[Part II] One step at a time: Meet these innovative women who are beating odds
Many female innovators, especially the youth, have taken the innovation space with a storm. Kenya, having produced international icons in innovative ideas, solve day to day problems crippling the society.
Quick access to information and a penetration of higher levels of learning deserve a clap, all in equal measure for the unfolding competition, between the male and female sex. The competition is so much that the touted gender equality is shifting the weight to the boy child.
Many female innovators, especially the youth, have taken the innovation space with a storm. Kenya, having produced international icons in innovative ideas, solve day to day problems crippling the society, in key sectors including from agriculture, ICT and service industries.
Meet this bunch of great minds, giving men sleepless nights.
1. Irene Wanjiku – Rexe Roofing Products Limited
It is said that creating wealth starts from a small bit, no one, however, says how small, or how big the end results would be.
For Irene Wanjiku - the founder and CEO of Rexe Roofing Products Limited - her route to creating a bankable solution has been through the roof. She endeavors to have a roof above your head, and that’s what she is.
"Many a times we just give advice and expect others to do the real work," she reminds me, adding, "As for me, I decided to provide the real solution. I chose to concentrate on roofs only."
She has no idea, when the business in her started. But at least she dates it back to a time she savored the joys of one's hard earned money. And it was a little money. Five hundred shillings a week for doing some 'research work.' She was ‘researching’ in print newspapers, scanning for information on airlines, frequency of landing in Nairobi, ticket prices and the like. She dumped the idea. She wanted to move on.
Irene’s deal breaker came when she was asked to help in taking care of a baby in between serving customers in a shop dealing in mobile phones. It was her blessing in disguise. She was not for the idea of being reduced to a mere nanny, anyway. Here, she effectively networked and later landed a receptionist job in a firm dealing in imported goods.
"I would start early at six o'clock in the morning and drive to different construction sites to talk to property developers and return to the office in the afternoon to send loads of emails," she says.
Her savings of about Sh3 million was not enough for her venture, but she says her customers trusted her with their deposits. And she did not disappoint. Impressed by her candor and commitment, some customers were ready to ‘risk’ their money on her. After all she didn’t have the roofing products at hand, she had samples!
She traces her big jump over in 2012 during the Homes Expo at the Nairobi’s Sarit Centre where she clinched her first major deal. Armed with a willing heart and a belief in self, the young entrepreneur approached IKO Sales International and offered to be their local distributor. Its broke the loose. She became one, despite the pangs thereafter.
The game changer came when she landed a deal to roof 100 holiday homes at Ol Pajeta for Mount Kenya Wildlife Estate.
If anyone wanted proof that a young person can make it in business, then Wanjiku is that proof. She is a living example, that tough talk, perseverance and self-work can create partnerships across continents.
That is how she became the regional distributor for IKO of Belgium. The fact that she had never made a roof before did not deter her. Owning a business requires skills that may not be immediate to hands on experience. In any case, no one can be on ten roofs at a go.
Business is about assembling the team to help you get things done. From the dusts to her projected sublime streets of Brussels, it has been a journey of grit and sheer guts. Her small size is deceptive. Her voice may sound like other girl's, but she is a titan of business. And she is not stopping soon. She looks up to a one Laxmanbhai of Laxmanbhai Group.
2. Jacqueline Kiage - Innovation Eye Centre (Kenya)
Born and raised in rural Kenya, Jacqueline Kiage is a woman of vision. Her delight is in people seeing.
After completing her study for the award of a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Chemistry, she married her student sweetheart Daniel, an eye doctor from Kisii, Western Kenya.
At that time, Jacqueline decided to become a social entrepreneur, as she had an immense desire to start-up a venture solving people issues.
In 2012, she enrolled in the MBA offered by with the Tangaza University College in Nairobi, originally with the idea of setting up a distribution network of solar lamps. Later, she realized that actually the problem in rural Kenya was not even lighting, but health. With the help of her husband, she delved specifically in eye surgery.
Western Kenya is a region with a high incidence of preventable blindness such as cataract and trachoma. Banking on the husband’s technical competence, the couple decided to start the “Innovation Eye Centre”, an accessible eye clinic adopting a Social Enterprise model located in Kisii town.
Few people would think of establishing a private health care facility in Kenya’s rural areas as many patients there cannot afford private care.
However, many public health institutions face personnel, equipment and essential supply shortages, making the need for affordable private care for rural households even more pressing.
3. Lucy Kapkirwok - Sanpad Products (Kenya)
Lucy grew up in a typically poverty stricken Kenyan village where owning a panty, let alone pads, was a problem.
One doesn’t need a projector to see the Lucy’s old village. She roots from a village where young girls and women lacked proper access to affordable and hygienic menstrual management products.
This would cause small girls, at least to drop out of school, out of low self-esteem and inevitable absenteeism from school. These plights irked this Kenyan socialpreneur Lucy Kapkirwok to find an innovative solution.
She created a company to have the embarrassment withdrawn. Her company, Sanpad, was born out of that need. Today she is the provider of a better life to young girls in school, putting a smile on their faces. They no longer leave school.
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