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How actress quit theatre to find home in real estate

WORK LIFE
By Stevens Muendo | June 8th 2021

Milka Ndegwa.

For years, Milka Ndegwa has been a leading light in the local theatre industry.

Acting and directing plays has been her forte and from it, beyond making a big name, she made fortunes enough to support herself and her family.

Young, talented and fresh from high school, Milka joined other ambitious actors at the Kenya National Theatre (KNT) who together made the theatre scene in Kenya vibrant back in 2010.

Besides being a mainstay at KNT, the talented actress went ahead to act Rispa, the funny house-help in Lies That Bind TV drama before taking a play role in web series by the same name.

With her acting career looking up and Kenyans starting to embrace local TV drama shows, Milka went ahead to feature in other drama shows among them Wash n’ Set, Demigods and Fundamentals. That was before joining MTV Shuga, Season 2, one of the biggest and controversial Kenyan films that went ahead to be aired in 40 countries across the world. 

Exciting venture

“I recall how we made theatre at KNT lively and in a span of four months, fans embraced our act. We started getting full bookings for all our weekend shows and from Friday to Sunday, it was like every minute was spent on stage. After this, TV drama and local film became a big deal,” says Milka.

“We used to do most of the theatre shows and TV drama series in contracts and the truth is that we could earn a lot of money, even up to Sh100,000 per week. It was an exciting venture, especially knowing that we were young,” the rather social and comical Milka says.

Noting that film is one of the untapped money-making areas in local entertainment, Milka says that opportunities came calling and the future in big-screen looked promising.

Besides acting, she became one of the much-sought-after production specialists for plays, drama shows and films; for theatre and TV. It was around 2017 when she started full time production that she began to experience hurdles that got her thinking twice about her future in the creative industry.

“The biggest problem in the screen industry in Kenya is that scalability in the arts is slow. There are countless talents within the industry and there is immense potential but the packaging of it as a product needs to be carefully curated and presented better as a sustainable model.

“When business goes down, there is no fallback plan for thespians and that can be frustrating. Worse so, when KNT closed down for a Sh100 million renovation plan, local theatre literally lost 99 per cent of its business and by the time it was being reopened in 2015, the fans had gone away and it was like starting from zero when it came to theatre productions, a struggle the theatre had to endure till Covid-19 dealt it the final blow,” she says.

Although acting was Milka’s dream career, a lucrative venture where she enjoyed all the fame and fortune, the future became bleak as opportunities dimmed.

Like many other players in the entertainment sector, meeting her basic needs became an uphill task as the theatre world crumbled. Pressed for choice, she started looking for alternative ways of raising income. That is the time the real estate idea came.

When she left theatre, she took a full-time job in a leading real estate firm as an employee and the going was easier. She got her groove back after the theatre fall.

Suddenly, she developed a passion for sales and property development, something she saw as being a more sustainable and workable career.

“My business partner Martin encouraged me and together we took the business risk and founded Miliki Space Properties, a firm that offers investment solutions in real estate – where I am co-founder and CEO. It was a big challenge starting due to financial constraints and for the fact that we had to develop a clientele data in a space that sometimes is ruled by ‘cartels’,” Milka, who together with her partner operates from their Museum Hill office, Nairobi, says.

“Real estate is a swift space. Land will always appreciate. People are always looking to invest. In real estate, you rarely lose a client. If they do not buy immediately, they will always come back later. As much as you are offering good value to your client, they will always come back. Unlike what you face in the film industry, business is assured and always growing,” she says.

Comfort zone

From the lessons, Milka says it is time entertainers and young people started thinking out of the box.

She says the youth should not limit themselves to what has traditionally been their comfort zone. She notes that for years, real estate business has been viewed as a reserve for the rich.

This far, she says, quitting film could have been painful but nothing gives her more delight than the choice she made. She says for the fact that young people are easily adaptable to change and are innovative, the rising opportunities in the real estate sector give the youth an edge above the rest.

“In the short time I have been here, I have witnessed the industry gain pace and we have had to be innovative and give more value to our clients. The clients’ needs are constantly evolving and we have to always be ahead of our game. We see a lot of younger entrepreneurs joining the sector as opposed to before. The business landscape is fairly well developed, and numerous opportunities are dependent on product and service development. That creates a never-ending chain that keeps the industry going,” she says.

“There are numerous opportunities in low cost housing as well. When the price is right, you have a client. Besides, for the young, even if you were earning Sh50,000 monthly, you can still be a property owner as long as you develop a good plan, so do not be afraid of dreaming as we are the future of real estate.”

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