- Mwikali Munyao, Kenyan carpenter and entrepreneur, participated in the first round of the UNITAR Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Leadership Training for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa.
- In the COVID-19 pandemic, Mwikali lost her job as a customer service agent. She decided to pursue her interest in carpentry and turned it into a business.
- The UNITAR training taught her the entrepreneurial skills she needed and helped her business overcome financial challenges.
- The second round of the UNITAR entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership training programme, run jointly with Sunlight's “Women of More” programme and ABSA Bank, is now ongoing.
June 2022 – In Machakos, Kenya, Mwikali Munyao runs her carpentry business, taking orders online and creating wood furniture for local customers. Mwikali didn’t start off as a carpenter or a business owner. She had been working as a customer service representative – but the COVID-19 pandemic took her job. It transformed her life.
The young Kenyan woman studied public relations and advertising and had been working as a customer service representative for several years. But when COVID-19 hit Kenya, like many others, Mwikali was left jobless. She struggled to adapt, looking for a way to make an income while staying safe.
Mwikali noticed that the town of Machakos had a high demand for affordable furniture. Prices for furniture had risen because COVID-19-related travel restrictions disrupted transportation and supply services, and people could no longer buy. Seeing the need, Mwikali decided to create affordable furniture using materials she had around her home and offer it to her community.
Seizing a business opportunity
Having always enjoyed working with her hands, Mwikali started by crafting furniture for her own use from materials around the house. Her personal passion project evolved into a business as friends and neighbours began to ask her to make items for them. They brought the materials to Mwikali and Mwikali made tables and chairs for a reasonable fee. As more orders came in through referrals, Mwikali was able to create furniture to her liking and budget.
To develop her carpentry skills and build her network in the field, Mwikali enrolled in a six-month government apprenticeship programme. She credits her family’s creative and technical background (Mwikali’s father is a mechanic and her mother is a crocheter) for her smooth transition from the corporate world to carpentry. Being able to tap into her creativity energizes Mwikali.
I am learning to be a good painter. I am diversifying my creativity. I just want to know as many things as possible. You know, our creativity is not limited to one thing. Every day we are learning to be better.
Challenges in a male-dominated industry
Everything seemed to be off to a good start, but carpentry is a tough game for women. As a young woman carpenter, Mwikali met significant challenges in the town’s traditional local market where she has to compete with 100 other male carpenters. Most customers prefer dealing with men over women like her.
Customers, they are not serious in doing business with me if they have not seen my products
Mwikali believes women in her society have a disadvantage in the labour market because of long-held social values on gender. She believes most women choose to stay at home to care for their children and do housework because it's too hard for them to get paid jobs or financing for their businesses.
The difficulty in accessing financing almost ended Mwikali’s dream. That was when she found the UNITAR training programme for women entrepreneurs in Kenya.
Getting a boost: UNITAR training
Mwikali was struggling to find a way out of financial troubles when she learned on Facebook about the UNITAR Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Leadership Training for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa programme. She applied and was surprised when her business plan got her in.
The entrepreneurship training programme is run by UNITAR with Sunlight's “Women of More” programme and ABSA Bank . It was launched in 2021 to train women in Africa on entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership. It aims to help build women’s skill sets as social entrepreneurs by providing support in financial and digital literacy. Delivered online with self-paced e-lessons, participants learn about the full entrepreneurial cycle and how to create concrete business models that reflect the needs and opportunities in their communities.
Mwikali says the programme helped her learn to become a successful entrepreneur. She gained skills to identify business opportunities and mobilize and manage resources effectively. Mwikali also reaffirmed her leadership style, developed an entrepreneurial mindset and learned tools to problem-solve, manage growth, develop a competitive and risk strategy, and foster enterprise-wide innovation.
What's more, Mwikali and her business were featured on a billboard sponsored by Sunlight, paving the way to advertise her craft and business. It gave her the boost she needed to get her business over financial challenges.
Dreams for the future
Today, Mwikali is busy working on orders while marketing her business on social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. She has upgraded her tools to accommodate larger orders and hopes to expand her market and grow her business, set up a space to display furniture, and further explore her creativity.
Her customer service experience helps Mwikali reach potential buyers, maintain relationships with current customers, and stay competitive. She prides herself in what sets her off from her competitors: her trustworthiness. When orders are placed, Mwikali makes sure they are delivered on time.
Mwikali challenges society’s expectations for women to conform to the traditional roles of being at service in the home. She wants to hire more people, especially women like her. Mwikali believes that entrepreneurship is a powerful tool for women like her to build dreams and a better life.
As long as we have a right mindset and a right attitude, there is nothing impossible for women to achieve.