GroFin’s investment for the future: Kenyan women entrepreneurs are good ‘jockeys’ guest Saturday, 08 November 2014

GroFin’s investment for the future: Kenyan women entrepreneurs are good ‘jockeys’

Recently, I participated in the 2014 SEED Africa Symposium, along with participants from 30 different countries who represented the government, private sector, academia and civil society. During the course of the event, which was held in Nairobi, there were several interesting discussions centered on increasing opportunities in Africa for small social and green enterprises, as well as empowering women entrepreneurs.

GroFin, a small and growing business development financier, is particularly focused on providing access to Kenyan entrepreneurs, male and female. What we do at GroFin is we invest in viable entrepreneurs operating small and medium size firms with growth potential in the industrial or commercial sectors, which are most likely to create significant and sustainable jobs. These sectors include healthcare, education, energy, agri-processing, key services and entrepreneurial enterprises. In our view, every investment we make delivers on a quadruple bottom line (Commercial, Social, Environmental, Governance) and we measure and report on these parameters. 

The entrepreneur as "jockey" of a business

The driving force, the key success factor, of the business should be the entrepreneur. There’s an analogy I believe that is apt in describing the role of the entrepreneur: he, or in an increasing number of cases, she, is the "jockey", and GroFin’s investment approach is primarily based on assessing an entrepreneur’s ability and commitment to make the business a success. Good entrepreneurs who receive value-adding business support from a partner like GroFin are more likely to succeed under challenging conditions, we believe, and we look at entrepreneurs who demonstrate a good professional track record as well as the appropriate practical experience related to the business they are growing.

Last year, the business climate was rather challenging in Kenya; this had an impact on investments in small- and medium-sized enterprises last year. I am pleased, however, that thus far 2014 has proven to be a strong year for GroFin Kenya. We are particularly proud to support a number of highly successful women entrepreneurs. There is Dr. Harriet Mwithaga, who is the CEO of Mediplan Ltd, a renal dialysis center with branches in Upper Hill and Mombasa Road, and Maureen Murunga, founder and CEO of Neo-Amadiva Ltd., a hair and beauty business with current branches at "14 Riverside" and "Prestige Plaza".

Maureen Murunga and Dr Mwithaga are women of vision who have embarked on their businesses with a clear, long-term strategy and determination; they are very much the "jockeys" who drive their enterprises towards success. Women have always been part of the workforce, and noticeably more and more women are turning to entrepreneurship, starting and growing businesses; this is a welcome development. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s recently released Global Gender Gap 2014 Report, Kenya is ranked at 37th globally:

"Kenya (37) is one of the best climbers in the region in terms of overall score since 2013, with a percentage change of 7%. The country scores well for economic participation…”

Starting businesses more often, but not growing them as much

However, women do face challenges unique to their gender, which may influence the decisions they make when starting or growing their business. Research shows that women have in fact been starting new businesses at double the rate of men. Yet most of these businesses do not grow at the same rate compared to businesses owned by men; most of them remain small. I wondered why this was so, and turned to two successful businesswomen whose businesses have grown with GroFin’s investment, to share their insights on what it takes to be a successful women entrepreneur in Kenya.

Pamela Muyeshi is the owner of Amaica, a restaurant specializing in authentic Kenyan cuisine, while Ruth Kwalanda owns The CIAR Management Institute, a corporate training business and provider of Kenya’s first e-learning platform. They both agreed that a lack of self-belief which plagues many women in business have held them back.

To be successful, they offer the following advice:

  • Believe in yourself. Without a strong will and dedication, you will not survive.
  • Trust your instincts and be willing to take risks.
  • Don’t be afraid to develop skills as you go along.
  • Surround yourself with people who are experts in their field to compensate for areas in which you are less experienced.
  • If you are ever in doubt about anything, ask. There is always someone willing to help you.
  • Be honest. Work-life balance is a challenge to achieve, but if you are honest, your colleagues will understand your responsibilities in both your family and professional life.
  • Whatever it is you do, be passionate about it. It will help get you through the tough times.

Radhika Lee is yet another of our success stories in Kenya. Long determined to set up her own school, she approached several local banks to try to raise funds – initial start-up financing was estimated at almost $700,000 – but was unsuccessful. GroFin partnered with Lee, who was then able to launch the Nairobi International School, with an annual enrollment of nearly 600 Kenyan students. The benefits to the community and the nation are obvious: the well-educated student is equipped with the necessary skills for the workforce, allowing him or her to compete in the global economy. There are also other concrete benefits. With an annual turnover of $1.24m, the school provides employment to 98 staff; this in turn directly impacts some 440 family members, and indirectly impacts another 1,544 people through knock-on job creation and improved livelihoods. 

There are many business opportunities in Kenya; the encouraging investment climate certainly points to that. The challenge we face in the space we focus on is not the availability of interesting investment opportunities; there are exciting opportunities sprouting up every day and across all sectors. The challenge is rather the identification of strong and committed entrepreneurs behind these businesses that we can rely on and support to make an investment sustainably successful.

Photo Credit: Africa Renewal CC BY-NC-SA / Flickr

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