Patricia Majule started the business of manufacturing and supplying of custom party supplies, box packages, favors & gifts in 2014 and has recorded tremendous growth since then.
Her idea was born when she noticed that most people in Tanzania were importing paper supplies from abroad, instead of investing in machines becoming manufacturers. Through her business, she has been able to provide quality products made in Tanzania, at lower prices.
She takes us through her journey so far and how she’s changing the face of the Tanzanian manufacturing industry, whilst protecting the environment.
Tell us about your business and the idea behind it
My business trades as Unique Favors Tz,; we make products and provide services ranging from décor ware, gifting and gift supplies. Our products are used for parties, functions, events and can be customized for non- celebration uses, such as, business advertising and branding.
The company began in 2013 as Unique Gifts Tz, and at the time we were specialising in gifts. But, we expanded our product line and changed the name officially, and registered as “Unique Favors Tz” in 2014.
What ways are you contributing to the protection of the environment through your product type?
One of the products we make at Unique Favors Tz is uniquely designed cardboard, made by using the leftover egg shells from chicken eggs (maganda ya mayai in Kiswahili language).
Egg shells help curb environmental waste by reducing the waste that would have probably been increased by throwing away eggshells right after usage.
In Tanzania , eggs are consumed in large quantities due to the existence of many small scale entrepreneurs selling them in kiosks and bars, and also due to the fact that chicken livestock farming is popular in Tanzania.
Secondly, we use paper products to package gifts, as opposed to plastic.
Plastic bags are known to be a form of waste which cannot decay; which is why there has been a movement by the government to reduce and completely ban the use of plastic packaging in Tanzania. In five to ten years, my products will have contributed significantly to curbing environmental pollution.
What strategies have helped your business grow these past few years?
What opportunities lie in Africa and how much are young people tapping into them?
I’ve always believed that Africa is full of opportunities and many of them are hidden in industrial operations. Firstly the industrial sector is one of the most untapped sectors in Africa, especially by local natives, yet the most rewarding sector.
Majority of the youth dare to start a business with a focus on the retail phase, but they lack the courage and resilience to grow their businesses to an industrial level. Many other youth reach the idea level and fail to proceed to the implementation level.
Tell us the setbacks you’ve faced in the course of establishing your business and your survival method(s)
Most of our product line and service offering is very new and unique to our community. Therefore, we have spent a lot of our time educating them in order to get buy-in.
At times raw materials which are needed for production are scarce; coupled with price fluctuations, this tends to be a challenge.
In our society it is not normal for people to see you developing a product and being in industrial, especially at a young age like mine, so there is a belief that somebody else could do my job better, and hence there is little support and a lot of bad-mouthing.
But ,at the end of the day our survival methods are to: be courageous, patient, and resilient and know that as long as we are being ethical and legal, everything is fine. Society will catch-up later.
What great success has your business recorded in the past few years?
Our business has been successful in so many ways. Firstly, by introducing new unique products to the market, we got a very positive response from customers, which lead to significant company growth. Also we have been able to create temporary and permanent jobs to majority of the natives in Tanzania.
What makes your business unique?
The products we manufacture in- country, the paper party supplies and the egg shell cardboards, are customised and very unique because everything is made from scratch. Most of the party supplies in our country are fully imported from China, so they tend to have common styles and lack that unique style.
Wave Academies is a vocational training platform which aims to empower millions of disadvantaged West African youth. With skills that transform their mindset and employment opportunities that enhance their social mobility.
Misan Rewan is the founder of WAVE Academy. Born and raised in Nigeria, Misan plays a vital role in the transformation of Nigeria’s education and skill development sectors. She has worked in management consulting with The Monitor Group on a wide spectrum of projects in both the private and public sector. She also supported aspiring Ivoirian entrepreneurs through, TechnoServe’s Business Plan Competition; and developed a scholarship administration model as a consultant with the Center for Public Policy Alternatives in Nigeria. Misan supported Bridge International Academies’ international expansion strategy, and is a Draper Richards Kaplan Social Entrepreneur.
Noella Moshi is the Programs Lead at WAVE. She was on the founding team of African Leadership University (ALU) Education where she directed Marketing, and worked on the curriculum. Noella co-developed Goodbye Malaria, a social impact venture that works with private and non-profit organisations to eliminate malaria. She is a Mandela-Rhodes scholar, and a Praxis Fellow.
Ifeanyi Okafor grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about helping young people discover themselves.
Aissatou Gaye is a Senegalese citizen who works as a Finance Coordinator at WAVE. She is currently helping the organization draft its way towards financial sustainability through various revenue diversification and cost reduction strategies. Aissatou is also the co-founder of YAWcamp, a summer camp that focuses on developing critical, creative and proactive thinking among Senegalese youth.
Amina Lawal is the training operations coordinator at WAVE. She is skilled in communication, research and creative writing. She firmly believes that having the balanced 360 degrees life is possible and steadily strives to have such balance. When she is not working, Amina writes for various blogs.
We share the amazing story of these great women and how their awesome work at WAVE is creating the next generation of change drivers.
What was the driving force that lead to creating WAVE?
Lifting John Stott’s definition of vision as: a deep dissatisfaction with what is and a clear grasp of what could be, I’d say the driving force behind starting WAVE was a deep dissatisfaction with the state of affairs for West African youth.
There are over 40 million unemployed youth in West Africa, but beyond the statistics are real faces, people like you and I, whose reality is chronic unemployment, disillusioned poverty and a loss of dignity that leads to growing levels of frustration across the region.
WAVE was an attempt to stop complaining and to do something about it. So a few friends got together in a room and started designing a solution. Enter WAVE – an attempt to level the playing field for hardworking young people by teaching them the skills required to get a good job, increase their incomes and build a brighter future
What has been the biggest challenge(s) you’ve faced and how have you crossed each hurdle?
Biggest challenge faced has probably just been me dealing with my own insecurities (imagined and real) and coaching has been helpful in crossing the hurdle. I don’t hear enough leaders in this part of the world talk about their shortcomings and how they’ve built support networks to deal with them, and I’m no different.
So overcoming has been through everything, from having a coach who helps bring self-awareness to my “automaticities” (my default way of responding) and helps me generate my best self, to family and friends who “hold the space” for me to JUST BE (rather than DO), to the serenity prayer that helps me discern where to focus my brain cells, effort and anxiety. I could give you a laundry list of other challenges faced but the critical challenge/hurdle is dealing with me first so I can see most other challenges as opportunities for learning and growth.
What values have been crucial to your success in the business world?
Inclusiveness – Most of what drives me comes from a simple notion I’ve had since I was a kid, of not wanting poor people to be poor.
At WAVE today, this value translates as “Putting People First” – from the people we exist to serve, to our team who does the serving to our partners who support our service. Our clients see how we have designed our model, service delivery and feedback culture to put them first and so are able to be very forgiving when we slip up, give us feedback and grant us a second chance to make it right.
What principles and skills are necessary for young people to possess in order to excel in today’s world?
There are three things I think are important for success: Knowing your “why”: Understand what motivates you, and connect it to whatever work you are doing. For example, I care about learning for the sake of personal growth. That’s my “why”. As long as I am doing work that pushes me to stretch beyond my current capabilities, my “why” is being fulfilled.
Learning from everyone: Everyone has something to teach us, and if at any point we aren’t learning, then we need to look harder for the lessons. One of my favourite things about working at WAVE is that each person brings insights from their unique experiences; from the driver to an intern, to the people we serve.
Trusting yourself. No one knows you better than you know yourself. Take advice from everyone, but at the end of the day, whatever decision you make must come from you, so that you can stand by it. That way you avoid regret, and you avoid living someone else’s life.
What innovations have helped in achieving the set goal at WAVE, and how exciting is it to train young people of diverse background and see them become more equipped Africans?
Our goal at WAVE is to increase income for unemployed youth. We do this by screening youth for attitude and motivation, training them on employability skills, and then matching them to job opportunities, where they can earn while they learn.
Our most powerful innovation has been to integrate “paradigm change” throughout our process. End to end, we focus on helping youth to mentally connect the dots from where they are, to where they want to be. After WAVE, youth who had dreams but no belief that they could achieve them, can now see how their current efforts will lead them to the next step of the ladder to wherever they want to go. Their self-image also changes: After WAVE, they no longer say “I can’t do this”. Instead they say: “I can’t do this yet”. And that mindset shift makes all the difference.
What mechanism are necessary for facilitating trainings at the Academy?
A trainee must be between 18 and 35 years old, they must agree to the terms and conditions of the training. The trainer and the training operations coordinator must be physically and mentally ready. We make sure each training cycle runs at it’s optimum best.
What tools and support are relevant for young people in the course of their advancement and what kind of partnership would be vital to this?
We provide absolute in-house trainers and also external facilitators who are experts in their fields to train these young people. We also provide ”on the job” support for them, by arranging workshops, alumni panel and counselling.
A partnership with Google could help with the ICT angle, covering the fundamentals of computer skills and basic software they need to know about. Also, the social media angle, most of the jobs we get are evolving, so many of our employers want people with computer skills, or those who can use social media.
What support system has been relevant in helping WAVE thrive over the years?
The success of WAVE over the past three four years has been a combination of multiple factors. The level of engagement and passion from our staff to deliver a rigorous and excellent model. To make access to economic opportunities easier for young underprivileged youth, the financial support we receive from our funders and their commitment to the vision that we are after, and last but not least our employer partner network who are willing to hire based on soft skills, instead of proxies like degrees.
How impactful have the programs at WAVE been over the years, and what kind of investors are you looking to work with in the future?
WAVE’ s reach has grown a lot over the past four years. Since our inception in 2013, we were able to train over 1600 youth on employability skills and place over 800 of them on jobs in the hospitality and retail industries, of which a good number was able to double their income after a year on the job.
We however still have a long way to go to reach the numerous unemployed youth in Nigeria and across West Africa; we cannot do the job alone. We are currently codifying our magic to share with different stakeholders that could effectively reach our target market and bring about the change we want to see: a world where every young person is equipped enough to move up the economic ladder.
What’s the one phrase that resonates for WAVE and why?
The resonating phrase at WAVE is “Start small, Learn fast and Grow big”. The reason behind this is that we believe and understand that the soft skills we train on are vital to the achievement of career goals. Success is not achieve overnight, but it takes consistent conscious steps towards the achievement of success. WAVE is one of those conscious steps to career growth.
What recent achievements have re-echoed the growing impact of WAVE?
One of the recent achievements that re-echoes at WAVE is the increment of our Alums average Salary to N33,000. It is an achievement for us because this is what we set out to do; increasing the income of youth who do not stand a fighting chance in our economy today.
Tell us your favourite destination country?
My dream destination country is America because of the limitless career growth opportunities available.
Are you doing any impactful work to empower unemployed youth?
Afroes , short for ‘African heroes’, is a mobile-first enterprise. They’re on a mission to position African youth for productive futures by, innovating in skills acquisition, engagement and connecting to opportunity.
Anne Githuku-Shongwe is a Social Entrepreneur, Social Innovator, a Development Professional and a thought leader on digital and social innovation. Anne founded Afroes in 2010, as a digital enterprise. Creating gamified learning solutions designed to reach, teach and connect Africa’s young women and men to life skills, through their mobile phones.
Her vision is to revolutionise learning in Africa, with a focus on delivering positive, Africa-focused mobile phone entertainment to the youth market across the continent. Anne and Afroes have received multiple awards including, the prestigious Schwab Foundation/World Economic Forum Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.
Gathoni Mwai is a Sustainable Development professional. She has over 7 years experience working on social development issues in Africa, and on the use of data, technology and innovation for development.
Having been brought up in Kenya she is passionate about the country, its people and seeing them all thrive. Gathoni joined Afroes as project manager for the development of the PeaceApp award winning Haki II: Chaguo Ni Lako, ,a mobile game that was used for peace building in Kenya, in the run up to the 2013 elections following the post election violence experienced in 2007-8.
She recently completed her Masters in Sustainable Development Corporate Responsibility. Currently, she takes on the role of Kenya programme manager, where she is tasked with scaling the Afroes product range and developing partnerships.
Join us on this inspiring journey as we share the stories of these two front-running African women in tech.
Tell us the story behind Afroes
Afroes (the name comes from a play on the words African Heroes and Heroines) was inspired by conversations with my children. I was worried that they weren’t being exposed to any positive African media content; and that their ideas and aspirations for Africa were being influenced by the Western media’s pervasively negative messages about the continent.
I wanted to do something to change that. But it was whilst I observed my son excitedly relating things he’d learned while playing the computer game, Civilisations, that I realised that, children who play computer games are a captive audience for anything you want to teach them.
I knew from that point onwards that I needed to harness the power of computer games, to deliver positive messages to African children. Given the growth of mobile phone usage and ownership across Africa the idea of computer games evolved to mobile phone games.
How effective has the Afroes’ strategy been, in achieving its set goals and what successes have you recorded in recent times?
The Afroes strategy has had to be very adaptable to the changing times, technology and issues that affect African youth. At our core ,our main goal has been to inspire and empower young Africans with 21st Century skills, which will help them transform their lives and the lives of people in their communities.
We have set out to build partnerships with like-minded organisations that see mobile phone technology as a medium to change mindsets and positively impact young Africans. In the last 3 years we have been lucky enough to receive the following awards:
Winner of PeaceApp – promote digital games and gamified apps as venues for cultural dialogue and conflict management, 2014;
Winner, Gender Mainstreaming Awards, Empowerment Initiatives, South Africa, 2014;
Winner, ICT Innovation Award for Gender Youth and Vulnerable Groups, Kenya, 2014;
To date we have had over 800,000 users download our games and 100,000s more through offline activations.
What challenges have you faced in the course of running your business and how have you been able to walk through them?
Sustainable financing has been a major challenge. We have been lucky enough to have our games fully funded by our project partners, but this has been quite limiting. Another challenge we have had is convincing programme/ solution stakeholders to adopt an alternative media/ mediums, strategy and methodology to reach and engage their traditional intended audience; as well as appeal to a new demographic of social issue based content advocates, stakeholders and consumers.
How important is technology for Africa’s future and how well has the African market tapped into it?
Technology is important on a global scale. What is more important for Africa is appropriate technology to enable sustainable growth and livelihood development for all. The African markets have not only tapped into the technology, but are leading the charge in technological innovation.
From Mpesa (mobile money), to the use of drones to transfer essential goods. Recent statistics have showed that 2/3 of young people own a smart phone, giving them access to a world of information, allowing them to tap into new ideas and adapting it for themselves.
If you had to binge watch any movie series, which would it be?
The Wire – because it’s on my watch list but I’ve never watched it.
Tell us about the Job Hunt game launching soon and the concept behind it
JobHunt is a mobile game designed to simulate the online/ digital work experience. The concept of this game is to create awareness on digital jobs and the opportunities to earn an income for young people. In the game you bid for jobs, improve skills and ultimately build the skills required to win jobs in this space.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learnt on your entrepreneurial journey so far and how has it helped you in the course of your work at Afroes?
Being an entrepreneur is not an easy life, very often you need to be motivated even when things may not be working in your favour.
There is this image of a man digging in a cave with a huge diamond just a few digs away. He has to choose whether or not to keep digging, not knowing if he has reached the diamond or not.
This for me sums up the life and motivation of an entrepreneur and my journey with Afroes – if you believe in your product, your idea your company you have to keep digging to find that diamond. So we must keep digging.
What the next step for Afroes in another five years?
Over the last year we have been redeveloping the Afroes strategy. We have streamlined our strategy to enhance the current games catalogue and from our research we have decided to target specific areas that affect African Youth, such as Jobs and Health.
What one quote resonates with what Afroes represents?
“The future of Africa lies not with external actors but within Africa itself. The future of Africa lies here in Africa.” I strongly believe in Africa and the power of her people to make a difference in our lives.
For too long solutions to our problems have been sought from outside, but we have the solutions. Afroes is playing our part by producing games and stories on mobile devices that speak to Africans, which represents Africans and that can ultimately transform Africa.
Nancy Gacheri is the 25 year old director of Best Shoes Kenya (BSK), and a Bachelor of Business Information Technology graduate. Currently she is working as a Sales and Marketing Manager for Sunstar Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. Nancy is passionate about entrepreneurship and strives to leave a legacy of positive change in everything she does. She currently blogs for Life after campus (http://whatelseaftercampus.co.ke/news/) and finds satisfaction in helping others.
I am a God fearing, industrious, outgoing and well rounded young lady. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and motivated by the need to bring the change I want to see in the world.
What is Best Shoes Kenya?
Best Shoes Kenya was established in May 2016. It is a footwear manufacturing startup company which uses locally sourced materials. We manufacture men casual and official leather shoes, as well as school wear.
Our mission is to attain sustainable growth in business through the production of quality, affordable and classy shoes. We are a wholesale and retail shoe company situated at Membley estate Ruiru.
How did you find a gap in the market for your business?
The shoe industry in Kenya has seen most of its products coming from foreign countries. This pushed me to channel my entrepreneurship skills into shoe production. The need to produce quality and lasting Kenyan shoes is the motivation behind BSK.
What are three key business lessons you have learnt since running BSK?
I had to learn to separate business cash flow from my personal savings, by having a separate bank account. This means also setting it up legal through registration.
The customer is the most important person in my business, they can either grow it or bring it down.
Plan first, then act. A business plan is a key stepping stone to a successful venture, without one you just are planning to fail.
How has the market responded to Best Shoes Kenya?
At first it was really difficult because the local market perception is that Kenyan products cannot be of good quality. But with time, we have been able to gain a loyal client base. Most of which are repeat customers or referral customers.
How do you balance your full time Sales and Marketing job and running the BSK business?
This has been my greatest challenge up to date. My full time job is from 8 am to 5 pm and from work I head home where my workshop is, to see the day’s production. It has taken so much personal discipline and sacrifice, and it has cost me a social life. I dedicate most weekends to Best Shoes Kenya and to responding to various customer queries and follow ups.
I am looking forward to running the business full-time, after raising a significant amount of cash to purchase the necessary machinery for production enhancement.
What are two challenges you have faced and overcome at BSK?
Market penetration was the greatest challenge due to poor product perception. The myth that locally made products are not good quality. But through the production of high quality products, which meet customer satisfaction, we were able to establish a loyal client base.
What keeps you inspired to run your business each day?
I am my own motivator, and I desire to become a change agent. The dream is to see BSK on the next level, as I explore my entrepreneurial spirit and positively impact lives.
What is your three year growth plan for BSK?
The three year plan for BSK is to be a front-runner of locally manufactured shoes in Kenya and the greater African market . To grow to have a ternary for leather, soles and all needed for the production of shoes. To begin a HUB which will promote the entrepreneurial spirit among Kenyans, and hopefully inspire the youth to realize their goals.
In one sentence, how would you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as someone who pursued her dreams and did not just get comfortable with living, until she brought about the change she wanted to see.
Annemarie Musawale was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and she says, she’s never actually stepped one foot out of East Africa. Growing up this self-publishing author almost always had a book in her hand. Needless to say, she made up stories of her own. By the time she went to high school, Annemarie had pretty much read every book her classmates were just beginning to discover.
Annemarie went to the University of Nairobi to pursue a BSc. Degree in Botany, Zoology, and Chemistry. Two years into the course, she was accepted to Makerere University to do BPharm. Leaving work as an active Pharmaceutical Technologist, 2009 was the year Annemarie Musawale became a full-time academic writer. In her own words, ‘Being a single mom, it seemed the best option in order to be home for my son when he needed me, and still earn a living.
SLA contributor Rumbidzai had an opportunity to interview her and Annemarie had all these interesting stories to tell.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Unfortunately for me, writing my own books is not my day job. So I can only write in my spare time, which is very scarce these days. So on average, it can take me anything from six months to two years to write a book. I’m working on making time no matter what, to write daily but so far, I’m not there yet.
Looking at the books or pieces you have written what is your ultimate goal?
I put the book up for sale because once it was written; I could not just throw it away. There were life lessons to be learned, a way for someone else to learn from my experience. So I let it go out into the world and find its audience. It is my one non-fiction book and I call it my ‘step-child’ because of how much I do not market it. The goal therefore with that book was…help someone else who was looking for answers.
My other books are fictional in nature. They were written with a lot of love and I guess their goal has been achieved. To have someone read them, and enjoy the words; perhaps be touched by it. My ultimate goal, of course, is to make the New York Times Bestseller lists.
My role model in this business is Diana Gabaldon because our paths are remarkably similar. Background in the sciences, Diana started out writing (in her late thirties) just to ‘try it’. She ended up creating characters it is difficult to let go of. Twenty years later, Diana is where I want to be, twenty years from now.
For the sake of some of our Motherland Moguls who haven’t read your book, “Single Motherhood, what can they expect from it?
They can expect it to be raw, painful to read even and completely truthful on what it is really like to have a baby on your own. I called it ‘unplugged’ because it is like those musical performances where the singer has just a stool and a guitar and whatever talent they have in their bodies. They present it to you and let you judge them on the merit of their work.
In the book, I let people into my head and lay it bare for them to do with, as they will. It was a very difficult thing to do, but from the feedback I have gotten, there are people out there who needed to read it. So have a look at it with my blessing.
Now that’s interesting! In your line of work is there anything you find particularly challenging?
Well, the business of writing has its challenges as many writers can tell you. The first is marketing. Getting enough people to hear of your books so that they want to go look for them. The market is crowded and getting noticed is hard.
Add to that the fact that my books are not the typical ‘African writers’ type of book. One of my Kenyan readers put it this way; “This book could have been written by anyone, anywhere. It is not confined by time or space.” And while I agree that that is true, I think that nobody but me could have conceived of these books the way I did.
It was my unique perspective brought about by living in the ‘global village’ but residing in Kenya. For that reason though, my books don’t have a readymade market. They have too many elements that are foreign to the African psyche, and yet if it were written by a Westerner, most Africans wouldn’t have a problem with it. But the combination of being an African, writing a global book is a new idea.
The upside of this is, my audience is not confined to those around me but is truly global. When I see that people from as far away as Japan, Ukraine, Russia, America, and Brazil…have clicked on my links and looked at my books…it makes me feel warm and happy. However, it also makes hosting book signings a bit difficult.
When I began in this business, I was traditionally published. However, my publisher was very stingy with information to do with my book. They expected me to do the lion’s share of marketing (as most authors are expected to) without giving me feedback on what was working, what sales figures were or even paying me royalties. So I took my power back, took my books back and went the self-publishing route. This way, I have complete control over my content and when I try a marketing style, I have direct feedback on whether it is working or not.
Another major challenge is getting people to leave reviews. I can get an email from a reader telling me how great one of my books was, and why. But asking them to post a review gets an ‘I’ll do it right away.’ and then crickets. All of my reviews that have been given on any of my works have been totally random and unrequested. Those are usually the best kind though so I am not complaining.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you react to both the good and the bad?
I read every single book review I get. It is like catnip for writers I think. Any writer who tells you they do not read their reviews is either lying or not invested in their work. I am yet to have a bad review though, so maybe when that happens I will be more selective. Even when I get less than four stars, the reasons given for it are not to do with the work; one three star review stated that the price of the book and the size were not commensurate. Well, at the time, my publisher controlled the price…
My one and only two-star review was one I got on my book, “Child of Destiny”. It is actually one of the most comprehensive and complimentary reviews I have ever received. But the reader had a policy that if she is unable to finish the book, she gives it an automatic two stars. I urge you to go and read the review on Amazon, and see if your curiosity to read the book is not peaked.
I am always grateful for anyone who takes the time out to read my book and then go the extra mile and write a review. It is a compliment whether the review is good or bad and I always appreciate it.
Annemarie, what’s your favorite under-appreciated book/ novel?
I think one book that probably does not get the recognition it deserves is “Children of God” by Maria Doria Russell. I cannot emphasize how much her creation of new worlds and her envisioning of the future of this one influenced my writing and my life.
Are there Annemarie Musawale stories or experiences you would love to share?
Well, recently I have had several aspiring writers ask me how I got started. It’s a difficult question to answer because I’ve been writing stories since I was six years old.
I’d write something and take it to my mother to read. She’d read it and tell me I did well. I guess she was my very first ‘fan’. When she died, I sort of lost my way or my reason for living and I channeled all that pain into writing “Single Motherhood Unplugged.” It was a conduit to get rid of the rage and the pain. It was that or go mad.
It was the beginning of getting better. After that, there were many stories I began and failed to finish. But then one night I had a dream about a teenage girl and a teenage guy. And when I woke up the story was still in my head. And it stayed in my head until I wrote it down.
Then I sent it to the Kwani Manuscript Project. And they long listed it despite the fact that it was in no way an ‘African writer’ type story. So when people ask me, “How did you do it?” I really don’t know what to say. Because it just happened.
Tell us would you rather be unable to use search engines or unable to use social media?
This is a hard one guys. Search engines are necessary for just finding things out and social media is necessary to get the word out. They’re both equally important. But if I absolutely had to choose, I guess I could do without social media for a while. There are other ways to get the word out…hopefully.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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?
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.