Within East Africa, Kenya has emerged as a vibrant hub for entrepreneurship, and a leader in rewriting the narrative of women in business.
From tech pioneers harnessing the power of digital innovation to grassroots leaders fostering social change, Kenya’s female entrepreneurs are making their mark on diverse industries by not only driving economic growth but also transforming communities.
In this article, we will delve into the stories of Njeri Rionge, Wawira Njiru and Elizabeth Mwangi; highlighting their achievements, their challenges, and the lasting impact they have made on their communities and the world through their visionary initiatives.
Moreover, these inspiring female entrepreneurs have displayed their determination, innovation, and resilience in business.
Njeri Rionge is one of Africa’s leading entrepreneurs and one of the very few women pioneers in the ICT sector on the African continent.
She co-founded internet service provider Wananchi Online that has since been transformed into Wananchi Group Holdings – one of East Africa’s leading providers of pay-tv, broadband internet, and VoIP services.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Njeri holds a degree in Business Administration and Management from the United States International University Africa.
In addition, her licenses and certifications include valuation and financial modelling, acquired from the Investment Banking Institute in 2008 and Artificial Intelligence: Implications for business strategy from MIT Sloan School of Management.
Njeri Started as a Yoghurt Seller
While speaking to Forbes in 2011, Njeri reported that she indeed started off as a yoghurt seller before she rose through the ranks to where she is.
“As a twenty-year-old, my first business involved selling yoghurt to the International School of Kenya and Loreto Convent Msongari High School over their 10 am and 4 pm school breaks.
“I sold the yoghurt from the car trunk which belonged to a friend of mine with whom I had partnered. We picked up the yoghurt from a farm in Limuru at 6 am and returned every second day for more stock,” she told Forbes.
Nonetheless, as the sale of computers started booming in the 1990s, Njeri saw a gap to improve internet connectivity.
She established Wananchi Online in 1999 to provide reliable internet to Kenyans across the country.
As such, Njeri grew the start-up to one of the largest internet service providers (ISPs) with a presence in five regional markets.
After leading Wananchi Online for seven years, Njeri oversaw a merger between the ISP and a cable television service to form Wananchi Group Holdings.
“I create companies serially because I believe that Africa is the next economic frontier and we must build indigenous organizations that will support this growth,” Lionesses of Africa quoted her.
The company’s renowned brand is Zuku which has been successfully launched in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and most recently Zambia.
She is currently group CEO & chairperson board of directors for Wananchi Group and founder of several million-dollar companies in Africa and Canada.
Wawira Njiru, is a Kenyan entrepreneur, nutritionist, and philanthropist, who serves as the executive director of Food for Education.
Food for Education is an organization that serves hot, nutritious, and affordable school meals to over 33,000 public primary school children in the areas of Kiambu, Nairobi and Mombasa counties.
Njiru grew up in the town of Ruiru, in Kiambu County, where she attended local schools for her primary and secondary education.
She was then admitted to the University of South Australia in 2010 where she graduated with a Bachelor of Nutrition Science degree.
Furthermore, in 2012, while pursuing her undergraduate degree, Njiru hosted a Kenyan-themed fundraising dinner where she invited 80 guests, charged them $20 per plate and managed to raise the equivalent of Ksh. 126,000.
Food For Education
With these funds, Food for Education was founded.
She later set-up a makeshift kitchen in Ruiru Primary School whose outreach was to an initial 25 children.
Likewise, this was followed by several internet fundraising campaigns and over time, the number of children in the program increased.
According to Njiru, it costs Ksh30 (approx. US$0.30) to provide a meal to a primary-going school child in Kenya.
The parents or guardians are asked to contribute KSh15 (approx. US$0.15) and then Food for Education provides a subsidy to cater for the remaining cost.
Nevertheless, in 2021, Njiru was named UN’s ‘Person of the Year’ in Kenya. She was also the very first recipient of the Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award in 2018.
As she accepted the award she said, “I am feeding the future of Africa because I believe in a generation that is well-nourished and educated.”
“Hungry children cannot learn, and I believe a prosperous future for my continent begins with no child learning on an empty stomach,” Njiru stated.
Elizabeth Mwangi is the founder and director of Gwiji, a tech start-up that is set to be a disruptor in the cleaning business.
The trained architect conceived the idea after volunteering with two associations that were empowering women in slums while undertaking her Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Nairobi.
Launched in May 2022, Gwiji connects cleaners in Nairobi’s slums with local clients.
Thus far, the project has been able to complete more than 2,000 cleaning orders and increase a cleaner’s income from $2 to $10 per day.
Moreover, the app targets women between the ages of 18 to 40, who mostly tend to be the breadwinners of their families, and do not have formal education.
“Through Gwiji, we have been able to economically empower more than 150 women who live in extreme poverty in Nairobi by connecting them to over 500 clients,” stated Mwangi.
“These women are the breadwinners in their families and finding work ensures that their families eat, and their children go to school,” she added.
However, her journey to success wasn’t easy.
She faced several challenges along the way, including a lack of funding and resources. However, her determination and hard work paid off.
For her work at Gwiji, Elizabeth was awarded the prestigious Zuri Award by the Zuri Foundation and named amongst Kenya’s top 40 under 40 women and recently, she emerged the global winner in the Aurora Tech Award 2023.