“My name is Anne Eboso-Okongo.I would like to share my story with you on how I have been able to run my business and make a difference to the community at the same time.
I am a social entrepreneur, a reading revolutionary, a cultural ambassador of the Abasuba and a Lupus supporter. I wear many hats. Apart from running an Autospares business; I am very passionate about books and culture. Combining business and championing social change at the same is something I am very proud of. I am a dedicated Mumpreneur and a proud social change agent.
My Autospares Company “All For Cars Limited” is a company that deals in genuine spare parts from world’s leading OEM Brands. I have partnered with InterCars, one of the leading spare parts dealers in Europe. All For Cars is quite unique, it is women run and we are also seeking to revolutionalize the spare parts industry.
A huge percentage of profits from this business goes towards supporting literacy promotion, health campaigns, arts & culture, women & youth empowerment in the auto business. Why? I will echo Mario Forleo “Never start a business just to ‘make money’. Start a business to make a difference.”
On the other hand, I have a foundation that seeks to promote the Suba Culture (that is enlisted as endangered), as well as literacy and social change in Rusinga Island. Through the foundation, I also produce Rusinga Cultural Festival which is now in its fifth year.
I also volunteer for Rusinga Island of Hope Center (which comprises of an educational center, a healthcare center and an orphanage) and She Blossoms, an organization that seeks to create Lupus Awareness in Kenya through arts and books.
The Rusinga Cultural Festival is two days of nothing but music, fashion, film, food, artistry, literature, sports and conversations taking you back in time to the wealth of the Suba culture. This festival is held annually in Rusinga Island and attracts more than 7,000 people.
The start of my Journey …
Before setting up the auto spares business or championing the Rusinga Festival, I was heading Storymoja’s “Start a Library campaign”. This is a one of a kind project which entailed setting up libraries in schools and finding ways of exciting children to read for pleasure.
I was deeply involved in the setting up of the campaign and enjoyed considerable successes, starting the first fifty libraries and breaking the world record in reading aloud from the same text at the same time in multiple locations. This proved to me that my passion was valid – nurturing a culture of reading for pleasure among Kenyan children.
I still continue with the promotion of literacy in Rusinga Island through the boat library that I founded. And I am always advocating for a reading culture in whatever platform I am engaged in.
Going into business has not been without challenges. The auto industry is ideally a male dominated industry. This is sometimes a challenge because, well there is a certain way the industry operates but here I am trying to infuse feminity into it. And well, it’s a good challenge to have. Right?
As a youth and a woman, setting up a business in Nairobi is not very easy. There is no one stop shop or office that lets you know about all the necessary requirements. Every single day has its own surprises from the county council officers who are always giving contradictory statements.
On one occasion, a City Council officer gives you a different set of requirements, the next day another says you complied with the wrong set of requirements and hence needs a review. It is all so confusing and frustrating!
Also, the market is flooded with a lot of fake and sub standard car parts which tend to be cheaper than the genuine parts. Hence, we sometimes get clients who tend to complain about our pricing. But as we all know cheap is expensive.
Overcoming these challenges:
To overcome these unique scenarios, I am constantly researching a lot regarding the car parts industry. Knowledge on the business is one of the greatest assets someone can have. I am lucky to have an experienced corporate partner (and one of the best in the industry) who gives me technical backup and support. Am all about quality and maintaining Standards – dealing with only genuine parts and top notch brands. This is how we want to be known in the industry.
I am always guided by this mantra: “There is no royal road to success, the going is tough but a sacrifice is a must!”
The three values that I try to epitomize and that I feel are key ingredients to success are:
- Passion – “People with great passion can make the impossible happen.”
- Consistency – “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.” – Tony Robbins
- Persistence – “Never give up on something you really want, it is difficult to wait but more difficult to regret.”
The Balancing act:
Being a Mumpreneur and balancing what I do with family is not easy. I am a mum to two lovely boys. One is six and the other is three. Motherhood is a full time job and I enjoy being a mother. All other things will always be secondary where my children are involved. But because I am a super mama 🙂 , I am able to juggle between motherhood and business and also still get time to read a book. Being in business always comes with flexibility hence more time for the children. There are times when I work from home. Having a super supportive spouse has also helped in this balancing.
I haven’t yet celebrated my first anniversary in business but every single month, I am proud of the milestones made in business. We have been able to cover our operation costs even though we are still not making huge profit margins. We always have repeat and satisfied customers who go ahead to refer us to others. This to me is a great indication that the business is on the right track.
In the eleven months we have been in operation, I am proud of the moments we have given back to society and in one way or the other, contributed towards social change in the country. We have supported:
- She Blossoms in creating Lupus Awareness during the May Lupus Awareness Month.
- We supported Zamaleo Act in the Sigana International Storytelling Festival in June 2016,
- We supported Cerebral Palsy of Kenya in celebrating cerebral palsy shujaas (heroes) during Mashujaa Day.
- We are currently paying school fees for two children through Center Narovinu’s adoption programme.
And one of the key events we will also be supporting at the end of the year is of course Rusinga Cultural Festival in Rusinga Island.
BECOMING A YALI FELLOW …
Another proud moment for me was being selected and being part of Mandela Washington Fellowship a flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
President Obama launched YALI in 2010 to support young African leaders to gain skills and connections they need to accelerate their own career trajectories and contribute more robustly to strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth and enhancing peace and security across Africa. My work with communities prompted me to apply for YALI and I was privileged to get selected for the fellowship.
The experience was wonderful and truly empowering. I was hosted by Staley School of Leadership at Kansas State University where I met 24 other amazing African leaders from 16 African countries. We formed a huge community of communities.
The experience entailed academic sessions, site visits, community services and cultural experiences that expanded our knowledge about American democracy and U.S approaches to civic leadership and how we could apply it to our own contexts. The knowledge gained was specific to historical and contemporary examples of rights-based advocacy campaigns, arts based, strategic planning, organizational development and the intersection of civic, government and business sectors.
The sessions were conducted from the assumption that the expertise to make progress on tough challenges is not automatically in the front of the room, but always found collectively within the room. And of course, there was plenty of networking opportunities with the amazing people and organizations.
This made a huge difference to me in both my personal and professional life. Spending seven weeks with young awesome African leaders from different parts of Africa is life changing. These fellows are drawn from diverse fields and cultures. Apart from the reaffirmation that you are doing the right thing, there is the opportunity to compare notes with the people addressing the same challenges as your own in their various countries. And from the Staley School of Leadership, we increased our collective capacity to observe, diagnose and intervene in systems that maintain the status quo in our own leadership contexts.
The greatest learning for me was that leadership is not a position but an activity. This changed my way of thinking and I am constantly on the lookout of opportunities to intervene with solutions that seek to drive the community forward.
…. MORE ABOUT THE RUSINGA FESTIVAL
Rusinga Island is a treasure. The people have beautiful souls and are always supportive on initiatives that move the community forward. Aside from that, Rusinga Island is my home. My new home. Well, after I was ‘borrowed’ from my original homeland through marriage.
As a result of assimilation especially through inter-marriages with the Luo and other tribes, the Suba culture has come under pressure and the language is now listed in UNESCO’s Red Book of Endangered Languages (2003). Why should this be important? Well, most of the cultural wealth of a community is stored in its language, philosophy of life, stories, medicinal practices and general way of life. When this is affected, the socio economic empowerment of a community is equally affected.
Rusinga Festival was started as a platform to celebrate the Suba culture while at the same time economically empowering the community members. It is not for profit making. All proceeds from the festival go towards promoting literacy and social change in Rusinga Island.
This year’s edition will be the fifth edition. It will be happening on 22nd and 23rd December (the last Thursday and Friday before Christmas as is tradition). I am currently doing resource mobilization and interested partners are welcome on board for this year’s edition and also for the future.
THE DIFFERENCE IT MAKES
Rusinga Festival provides a platform for cultural expression, public debate, knowledge and cultural exchange, while at the same time economically empowering the women and youth.
Since inception, the festival has helped in opening up Rusinga Island and impacting the local businesses. Besides, the festival also provides the perfect platform for the community to be empowered with knowledge on various topical issues affecting the community. In the past we have had partners who have helped in promotion of social security awareness, HIV AIDS, cervical cancer awareness, financial literacy, environment conservation and so much more.
My team and I are continuously seeking new partners to support the various elements of the festival – Food/Sports/Artistry/ Fashion/Books/Conversations/Music and would appreciate any form of support. See far below contacts to get in touch.
We believe that these repeated conversations around issues affecting the community are a step towards liberating the community. We draw a lot of inspiration from Kofi Annan’s quote “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.
As I conclude, I would like to say that I believe that all of us especially women in business can make a difference in our own special way, no matter the size of our businesses, or how long we have been in business … we can find a way and time to give back. To partners, corporates and individuals who who would like to join us in our Rusinga Cause, feel free to get in touch:
Facebook: Rusinga Cultural Festival