NJERI RIONGE; THE STORY OF A BUDDING ENTREPRENEUR


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    Written by: Meshack Masibo

    “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime” – Maimonides

    Njeri Rionge is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Wananchi Online, East Africa’s first mass market Internet Service Provider (ISP) which has grown to become the region’s leading cable, broadband and internet-based phone company. The company is currently worth over $150 million and Njeri has gone ahead to start other successful businesses in Africa.

    In the true spirit of a persevering entrepreneur, Njeri worked her way up the business ladder from very small beginnings. In her early days, she sold yogurt to high school kids during break times from the back of a borrowed car. She went ahead to become a hairdresser before starting a luxury goods trade shuttling between Kenya, London and Dubai.

    After her success with Wananchi Online, Njeri went ahead to found Ignite, a management consultancy firm dedicated to helping African businesses leave lasting legacies. Under her leadership, Ignite has expanded to include Ignite Lifestyle (a health care consultancy), Insite (a digital marketing firm) and Business Lounge (an incubator that provides support for Kenyan startups and foreign companies looking to enter the country).

    Njeri, who’s in her late 40s, shows no sign of letting up on serial entrepreneurship. She is passionate about Africa’s position as the next big economic miracle and wants to contribute to the capacity of the continent to reach its full potential. She has been featured on Forbes and the BBC. She joins the ranks of top women leaders in Africa such as Isabel DoS Santos who has an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion, the eldest daughter of Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos is the richest woman on the continent.

    Isabel accumulated her wealth in oil, diamonds, as well as in the communications and banking sectors. She boasts shareholdings in Portuguese banks and energy firms such as Banco Portugues de Investimento and Portuguese Energias de Portugal respectively. In Angola, she’s the chairwoman of Unitel SA, one of the country’s largest mobile network companies, valued at more than $5 billion. While it’s unclear how the 42-year-old mogul got her start, she says she used her savings to open one of Luanda’s most expensive nightclubs, Miami Beach. From there, she started a trucking company to transport products for the club and other businesses.

    She also ranks with Nigerian, Folorunsho Alakija who started her career as a secretary for the now-defunct Merchant Bank of Nigeria. She quit her job in the 80s to study fashion design in England, returning to her native country a few years later to set up Supreme Stitches, a fashion label that catered for elite Nigerian women. Fast forward to 2016 and the 65-year-old businesswoman is Africa’s second wealthiest woman, estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.1 billion. No, she didn’t make all her money from her fashion venture. Instead, a significant portion of Folorunsho’s fortune comes from her oil exploration company Famfa Oil. She also has investments in real estate.

    Another power lady she might resonate with is Sibongile Sambo of South Africa.  When Sibongile applied for a flight attendant job with South African Airways, she was rejected as she did not meet the minimum height requirements. Instead of giving up her dream of flying, she started her own aviation business. Today, she is the founder and managing director of SRS Aviation, the first black female-owned aviation company in South Africa. SRS Aviation offers professional and personalised flight options to destinations around the world, with charter services in a variety of categories, including VIP charter, tourist charter, and cargo charter. The company also provides game count and capture, and medical evacuation services.

    Sibongile’s inspiring work has seen the 42-year-old entrepreneur accumulate a number of awards over the years, including the Regional Business Woman of the Year award, the Black Women in Business award, and the Top Emerging Gender Empowered Company award.

    Njeri is in league with Devine Ndhlukula who tackled a male-dominated industry head on, inspiring countless women on the continent to pursue their dreams despite the odds. Divine is the founder and Managing Director of SECURICO, a security company she started in the late 90s in her cottage with four employees and very little capital. Today, SECURICO is one of the largest security firms in Zimbabwe, with more than 3,500 employees. Divine is ready for regional dominance, with plans to expand into other countries on the continent, starting with Mozambique and Zambia. Last year, Divine was selected as one of the most influential female leaders in the world by Empowering a Billion Women by 2020, a global women empowerment movement whose list also included world leaders like Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Mozambican former first Lady Graca Machel.

    Njeri’s story also bears resemblance to that of Ethiopian Bethlemen Tilahun Alemu. Growing up in a small neighbourhood in Addis Ababa, beloved entrepreneur Bethlemen Tilahun Alemu discovered that most people in her community were living in poverty and that some of them possessed artisan skills. Spurred by this realisation, she sought to find a way to translate the skills of her people into a business, and thus SoleRebels was born, in 2004. The eco-friendly footwear manufacturer creates hundreds of local jobs. Not only has Bethlehem’s company grown to be one of the largest footwear companies in Africa, but it has also become a successful world class venture, with flagship stores in Taiwan, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, U.S, Singapore, Japan and many other countries.

    Bethlehem has received a number of accolades for the work she has done to empower the Ethiopian youth with opportunities. In 2011, the 36-year-old entrepreneur made it into the World Economic Forum’s list of Young Global Leaders. She’s also been named by Forbes as one of 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa, and one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

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