For many businesses, the bottom line is all about profits, sales and conversions. While turnover is essentially the life and breath of any business, Waihiga K Muturi believes a business’ longevity depends on much more.
“Impact needs to come first. Without impact there’s no growth. Without growth there’s no sustainability,” says the 31-year-old.
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“Profit is a by-product of these two pillars, but many people have it the other way round.”
Waihiga founded his company, Let’s Create Africa, under this premise. It’s a social enterprise that aims to eradicate poverty and reduce unemployment by using its profits to support micro and community-based businesses. It offers business advisory services, investment and market linkages.
Waihiga spoke to Hustle about his steady growth as an entrepreneur who supports other entrepreneurs.
What, exactly, is a social enterprise?
In simple terms, it’s a business that pumps back its profits into building the financial and growth capabilities of smaller businesses.
The bulk of profits for Let’s Create Africa comes from marketing, branding and company placement. We take a chunk of these profits and use our expertise to create or enhance existing micro and small companies.
Can you give us an example?
We ran the Kibera Fishbone Youth Project along with other projects with the Kiambu County government back when we started out in 2014.
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In 2016, we assessed community needs, consulted and came up with the idea to unite peasant egg farmers into a community business in Wangige.
We taught them simple business practises, like book-keeping, formalising their businesses with the correct paperwork, leveraging on bulk buying, product placement and so on.
Four months later, these farmers had gone from making Sh8,000 a month to making Sh20,000 a month, per person. In total, their egg business was turning over between Sh80,000 and Sh120,000.
Wangige now has the biggest egg market in East Africa, attracting buyers from across the region. The farmers had everything they needed, all that was lacking was guidance.
How do you pick an enterprise to support or get involved in?
We undertake a lot of research and community engagement, especially with the directly affected locals, and sometimes through the respective arms of the county government.
What gave you the idea to start Let’s Create Africa?
I come from Nakuru. After the post-election crisis in 2007-08, many young people in my neighbourhood found ourselves stuck at home as we waited for things to settle.
When the crisis ended, I returned to university in Nairobi, but remembered there were 52 young people I’d left behind, most of whom didn’t have a normal life to return to. With the ending of the chaos was the beginning of hopelessness and insignificance.
I started thinking of something we could do together. We ended up providing garbage collection services in our neighbourhood.
We did this for eight months by which time almost everyone had got a job or started their own business.
It hit me then that what most people need is inspiration to become more. That’s the idea behind Let’s Create Africa – we create opportunities.
How many enterprises have you worked with so far?
Since we formed the company in 2014, we’ve worked with 15 other organisations, including ElsaKim, a cosmetics manufacturing company, Young Entrepreneurs Network Africa, a networking platform that connects innovative entrepreneurs, and Campus Radio, an online radio station aimed at and tailored for university students. There’s also B-Lab East Africa, an organisation that certifies B-Corporations – businesses that balance purpose and profit.
What’s been your proudest accomplishment?
Wow, there have been many. But let me pick a project we’ve been working on for the last three years. Venture Village Africa is a 10-week acceleration programme.
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For 10 weeks, entrepreneurs are mentored by successful industry players. At the end of 10 weeks, the top three businesses are awarded $10,000 (Sh1 million) in cash prizes, and partially sponsored to the US to pitch to venture capitalists at the Founders, Funders, Frontiers Forum.
How do you make money from a programme like this?
All participating businesses pay a fee of Sh20,000. On top of that, we have sponsors like Agora Enterprises, the Alvah & Doris Velt Foundation and Gulf African Bank. Through this support, we can afford to award the prize money.
Is entrepreneurship support a common concept in Kenya?
It’s growing. I was recently a participant in the Inuka Enterprise Programme sponsored by the Kenyan banking industry.
Inuka seeks to empower MSMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises) to accelerate their business growth and increase opportunities for job creation.
What I really liked about it was that the room was full of businesses in various stages of development, from medium-sized enterprises to sole proprietors who’d barely got their projects off the ground. The facilitators communicated in a way that reached us all.
The greatest impact of this programme is not just dispensing information, but the follow-up, which goes as far as helping informal businesses gain access to funding and loans.
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It creates community of well-informed entrepreneurs who’ll end up being more productive, collaborative and transparent in their endeavours.
What do you consider a win after attending Inuka?
Despite social enterprise being my core business, I came away with fresh information and new networks. Through Inuka, I acquired new clients and partners.
What’s the one thing you wish all entrepreneurs, present and future, knew?
The truth about how difficult it is to grow a business. In Kenya where jobs are scarce, many people are turning to entrepreneurship. This is great, but I feel like it’s been hyped without the real picture being painted.
Because of this, I was inspired to start #TheExperiment, which is like the alcoholics anonymous for entrepreneurs.
We have monthly meetings where we share our biggest pitfalls or victories; things like not making rent, not having bus fare, being in debt, signing a ground-breaking contract or launching a great product.
I think it’s vital that we be real, otherwise we’re just building castles in the air.