An entrepreneur is defined as an individual who organizes or operates a business or businesses. A person who pays a certain price for a product and resells it at an uncertain price: “making decisions about obtaining and using the resources while consequently admitting the risk of enterprise”- that’s Wikipedia’s description.
This is a correct and general description of who an entrepreneur really is, but there is more involved in being an entrepreneur, it’s a tough life.
As much as being an entrepreneur is tough, being a female entrepreneur is a bit more difficult, especially in Kenya. As much as Kenya’s society is evolving and adopting some western beliefs, it’s still a very conservative society. Being a woman in Kenya, there are certain expectations people have and most women in Kenya conform to them. I’m not saying that it is a negative thing in any way, it just makes it a bit difficult for those of us who have different expectations.
So, when you meet a crowd of people, or relatives at any occasion; and they ask you what you’re doing these days, the last thing they’re expecting to hear is that you’re running a start-up bakery. As a 28 year old, they’re always surprised to hear that I’m not married (and currently have no plans to soon). I don’t even have a potential suitor for the grand event. To top it off, I quit a ‘good’ job to pursue a business in the baking industry; so the general response is – “You’re still doing the baking thing?” Yes folks, I’m still doing the ‘baking’ thing!
Dealing with people you know who have a certain expectation of you at a certain stage in your life, that you’re not meeting – is always difficult. The difficult thing is not really the judgment, but it’s being unable to explain to them why I’m doing it. It’s not something I can explain to them, I can only show them. So, they’ll have to wait until they can understand, and they may never understand, therefore it’s something I have to accept in the end.
For me, that is the most difficult thing about being a female entrepreneur in Kenya. As an entrepreneur, it helps to have the people close to you supporting your career or business. When the opposite happens, it can be quite difficult; not only dealing with the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur but also dealing with the disappointment and judgment of those close to you. The worst part being that it is because you are a woman. When a man starts a business venture, he will get the claps on the back, people tell him that he is brave and people encourage him to keep going.
When a young woman starts a business in Kenya, some people do congratulate her and tell her she is courageous – and I will admit that these days people do support female entrepreneurs more than they did before. However the majority will look at you in different ways; some in pity – “Wow, do you think you can handle it?” Others in confusion – “What now? Shouldn’t you be planning on how to get married soon? You’re not getting any younger you know!” You might also get the patronizing comments – “Awww, how nice, I suppose it’s something to do for now.” (As I wait for what – I ask, to get married?).
To be a female entrepreneur in Kenya, especially if you’re a youth and unmarried to boot, you have to be tougher. You have to work twice as hard and push yourself ten times more. This is not because there is something wrong with you. It’s just a more difficult business world for you. It’s harder to get investors for your business, they cannot help but judge or stereotype. You just have to prove that you’re worth the investment. It’s harder to network with other entrepreneurs such as businessmen or older, maybe married, business women. You just need to present yourself as an authority in your industry and show you have and will continue to prove your metal as an entrepreneur. I believe it is necessary to work harder because in the long run it is good for you. You build clout, you’re stronger, mentally and spiritually; you gain a thick skin and you can stay strong through any judgment or criticism.
This should not discourage any ladies who are thinking of being entrepreneurs in Kenya, especially single young ladies. I just believe in being fully aware and prepared before starting business. Examine yourself, be honest with yourself and make sure you can withstand social pressures. This is because part of being a female entrepreneur in Kenya is being able to withstand other people’s doubt in you, disappointment and judgment; without trying to explain yourself to them. Knowing that there is a vision you have, a goal you are working towards and you can see it clear as day; but they cannot see it no matter how much you explain it to them.
It is keeping the belief strong in you even when everyone around you, even your family or friends, has lost their faith in you. If you are that kind of person, and very many women are, then you are ready to be an entrepreneur. In the words of Maya Angelou;
“Go out there, grab the world by the lapels, and kick some ass girl!”
This post appeared originally on the Storymoja Hay Festival Blog.