Rosemary’s agency, which she established in 2015, offers professional guidance on sustainable and scalable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
You worked for three different employers before finally starting your business. What’s the importance of getting work experience before plunging into entrepreneurship?
When I finished my Bachelor of Commerce degree at Kenyatta University, I first worked with an NGO based in Kawangware (in the outskirts of the CBD). It was there that I grew my passion for working with the less fortunate. I also worked as a manager in a publication before going into the corporate world, where I worked at a bank. Working for other people taught me that there are certain structures that have to be in place for a successful business to run, such as proper communication channels within an organisation. When you are employed before starting your own outfit, you also learn about responsibility and develop soft skills. The soft skills help you to deal with your clients and employees in terms of communication, dressing the part, and handling office politics.
Why CSR? How does your firm approach it differently?
I had observed that the way companies conducted their CSR left a lot to be desired. CSR in Kenya is mainly done so corporates can have photo opportunities with the poor, and mostly around Christmas. I wanted to change this, so I conducted research and came up with CSR models that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.
How did you find your first client?
Many young people, while going into business, expect quick returns, and when this does not happen, they close shop. When I started, it took me an entire year to break even. During that year, I learned that the business model I had envisioned could not work in the Kenyan market, so I had to continuously revise my strategy and shift my operating model gradually from consultancy to capacity building to be profitable.
Do you have a mentor/coach?
I am actually a part of a mentorship programme run by Ongoza Youth, where I have received valuable lessons from different mentors. When running a business, every idea that you get seems genius. It is only after running such ideas through your mentors that you discover that they need a lot of tweaking. Mentors will help you avoid mistakes because they’ve been there before.
Despite having an MBA, you still study online courses. Why?
Learning never stops for leaders. In the CSR field for instance, things change every day, and it is only by continuous learning that I can offer my clients up to date consultancy. Besides, a good chunk of what I know and teach about CSR is not taught in local universities.
It is said that 75 per cent of people who sign up for online courses don’t complete them. You complete yours, how is your approach different?
When I started doing online courses, I thought I could do four courses at a go. I burnt out. Nowadays I ensure that I have completed and passed a course before I begin another one. The key here is self-discipline. I have set aside every Friday morning to study for my courses, and I do it without fail. I also have a study partner who acts as my accountability buddy. Last year, I completed five courses.
What are some of the attributes that you look for in the people you hire?
Continuous improvement is what really makes a great employee, especially in the consultancy world, which is dynamic. An employee needs to demonstrate that he or she has got the spirit to constantly keep learning and improve themselves. Another attribute that I greatly admire is passion. While looking to hire, I take a keen look at a person’s hobbies, books, and habits that will show me their level of passion.
What are the daily habits that have contributed to your success?
I start every morning with prayer. I also watch what I eat and make an extra effort to spend time with my daughter. I believe that just as you train your body muscle, one should also train their brain to keep it in tip-top shape. I therefore make it a habit of playing Sudoku every day.
Do you have a favourite book?
Three Cups of Tea by David Relin and Greg Mortenson. It is a book about peace. It never ceases to inspire me no matter how many times I read it.
Did you write down New Year resolutions?
No. I decided to stick to the resolutions that I had written for 2016 because they worked so well for me.