or any negative feedback that you may get on your blog – pressure to make you change from your premise?

In terms of hair care, in Kenya as compared to abroad, I have only felt pressured when I’m compared to fashion bloggers who have a very different production process and different content. Sometimes people blur the two.

By default, because the hair blogging field here is very small, it’s easy to be compared to others. But I think in terms of my own journey, one thing I really appreciate is having lived abroad and having had to be in my own mind space and create this blog with no outside interruptions. I admire what people do but I’m very clear in what my message is and what my premise is, I’ve never been threatened or intimidated.

Having lived in four continents, how have these diverse environments contributed to your personal growth, your professional and academic career?

I’ve really had to learn who I am and to be fine with that. I always stand out everywhere I go, so I’ve been forced to really look into myself and ask myself internally – who am I and what do I stand for, what are my passions, what drives me? etc.

As a whole, it’s allowed me to have a very clear vision of who I am as a young person, more than I would have if I had stayed in Kenya. I’ve learnt to be my own island. Adaptability has been another strength I’ve gained, great work ethic as well.

What keeps you motivated?

I think about young girls out there who are probably struggling with a lot and need just a bit to encourage them to push on and keep at it. A lot of women struggle with issues on love, lifestyle related issues, family, loneliness etc.

Whenever I feel lazy I remember that maybe someone is watching me and this is what’s keeping them motivated. That’s a privilege to be in a position like this. I put myself out there, not afraid of the risks or the negativity, I believe if my mission is true, people will see it.

When did you know it was time to monetize your site?

That actually just happened on its own to tell you the truth. When I set out to blog, I never really had a template, especially blogging internationally. Brands started reaching out to me about eight months after I began blogging and that was brand reviews.

In regards to monetization, that began a year and two months into blogging. It’s just happened gradually and sporadically. I’ve never approached a brand, they usually get in touch with me first because I do have a full-time job so I was never doing this for the money aspect. If it’s something that I know will be interesting content for my followers then I will consider it.

I’ve mostly just been testing the water, it’s not anything that was formalized, in fact, the job I‘m doing now, I got it because of my blog. I’ve never had a steady, livable amount of money come only from blogging. The thing people have to note with blogging is that it’s a journey and a step by step process.

So if you go out looking for money, people smell that on you and turn away and subscribers/followers get bored. You end up losing your personal touch. I’m still learning the ropes with this section but it’s looking more plausible as the blog grows.

I’ve never had a livable amount of money come only from blogging, it's a step by step process Click To Tweet


What skills does one need to become a successful global blogger like yourself?

Blogging seems to be the in thing right now. I don’t think I’m as successful as you say but I think it starts with who you are. You have to really know what your purpose is and it has to be unshakeable. If you start blogging for Instagram likes, you’re going to die out real quick.

So for starters – know what story you want to tell and always write from where you want to write from. Don’t do things because it’s popular, don’t imitate other people – just do your own thing. By doing that, you establish your niche and your followers who will be reading other blogs as well will see why they should stick around with you and love you for who you are.

Authenticity matters and confidence in your message is very important. You’ll always find someone who’ll listen to your story.

Nelly Olang’: Women, sanitation & basic hygiene are the key to creating lasting change in Africa

Nelly Olang’: Lack of sanitation remains one of the world’s most urgent health issues. Click To Tweet

Nelly Olang’ is the founder and Managing Director of Connel Enterprises Limited, a company that brings relief to women and girls through provision of sanitary services. With good use of her creativity and drive, she is improving personal hygiene to transform lives and boost health and survival in Kenya.

Nelly thrives on challenges especially those that aim towards making her company grow. In her words, “I believe that the question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”

SLA Communications Fellow, Tonye Setima-Benebo was able to get more insight on Nelly Olang’s entrepreneurial journey in this interview below.

Please tell us more about your business?

My company is registered by the name Connel Enterprises Ltd. It is a hygiene services company which aims to bridge the gap in health promotion. The company provides quality foot-pedal operated sanitary bins that are placed in female washrooms.

The sanitary bins fit feminine hygiene requirements since they are placed with liners, perfumed disinfectant and strong granules that kill bacteria. This provides a safe and discreet disposal solution for female dressings. The bins are regularly maintained, serviced and contents are incinerated. Our clients include hotels and restaurants, hospitals, schools, offices, NGO’s, parastatals and churches. We are currently providing services in the Nyanza and Western Regions and rapidly expanding countrywide.

Why choose to focus on women’s hygiene?

Women, sanitation and basic hygiene are the keys to creating lasting change in Africa. Lack of proper sanitation and poor hygiene play a major role in mortality.  Ensuring that girls and women are provided with a means of observing their personal hygiene, could transform their lives by boosting their health.

Lack of sanitation remains one of the world’s most urgent health issues hence bringing relief to women and girls through provision of sanitary services will result in better services for all and benefit entire communities.

With limited resources, how were you able to run your start-up?

The first years were very challenging with cash flow. I had to plough back profits to keep the business running. This also made me run a one-man show for a while, as I had to play almost all the roles single-handedly (playing the marketer, director, messenger, accountant, service lady) till I could afford to employ staff to assist me.

I really had to reduce expenditures as much as possible and put all the cash I had growing the business as much as possible.

Entrepreneurship is about living like most people won’t to spend the rest of your life like most can’t. Click To Tweet

As an entrepreneur, what are some of your skills that have been useful in business?

Marketing skills: I am a very good marketer and very good at creating rapport and conversations. This has played a huge role in driving clients to have interest in our services and has greatly contributed to our growth in the two and a half years.

Customer focus: My number one priority is to ensure all our clients get quality service and that our service crew delivers professionalism which we promise our clients.

Communication skills: Through this skill, I have been able to charm new clients as well as retain our clients. This skill enables us to have a good relationship with our clients.

What lessons have you learnt from owning a business?

I have learnt that sometimes all you really have is just yourself to help you get what you want so you really have to go confidently in the direction of your dreams to get what you want. People will only show approval/support when things start taking shape.

I have also learnt that entrepreneurship is not an easy journey; most people never share the challenges. It’s all about living a few of your years like most people won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.

Then I have learnt not everyone is genuinely happy for someone else’s accomplishment, loyalty is also very rare and you have to be careful about who you keep close to you.

Finally, passion, drive, patience, persistence and loving what you do and understanding your reasons for doing it, is very important to help you get started.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams to get what you want Click To Tweet

You started your business at younger than 25 years old, where do you see yourself at 50?

The future is bright, I have plans to scale it up and expand the business by incorporating hygiene-related services and expanding to the East African region.

Which would you spend more money on, make-up or lingerie?

I would spend more on lingerie.

Lingerie is the foundation of your everyday wardrobe so investing more on it would be better as it makes me feel comfortable.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Gina Din-Kariuki: Treat your business like you would a lover

I wasn't doing what I was doing just to be an entrepreneur, I was doing it to build a life I love Click To Tweet

Gina Din Kariuki is a great example of the trade she practices perfecting the public image. An expert in the communications and Public Relations field, Gina has grown her company Gina Din Corporate Communication into the award-winning machine it is today.

After 14 years with finance giant, Barclays Bank, she took a leap of faith and decided to be her own boss. The communication agency has been responsible for the strategic PR work for major brands like Kenya Airways, Red Cross, Safaricom and Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB). SLA contributor, Diana Odero engaged with Gina to discover the tricks of her trade and on why she thinks being a boss isn’t always as glamorous as people think.

Why did you choose to get into the communications and PR field?

I am actually a trained journalist but I have never practiced.

After school, I got a temporary job at Barclays handling their shares issue and ended up working there for 14 years. I started off as aPR manager and rose to become Head of Corporate Affairs. After that amount of time, I decided it was time to start my own company. October of this year will mark 20 years since we opened the doors to the Gina Din Group.

What has kept you going in this industry for almost two decades?

20 years in October! Quite a feat, it has been an incredible journey, let me break it down a bit for you.

  • Keep evolving: I have always set a high standard for the work we do. There is nothing we do today that will be good enough for tomorrow. We don’t place limits on what we can achieve and keep pushing ourselves further.
  • We have always had people who gave us opportunities. Starting out as a relatively unknown brand playing in the field with only international players (at that time) was challenging. We were lucky to have businesses that rolled the dice and gave us a shot well before I earned it. I am grateful to them 20 years later.
  • Perseverance. The ability to roll with the punches and hang in there even when things weren’t great. To have an inner faith and belief in yourself that tomorrow will be another day. Remaining optimistic is so important when running a business.
  • A great team is indispensable. I have had the opportunity to work with incredible people. Many who came to me with little to no experience but with passion and drive.
  • Treat your business like you would a lover. Give it love, attention and nurture it. Reignite the fire every now and again and always stay relevant.

What skills do you think one needs to be a great communicator?

You need to know what you are talking about. Obtain knowledge, insight and earn the respect of people in your industry so that you actually know your subject well.

Don’t just talk, listen. Focus on understanding what the other person is saying. Watch out for the non-verbal communication. Be open to other points of view. Build relationships.

20 years running a communications agency is quite a feat, @gina_din breaks down how she did it Click To Tweet

Running a company is no easy feat and you have probably felt burnt out a few times. If yes, how did you deal with it? What do you think is the best way one should deal with that feeling?

Of course, I have, as most business owners have. When I do feel a sense of burnout coming I take time to recognize I am human. Sometimes when one is successful we can be perceived as super humans… we can be seen as invincible and never failing. I have failed often and suffered burn out and fatigue. The key for me is to keep evolving as a person and as a brand. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “When you’ve finished changing, you’re finished.”

On a personal level, I keep a good balance between work and pleasure. I start the day with quiet time and set the tone for what my day will look like and that really helps in ensuring my mind doesn’t get too overwhelmed. Also, I travel a lot and love visiting new countries and seeing new cultures. I exercise, practice yoga and spend time with loving, supportive people.

Gina Reception

As an expert in your field, you’ve had your fair share of multitasking jobs. What skills would you advise young business women to have in order to be effective multi-taskers especially when working in a profession as demanding as Public Relations?

I like to break things down in blocks so it doesn’t appear too overwhelming and I try as hard as I can to avoid distractions.

Being efficient with your time is important when you have to juggle. It’s also crucial to learn to prioritize tasks and delegate what and where you can.

What has kept @gina_din going - the ability to embrace success & failure in equal measure Click To Tweet

Building an award-winning company from scratch must have come with its various challenges. How did you overcome any challenges that you faced and how would you advise the women reading SLA to handle challenges that may come their way?

I have faced many challenges and failures in business and in life but through everything I have found my inner strength and that is what has really kept me going -the ability to embrace success and failure in equal measure. When I first started my business, I took failure very personally but as my inner strength has developed, I have developed the knack of quieting the voice of resistance and stepping outside my comfort zones.

I have always tried to keep my spirits high and now fully understand my ‘big why’. In my 20 year journey, I have come to understand you never know what’s around the corner. It can be all or nothing and I am okay with both. I have a mentor who has created a very successful business and his advice to me was –act like a grown up.

Take responsibility. Don’t whine and complain. Do whatever it takes. I have learnt that perseverance is actually more important than skill in running your own business and whilst talent is important, it will only take you so far. My wall may be well decorated with awards but my greatest accomplishments are what I have had to overcome to get here.

Gina Office

There's a lot of talk about entrepreneurship right now and it has become quite glamourised Click To Tweet

What is the most important thing one must know about starting a company/business?

One must know that it’s not all cocktail parties and CEO moments. There’s a lot of talk about entrepreneurship right now and it has become quite glamourised. The thrill of one having freedom from full-time employment is so seductive. What people rarely talk about is how the freedom doesn’t come on a platter.

Success isn’t overnight… it takes many many nights of late toil, a lot of personal sacrifice, of building networks and serious hustling. The reality is that no one owes me a pay check and no one owes me attention. It’s up to me to ensure I create value.

I remember when we first started with literally no capital, no brand recognition, a few small clients and staff on our payroll. It was scary because there were literally so many people depending on the company for their livelihood. I had my share of sleepless nights.

Coming out of the safety net a blue chip organization, it was difficult to know what to expect. I had no boss, no performance review and no idea how to measure success. What I soon learnt though was success for me was about the learning… the learning of my clients, the market, my business and myself. Most of what I learnt couldn’t possibly be learnt before I started.

Starting out can be pretty lonely because you don’t have a trusted support network (which established businesses do) so you can’t get feedback from colleagues. I missed that part of belonging to the Barclays Family but I wasn’t doing what I was doing just to be an entrepreneur, I was doing it to build a life I love. To be able to build brands and empower individuals, to be able to spend time with the people I care for.

I knew what I wanted to contribute to the world and wanted to do something that makes me come alive every day. Too many times people build businesses without considering what they want on a personal level and soon become prisoners of their own making. Having your own business also means there’s no boss to blame. We make our own rules and get to create our own magic on our own terms.

What mantra do you live by?

The spaces beyond one’s comfort zone is where dreams come alive.

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