What it Means to be a Female Entrepreneur in Kenya

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.We can do it - black chic

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.

Maureen at Bakers Forum May 2016

I’m going to keep grinding til I make it. You should too!

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!”

Who run the world - girls - Cosmo pic

Yes we do!           (Image: Cosmopolitan)

This post appeared originally on the Storymoja Hay Festival Blog.

5 Kenyan Female Entrepreneurs Youth Can Look Up To

While starting a business in Kenya, especially as a female entrepreneur, sometimes there are periods of doubt, great trials among many other challenges. I have found that when I’m going through such problems, I like to find inspiration from people who have passed through challenges like mine and have triumphed. I can relate very personally, especially when a certain business or aspect of your business fails. It is very important for start-up entrepreneurs in Kenya to find inspiration in other successful entrepreneurs near them. I’ve been reading about female entrepreneurs in Kenya who have been successful and followed their respective journeys in business. These women have inspired me, especially because they are Kenyan. There are many women who are working very hard and doing well in business in Kenya; however, I have chosen these top five for any youth in Kenya to look up to because they have suffered through many challenges in their journeys and have still been highly successful. They are also still working hard to be better everyday and youth in Kenya can look up to them for inspiration.

1. Tabitha Karanja

Tabitha Karanja is the chief executive of Keroche Breweries, she has paved the way for many other female entrepreneurs in Kenya where women are traditionally scarce in the boardrooms, and even rarer in large successful start-ups. She is a mother of four who turned the first Kenyan owned brewery business, Keroche Breweries, into a success. She started in 1997 with fortified wines aimed at the low end market but the company wasn’t able to maintain the low prices in 2007 due to taxes aimed at alcohol.

Tabitha's take on women in Kenyan society

Tabitha’s take on women in Kenyan society

She then came up with a new beer brand, Summit, in 2008 which has done well over the last few years. Tabitha has weathered the challenges of being a pioneer in an industry which is dominated by international brands and hasn’t given up even when her situation seemed hopeless. She inspires me to keep going even when it feels like I’m the under-dog in my industry. When I seem to hit a wall on my business, I’m inspired to come up with another solution instead of just giving up.

Tabitha Karanja

Tabitha Karanja

2. Julie Gichuru

We all know Julie as a TV host with broadcaster Citizen TV. She has been in the media for the past 12 years. The reason she is an inspiration to me is due to her entrepreneurial activities. She has two known business ventures; an online fashion retail outlet called Mimi and a media production company – Arimus Media Ltd. She has worked hard over the years to produce influential programs that have helped with reconciliation as well as start up dialogues on problems facing Kenyans and finding ways to resolve them. She has also started a business venture that failed, but that did not deter her from starting other businesses. She is a female entrepreneur who has set out to create companies that make a positive impact to Kenyans and I admire her for that. She inspires me because she does not give up even when she fails in a venture. Julie is also an inspiration to female entrepreneurs in Kenya because she does not only set out to make money, but also to change people’s life for the better. Youth should be inspired by her and should work hard to build companies that inspire and help people.

Julie Gichuru

Julie Gichuru

3. Gina Din Kariuki

Gina Din is a pan-African public relations practitioner. She is the founder and chair of Gina Din, which is a leading independent and indigenous strategic communications agency in East Africa. She has over 30 years of experience giving state of the art media and communication strategy to corporate companies, as well as crisis management and event planning. She started her company in 1997 with just her savings and struggled through many months where she sometimes had zero to 5 clients. She says she has learned a lot in the industry through experience and has kept going strong all through the years. She inspires me because she left a great job with Barclays Bank to start her own business, taking such a risk is very courageous and scary as well. She also shares that she doubted herself back then and even had second thoughts about starting a business. However she continued on her entrepreneurial journey and has built an amazing and successful company.

Gina Din Kariuki

Gina Din Kariuki

4. Eva Muraya

Eva Muraya is the CEO and founder of Brand Strategy and Design Limited. She also co-founded Color Creations Group Ltd, the first advertising and branding business to gain the global quality management systems standards ISO 9001:2001 Certification in East and Central Africa. Eva quit a great corporate job as Regional Sales and Marketing Manager for FedX (East African Courier Ltd) to co-found her first business.

Eva Muraya

Eva Muraya

The reason she motivates me is because she is always challenging herself. She could have decided to get comfortable and just move up the corporate ladder. However she wanted to challenge herself further by building an amazing company. Eva is also the Chairman of the Kenya Association of Women Business Owners. She is passionate about women’s economic empowerment, mentorship of youth, and also advocating and fund raising initiatives for children with special needs.(whoswho.co.ke). I’m inspired by a Kenyan female entrepreneur who inspires women to be empowered and mentors the youth. Eva is definitely a woman to look up to.

Eva's slogan

Eva’s slogan

5. Lorna Rutto

Lorna is one of Africa’s greatest young entrepreneurs; having carved a niche for herself in a male dominated business environment. She resigned a good bank job in 2009 to start her company Ecopost Ltd which is a small plastic recycling business that uses plastic waste collected from dump sites and garbage cans across Nairobi to manufacture fencing posts. Lorna inspires me because where people see plastic garbage, she saw an opportunity and a way to save our environment. She started a business that not only uses plastic waste to convert to posts, but saves thousands of trees from being cut down. Ecopost also provides income for individuals who collect plastic and take it to their factory, where they get paid for the plastic waste. She’s an inspiration because she has achieved so much at such a young age and she’s still going strong. She resigned a job because she felt she was not making a difference in the way that she wanted and started a company that is helping Kenyans earn money as well as saving our environment. If that isn’t inspirational I don’t know what is!

Lorna Rutto

Lorna Rutto

If you are a young female entrepreneur in Kenya having doubts or going through some major challenges in your journey, this should inspire you thoroughly ^_^. Believe in yourself, stay strong through any challenges and always think positive. Be innovative and always think of a better way of solving your problems. Most importantly; work hard, work smart, never give up on your self and keep the faith.

Now go out there and build your dream ^_^!

7 Maya Angelou Quotes That Inspire Any Female Entrepreneur

As a female entrepreneur who is constantly looking for inspiration, I like to read about great women who have made a difference in the world. I read about women from all genres or industries. The late Maya Angelou is one of the women whose story intrigued me. I also took a class once on African American literature and she was my favorite writer and poet. She suffered through many tragedies in her life and came through a better person.

Today I want to share some of her quotes that would be relevant to any female entrepreneur out there struggling through many obstacles. These quotes will speak directly to you. I hope they inspire you, they definitely inspire me.

 

maya-angelou-Powerful quotes

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

This quote is self explanatory; if you don’t like the current state your life is in – change it. Sitting around and complaining how bad things are doesn’t solve anything, it just makes you a more negative person. Get moving and start changing your life in a positive way, step by step.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Most people want to be successful in life; whether it’s as an entrepreneur or in your chosen career. The thing that most people forget, or ignore; is the effort required in achieving that dream. There are many obstacles and challenges before one attains success. Nobody should ever assume that it was effortless, if you see a successful person – they have gone through a lot to get there.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

This applies to an individual or a business. Especially when you’re dealing with your customers, you need to learn to listen to them and work hard to solve their problem. You should not do it just for the money, but because you want to help them. When you genuinely want to help a person and listen to them, they feel important and valued. This makes the person feel good and he/she will never forget you.

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” 

This is very true, to be an entrepreneur is to be courageous. It is to be brave and to act regardless of any fear or doubt you have. If you cannot be courageous, you can’t make it as an entrepreneur at all.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” 

This is another quote that is self explanatory. If you become an entrepreneur, you should start a business that you have a passion for. You have to like what you do, so as not to give up when the going gets tough. You have to like yourself by being true to yourself and constantly working hard to be a better person. You also have to do things in an accountable and correct way, so you can be proud of what you’re doing.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” 

This quote is similar to the previous one, make sure you love what you’re doing. Don’t be driven only by money, make sure in whatever business you are doing, you’re solving a problem. Your business should be helping people and making their lives better.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

This quote speaks to any entrepreneur that encounters failure in her/his business. As an entrepreneur, you will most definitely encounter failure in your journey. The true test of an entrepreneur is how you deal with the failure. You should learn from it and make sure not to repeat your mistake. Failure is important in an entrepreneur’s journey to success. I believe that it does build character and shows you what you’re really capable of enduring.

If you have any other Maya Angelou quotes you would love to share below, please feel free ^_^