Valentine Njoroge









By Valentine Njoroge

East Africa Trek

If you had a trust that could generate $200K every year, what would you do with your time?

This question was posed to me while I was sunbathing on a boat, in Lamu, with brilliant people representing all of the continents, learning about how to do business in East Africa. I actually could truly in that moment say, ‘I would be doing exactly what I am doing right now.’

From Oxford to Nairobi and finally to Kigali, I have engaged, forged friendships and learned out in the ‘wild’. Being back in Nairobi, my hometown, I expected to be doing more teaching than learning. Boy was I wrong! My classmates and colleagues from LBS immediately started asking questions that had me Googling facts about my country and in some instances calling my mum for more authentic answers. We drew comparisons and shared examples of similar challenges and opportunities in different parts of the world, showing just how connected we all are.

Our trip officially kicked off with a game drive, where we were lucky enough to see several lions being led by Nala, the bravest one who approached our vehicles fearlessly. Our favourite graceful giraffe, Giffy who walked elegantly right in front of us. A content Ryan the rhino who just ate his grass and a seemingly calm Buffet the Buffalo who roamed the savannah. Seeing the jokes, rivalry and pure joy of the trekkers during this experience reaffirmed my conviction that this would be an amazing trek.

During our trip, we had the opportunity to meet with Kenya’s and Rwanda’s most successful business leaders and entrepreneurs, all leading their categories. We spoke to five listed companies, EABL, Safaricom, Centum, Bamburi Cement, Development Bank of Rwanda and Nation Media Group. The sentiment from these market leaders was that there is much more to be done and they are just scratching the surface. Safaricom enjoys 100% household penetration of MPESA in Kenya, however, the CIO, Kamal mentioned that 65% of MPESA transactions are airtime purchases – implying that despite all of the success that MPESA has enjoyed so far, there is still a long way to go in digitizing Kenya’s economy. In line with the Oxford Business Forum Africa’s 2018 theme, they are re-defining the African consumer and the opportunities are endless.

Sharing their bird’s eye view of the economy, professional services firms McKinsey, Dalberg, Delloitte, Sustainable Development Goals and MMC law told us a similar story of opportunity not just in Kenya, but across the entire African continent. One important insight across the board was the need to adapt to the clients’ needs in this market. For example, McKinsey has developed the Africa Delivery Hub which engages clients for lower price point and longer periods of time to ensure that their clients have the support they require to successfully implement their strategies.

Entrepreneurs like Mike Macharia (Seven Seas), Sam Muchemi (Samchi), Derek Gitara (DTX Productions), Dr & Mrs. Njoroge Kiege (Omaera/Jiweke Tavern) spoke of the importance of resilience in doing business. They told inspiring stories of getting back up and re-strategizing when they hit road blocks in building their businesses. Mike Macharia shared the evolution of his business when a client who contributed 75% of his revenue designed their own solution and how he thought about new opportunities thereafter. The entrepreneurs we spoke to share a common message on the importance of agility and resilience when taking on an entrepreneurial journey.

We saw first-hand innovation from M-KOPA, Zipline and Earthenable who have adapted to the needs of the East African consumer and created products that work in the most rural parts of the country. Earthenable has developed a flooring process that is a third of the cost of a cement floor, allowing families across Rwanda to upgrade from a dirt to a clean and dignified floor. They described their iteration process to get to a solution and price point that worked for both the sustainability of the business and was affordable for the consumer. These startups showed that with some innovative thinking, it is possible to adopt business models or processes to solve some of the most pressing social problems sustainably.

This trip piqued my interest in understanding not just my country, but other African countries better in a bid to fully grasp the best place to make my mark on the continent. While I lay on that boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I answered, “I would be learning more so that I can have the biggest possible impact on my homeland.”


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