My passion for entrepreneurship started when I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Clothing Textiles at Egerton University. I started a shop to sell soft furnishing for fabrics such as bed covers, curtains, baby sets etc. This business, however, did not go as smooth as I had earlier imagined. It was a whole ocean of passion and just a drop of business management skills.
My internship at Kenya Industrial Estate in Thika, Kenya, coupled with my work with a non-profit, Carolina for Kibera, as an officer in charge of economic and entrepreneurship projects, acted as a stepping-stone into the world of entrepreneurship. Carolina for Kibera used to have a project on charcoal briquettes, giving me my first interaction with the products.
After I left the organization, I was very passionate about charcoal briquettes and I thus researched more on them, later developing a business concept around them. In 2016, I was among the 1000 young entrepreneurs who benefited from the Tony Elumelu funding program. With the training, mentorship and seed capital of USD 5000, I established Alternative Waste Technology Ltd.
The year 2016 was such an eventful one: I quit my job at Carolina for Kibera, established my enterprise, and in February, I was accepted for the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa program.
The YALI program turned out to be an avenue to self-realization and a big boost in my leadership journey. In the design thinking class, I learned how to clearly articulate the problem I want to solve, greatly shaping the way I structured solutions for my enterprise.
I now work with a team of six people in the production department, about 100 people who collect the charcoal dust we use, and 6 distributors. I buy charcoal dust from households in Kibera, each sack going for ksh.200 and we are currently making 250-300 bags of charcoal briquettes every month. So far, I have been able to reach 1200 women, and the journey goes on! I am sure I will reach even more households and impact the lives of many in my country and even beyond.
As YALI is big on networking and providing business opportunities post the program, I left the Center a more aggressive person in looking out for opportunities where I can benefit and grow. A perfect example is the Business Skills Immersion (BSI) program, a partnership between the Center, the Kenya Community Development Foundation and financed by the Citi Bank Foundation. This program further sharpened my entrepreneurial expertise and connected me to a mentor to guide me on how to take my enterprise to a higher ground. I am able to connect with people more comfortably than I did before.
I look back a few years ago when I was stranded and struggling to find a footing, and appreciate that programs like YALI exist. I am now a mentor to many young people in my country who aspire to put their feet into entrepreneurship.
This article was written by YALI Alumna by Stella Sigana, Kenya (Cohort 6).