Giving cottage industries new life
After successfully running a company for 19 years, Patricia Okelo wants to help women with online and home businesses scale up their projects
In the business world, the dominant gene has always been male; a trend witnessed globally and, especially in developing nations of Middle East and Africa.
But with rapid cultural changes in the last two decades, chiefly towards the rights of minorities and women, there has been a drift. Women now have a chance to sit at the corner office.
Locally, a number of women are already in the books of history for daring to fly when it was considered taboo.
Among those in that important circle is little-known Patricia Okelo, who challenged where eagles have dared not.
Her desire to be independent and earn from her own sweat started 19 years ago, when she quit her job in a media house and ventured into the world of design.
Born and raised up in Nairobi city, Pat, as she is known in the entrepreneurship circles, attended Loreto Convent Msongari before proceeding to Moi Girls Secondary School, Nairobi and later Kenyatta University, where she studied design.
Moments out of college, work came calling, but she was not satisfied as it was not her desire to be employed. Her decision was to immediately quit and jump deep into the uncharted waters of self-employment.
Despite resistance from her parents, she dared only a desk computer and started procuring for work in both middle-level and high-end markets.
Guided with the determination to meet her goals she founded Willart, a design and printing company. Next year the company celebrates 20 years of existence.
Determined not to relax and enjoy her fruits she went ahead to venture into the big boys league, setting up an events organisation company dubbed Conferencing In a Box.
Three months ago, she decided it was time to give back to the community and is specifically focusing on mentoring women, with the belief that “women thrive when we share”.
Through Kayana, a community-based organisation targeting female entrepreneurs, Pat is now focusing on the potential of those who want to get into the world of business just like her.
She is targeting women in the incubation period of between zero and three years in business with the aim of moving the businesses from idea to start up. The businesses are typically run online or at home, with the founders on the lookout for the next step of growth.
And according to Pat, the “outcome is promising, as tens of female have shown interest and therefore the challenge is on us as pioneers to offer guidance”.
Located in the upper middle suburbs of Hurlingham in Nairobi, the centre offers between six-month and one-year programme in which experts guide members on the nitty-gritty of business from different sectors, mainly government regulatory bodies such as Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kenya Copyright Board, Kenya Revenue Authority and National Environmental Management Authority.
Her belief and drive is the cottage industry. “I am sure if we as a country focus on what mama mboga and her jua kali partners produce, we would solve the problems facing the youths in terms of unemployment and under-employment.
Pat argues further that since most local women are fashion mindful, “It’s one area where we can place lots of emphasis, since there is a market across all classes of society, from the lowest paid earner to the superrich”.
“If we boost our textile industry, starting from the small scale farmers in rural areas, down to the factories and into the retail shops, we will no doubt have a large labour force in production.
That will definitely tackle matters of employment because it is all a labour intensive exercise from the beginning,” she says.
First cottage esxpo
According to the Ministry of Industries, Trade and Cooperatives, small-scale farmers in marginal and arid areas of Nyanza, Rift Valley, Coast, Eastern and Western regions practise cotton farming.
Currently an estimated 300,000 farmers holding between an acre and acre and half are encouraged to produce the crop.
Her reference is the India cottage industries, mainly in the line of weaving cotton, which employs millions of small-scale artisans and contributes greatly to the economy.
Her other area, where mostly young members have placed emphasis, is technology. “Those with science background see tech as a potential and, therefore place their efforts and resources there.”
Although requiring a high capital, lots of regulation and licenses, food industry is also another area where a few of her members have ventured.
It’s for this reason that come this Friday and Saturday, tens of participants and admirers of locally made items, mostly clothes and other house hold items will be assembling at her office, CMS Africa Building to participate in the first ever Kenya Cottage Expo.
Her desire is to see Kenyans in future dress up in vitenge during working days instead of the official suits. Her role model is Divine Ndulukula, a Zimbabwean businesswoman, founder and managing director of DDNS Security Operations, the parent company of Securico Security Services.