There’s no such thing as a “self-made” individual

Waithera Gaitho, Executive Director at Alternatives Africa

A new day is nature’s own energiser. It’s fresh with opportunity and always depicts another chance.  I usually wake up at 4.30 am and start my day with some Bible reading and meditation. After that I go for a jog, have a glass of vegetable juice, hit the shower, prepare my 9-year-old daughter for school, pack a bottle of Kombucha (I am not a breakfast person) and off we go.

Alternatives Africa (Alternatives) is an accelerator for youth-owned micro and small businesses. We provide business training, development and support services for entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 40 years old. As the founder and vision-bearer, my position is to ensure that we stay on course towards the socio-economic liberation of our country and continent particularly through the ingenuity of the young entrepreneur.

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While working for the United Nations, I always wondered why 50 years later and with trillions of dollars pumped into the continent, development was still slow. Then while in the line of duty, I encountered the private sector and got an epiphany on the power of profit in socioeconomic development. It was then that Alternatives was born after designing a model that synergised the pillars of both the private and development sector as an alternative development model, thus the name Alternatives.

Once I get to the office, I check my emails then go through the day’s diary and hopefully tick off every box on my list. Every day also presents an opportunity for field, advocacy or desk work. Field and advocacy work are my favourite because I get to interact with either the policy makers or influencers as well as young entrepreneurs.

Seeing young entrepreneurs soar while witnessing the economic transformation that comes along with a thriving business and a positive attitude keeps me motivated to go to work each day.

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The best career advice I’ve ever received was in the form of a quote from Karanja Kabage. He said to have the unwavering and resilient spirit of a hawker or mama mboga. Come rain or shine, “Kanjo”, or infrastructure development, they never close shop. They remain undeterred yet adaptive to the times and seasons. It’s also the best advice I’d give.

My grandmother just turned 90 and she wore wedged shoes on her birthday! I celebrate her entrepreneurial spirit spanning eight decades and it’s not about to wane. I also hope to pick up her healthy eating habits right after I’m done with this wickedly delicious choc-chip cookie! I’ve learnt a lot from her. For instance, she is always open to new thoughts and ideas in business – from fish farming to cricket to rabbits to aloe vera and now, strawberries.

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I don’t believe that there is any “self-made” individual. Quite a number of people have supported me in different spheres and seasons of my life. One common thread about them was their availability and genuine willingness to see me realise my vision. I am forever grateful to every one of them.

I’ve learnt valuable lessons since starting my own business: it has to be sustainable; it takes patience and resilience to run a business; and it is impossible to have one foot in and another one out when building a business.

In the evening, I spend some time in the company of somebody I treasure or admire, or both! I read a book or watch a movie with no suspense and must have a good ending. I read about five books at a go. Each evening, I pick one depending on the events or inspiration of the day. Right now, I’m reading Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela, Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson, Wisdom of the Crowds by James Surowiecki, Faith the Link with God’s Power by Reinhard Bonnke, You Can Negotiate Anything by Herb Cohen, and the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

Outside work, apart from spending invaluable time with my daughter and mentees, l love nature and adventure. Acknowledging that I am nothing without God, and that the daily grind does drain the body, soul and spirit, I have found a refreshing spiritual well that holistically rejuvenates my being through captivating, affirming and inspiring tunes and voices. I also enjoy the company of those I treasure and admire.

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