Female entrepreneurs have plenty to share about their experiences –their challenges, successes and lessons learnt along the way. Angela Uwamahoro Kamanzi, 47, was born and raised in Rwanda but settled in Kenya 18 years ago. Angela talks about her journey into launching an online magazine called Mkazi – The Enterprising African Woman. She also talks about raising her two sons, now aged 21 years and 17 years.
MT: Tell us about Mkazi.
AUK: In some Bantu languages, ‘mkazi’ means woman while ‘kazi’ is a root for words meaning work, female or feminine. Therefore, Mkazi is the woman with an entrepreneurial spirit who offers services or products that are unique and have a positive impact on the community, and whose values and work ethics can inspire, inform, motivate and improve the lives of her clients and anyone who comes into contact with her.
Mkazi – The Enterprising African Woman was launched in February 2014 as a resource of information to help women get a clear understanding of who they are, find their life purpose and achieve financial freedom through entrepreneurship. Mkazi is a platform for celebrating East African women achievers and a resource of home-grown solutions to Africa’s unique challenges.
MT: Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.
AUK: I stumbled onto my entrepreneurial journey, literally. I started off as a freelance writer in 2001 after reading What Colour Is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles. Doing the exercises in this book rekindled my passion for writing as I was tired of tarmacking.
For two years I contributed to local and international publications. My greatest joy was to interview somebody, understand what they had in mind and put it on paper in my own style. However it soon dawned on me that, solely as a writer, I may not be able to achieve the kind of income I yearned for. That’s when I was introduced to network marketing.
Through the GNLD venture that lasted three years, I got exposed to courses on personal development and sales and marketing. I devoured books like Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Richest Man In Babylon by George S. Clason; and stacks of audio and video tapes from Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar, Nassir Siddiki, Bob Proctor and many others. When I stopped network marketing to start Arkad World Limited with my husband in 2005; I was a transformed. I was focused, confident and had a clearer idea of what I wanted from life and how to achieve it.
Arkad World Ltd is a company that provides professional conference interpreting, translation and conference management services. Our first project was to publish a magazine aimed at empowering the African enterprising woman. To understand how publications make money and to raise capital, we started by selling advertising spaces for other publications. At the end of this experience it was clear that a print magazine would be the ideal, but the required funds were much higher than we anticipated and we shelved the idea.
Locally, the internet was in its initial stages and a digital publication wasn’t viable. Today, things have changed and the internet offers endless opportunities for online publications. That’s why last year we finally embarked on turning the Mkazi-The Enterprising African Woman magazine dream into reality.
MT: How was the transition from Rwanda to Kenya in terms of employment?
AUK: My first experience of work came in 1990 when I was still in university, during a lost year due to war and political turmoil in Rwanda. I worked for one year then returned to complete my Licencees Lettres degree at the Université Nationale du Rwanda, Nyakinama campus.
I then worked as a personal assistant in a project of the World Bank and when the war ended in 1994, I got a job as an Administrative and Financial Assistant in a UNHCR field office. Two years later I moved to Kenya with my husband and our first born.
Once in Kenya, I tarmacked for four years. At some point I stopped looking for a job because it had become a waste of time, a liability (I got conned by a fake head hunter) and a source of frustration. When I started freelancing as a writer, doors started opening for me, I guess because I was finally doing what I was passionate about.
MT: As an entrepreneur, what are the key lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
a) Focus on one thing at a time.
My head is often bustling with ideas and in the past I’ve found myself sharing about those ideas, getting people excited and making commitments that I would eventually not fulfill. Multitasking in business doesn’t work, at least not for me.
b) Surround yourself with people who are not afraid to tell you the truth.
I’m the kind of person who jumps in the river because the waters look inviting and it’s sunny. My friend and business partner Carol Mwamzali on the contrary is the kind who first scrutinizes the water for any crocodiles or snakes before jumping.
She has the annoying habit of asking the questions you don’t want to hear when you are excited about an idea and envisioning its glorious outcome: where, when, why, who, what, especially HOW! Initially her constant focus on what could go wrong used to frustrate me. However since her judgment was right most of the time, I gradually came to appreciate how important it is to really ponder the pros and cons of an idea before venturing into it.
Today, I wouldn’t take a major decision without consulting Carol because her input always lays bare the weaknesses I may not see at the time. This takes me back to the drawing board, forces me out of the box and often results in a well-researched and thought out project.
c) If it doesn’t work, quit.
We are taught to never ever quit. However clinging to a venture that is clearly not working because you’ve spent time, energy and money building it or because you are afraid to look like a failure is plain unreasonable. Cut your losses and move on to a new project.
MT: What has been your most unfortunate incident in your entrepreneurial journey?
AUK: Is there’s any unfortunate incident in entrepreneurship? I’ve made so many mistakes and learned invaluable lessons from them. But I can say that the most painful incident was when I fired someone who desperately needed the job because she couldn’t learn.
MT: What advice would you give to women in business?
Women are created for greatness. God has given us so much psychological and emotional strength. Let’s put it to good use for ourselves, our families and our countries.
MT: Give us a glimpse into your motherhood journey.
AUK: Becoming a mother is probably the most fulfilling experience of my life. When I gave birth for the first time, I felt deep respect for my mother. I couldn’t believe she went through labour pain eight times!
I really enjoy it whenever I’m sitting with my sons and having a conversation with them, because I get to know what is going on in their lives and to understand their aspirations, wishes and dreams.
I’m grateful for my husband Ephrem, because I couldn’t be the mother I am without him. He taught me not to take life too seriously and to be patient with children. There’s a certain depth of the boys’ personality that I can’t fully understand simply because I’m not a boy! Some issues, only him can handle and resolve.
We both believe that as parents our role is to give our children the support they need to become who they want to be. Sidney is fond of nature and is doing Wildlife Management at the University of Nairobi. Davy is doing his A levels and his dream is to become an international football player, a goal keeper to be precise. He is also a computer geek and a skilled negotiator and I suspect he might venture in business in the future. They are very focused on their dreams and we are looking forward to celebrating their achievements along the way.
MT: Thank you Angela for your time and best wishes with Mkazi-The Enterprising African Woman.
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