Jua Kali

The power of the growth mindset

Kenya is a country of many contrasts, from its landscapes to demographics and economy.

Our country is one of the most economically unequal in the sub-region, with 42 per cent of our population of 44 million living below the poverty line.

Environment plays a big role in these numbers; it can either build you or keep you on the negative slope.

I remember when we lived in Nairobi’s Kaloleni estate, it had such a bad reputation that when asked where I live, I’d lie and just generalise my neighbourhood.

But despite all the negative vibes that are in the ghetto, I chose to be different.

I’m always asked how I came out different, and my answer is: poverty was my main source of inspiration.

How? I’d been watching TV at a neighbour’s house and realised there are people living the good life, even though most of it was scripted. I would also read magazines about the lives of the wealthy of Kenya.

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And since we lacked to the point where my mother couldn’t afford Sh5,000 in rent, I asked myself what the difference was between me and ‘them’.

My mind eventually adapted and I started seeing opportunities everywhere.

Major corporations usually run two types of adverts: one that’s really detailed and depicts a certain class, and the mass consumer ads.

The dynamics of the two classes are very different. A market analyst friend once told me that the mass market, where Kenyans below the poverty line fall, generates the most profits.

So how did I go from the ghetto to where I am now?

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I always challenge myself. If the dream/vision doesn’t scare me, then I don’t do it. I’ve had ideas that I thought were crazy or I didn’t have capacity to see through, but then every time I dared, I would get good results.

That fuelled the next idea, and the one after that. I remember I started helping out other students in primary school with their art and craft projects – at a fee, of course. I knew it wasn’t allowed, but I wanted to help my mum out.

By the time I joined high school, I was in deep as a ‘businessman’. On the way to school – we used to walk from Kaloleni to Eastleigh – I would cross paths with a woman who sold mandazis at Sh5.

I gave her a business proposal. I’d take 200 mandazis every morning at Sh3 each. Those mandazis were really sweet.

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She agreed, and with my aggressiveness, by 8am I would have sold out at school.

That meant every morning I was making Sh400. That motivated me. I then realised I had a lot of free time after classes, and since I was really good in poetry, I saw another opportunity. Every day, my fellow students would write letters to girls’ schools and wait for replies.

The better your writing skills, the more letters you’d get, and as a result, you got the bragging rights. I was the prefect in charge of taking letters from the office and distributing them, and I saw a market.

I started trading my poetry skills at Sh100 per letter. Business was soon booming.

With time, I convinced my mother that the school had given me a scholarship since I was a top-five student. The truth, though, was that my mandazi and poetry businesses were doing well, and since the bursar knew my mom was in the Jua Kali business, it made sense that I’d be bringing Sh2,000 every Friday as school fees.

Poverty behaviour is uniform across the globe, and ranges from government, drugs and alcohol dependency, to spending and not investing, taking shortcuts, not networking and having a victim mentality.

The mind is very powerful, but only when directed. You own your mind. Work on yourself and be obsessed with the field that you’ve chosen. Strive to stay ahead of everyone else.

The reason most companies are phased out is because they didn’t innovate or challenge the market with new products. Keep a keen eye out for what’s happening.

I recently saw a TV that you can fold. It’s new technology introduced by a major company. But then I found out that almost all brands now have that folding TV. On further research, I realised what really happens is the first company sold the technology to other companies who fought to buy it so they wouldn’t lose their customers.

The writer is an award-winning artiste and entrepreneur.

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