Raisa Ismaily started working right after graduating from the Academy of Graphic Technologies (AGT) in Nairobi with a diploma in graphic design.
“I was 24 when I got my first job,” says the 27-year-old. She was content with her job and had not imagined that she would venture into entrepreneurship. And for three years, she stayed put in her job at Abantu Publications where she earned a monthly salary of Sh50,000.
Raisa considered herself fortunate to have gotten a job when thousands of her age mates were tarmacking.
“I feared that my job was too important to be risked,” she says.
All this changed towards the end of 2016 when she started feeling that she had outgrown her job.
“There was nothing wrong with it. In fact, at the time, my salary was sufficient to meet my day-to-day needs and wants. I also got along well with my employer and co-workers. But then, I wanted to do more,” she says.
She came up with a series of socio-economic ideas that she could develop. “I evaluated whether I had any passion for them,” she says.
Eventually, her compass steered her to start a community-based organisation (CBO). Going for a CBO against other business ideas did not happen out of the blue.
She went to a children’s home to share her birthday with orphans and felt challenged to rehabilitate the classes.
“It broke my heart that many of the classes were either too congested or dilapidated. The environment was not child-friendly. These scenes ignited an urge to start a venture that would attempt to give such children better learning facilities and decent accommodation,” she says.
Towards the end of 2016, she quit her job and in January 2017, she launched her organisation. “I called it ‘We Are One Kenya’,” she says. “I wanted to be the reason disadvantaged kids wake up and believe that they can also do big things no matter where they come from.”
Getting started, though, was not as easy as she had anticipated. In fact, to many people, quitting a decent paying job to start a community-based organisation sounded like a career-ending blow.
Nevertheless, Raisa stuck to her guns. “I knew it would not be so much about money, but I was determined to meet my resolution,” she says.
Raisa did not dig into savings from her immediate former job in order to start. “I chose to start from the scratch, with only Sh2,000,” she says.
This amount was not adequate to meet the financial demands she needed to fulfill her objectives. Raisa started looking for strategic partners who would help her acquire adequate operating capital.
Although many prospective partners turned her down, she got one with whom she held three open mic nights and two netball and football tournaments to raise funds.
More challenges, though, were on the way. For a start, getting people to believe in her vision was a major hurdle.
She says that this is because many community-based organisations are often seen as conduits for enriching their founders. She also needed to market her CBO in order to attract investors and contributors.
“I started spreading the word from the ground and through social media platforms. This was not easy. Nobody knew anything about the organisation or what it wanted to achieve. It was a hard sell,” she says.
To make matters worse, she could not afford to use the mainstream media to market it because of the heavy advertising invoice such a move would attract.
Aware that without adequate exposure her venture would not take off, Raisa sought help from her family and friends.
“We brought our friends and families together and strategised on how we would expose the organisation to the world. There were those we tasked with sharing events on social media, and others whom we asked to popularise our social media pages and forums as stand-in social media managers,” she says.
“We also agreed that we should all show up in our events and bring our acquaintances.”
Gradually, her organisation picked steam and started growing. She collaborated with Aleppo Sports and started raising funds for the support of various children’s homes in Nairobi during the month of Ramadhan.
“I have not looked back since. If I spot a genuine gap, I will throw myself to it and mobilise for resources to bridge it,” she says.
Currently, Raisa is looking to renovate at least 15 schools in Kenya.
Looking back, Raisa says that she does not regret quitting her job to start her organisation.
“It is much more than making money or getting rich. It is more about the joy you get when you see something you’ve done make another person smile, or become the reason someone else lives to see another day,” she says, adding that she is not about to stop.
“There are so many children with immense capabilities who are sitting on their potential out of resignation that they can never become something important. Helping them believe in a better life is enough reason for me to continue doing what I am doing,” she says with conviction.
RAISA’S QUICK TAKEAWAY:
If you wish to start a community-based venture, you should:
Not take this journey if your ultimate aim is to make money.
Prepare to go the extra mile than you would in any other job or business.
Know that you cannot do it alone.
Be willing to reach out to potential partners and prepare to be turned away more times than you will be accepted.