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Kevine Kagirimundu: The Rwandan crafting eco friendly and fashionable footwear from recycled car tyres

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Kevine Kagirimundu, CEO UZURI K&Y

UZURI K&Y is an African inspired shoe brand and manufacturer established in Rwanda since 2013. The company was founded by two women entrepreneurs (Kevine & Ysolde) who met at the University while studying Creative Designs. The two young women simply believed that it would be ideal to gather knowledge and create a common mission. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Kevine Kagirimundu, the Co-Founder and CEO on her entrepreneurship journey into sustainability and fashion, why she is preserving the environment, supporting community and creating jobs through her eco friendly shoe brand. Excerpts.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your entrepreneurship journey?

Kevine: My entrepreneurship journey started when I was a young girl, I used to re-sew grandma’s clothes, no money came from it, just passion. When I joined university I changed my major from “Engineering to Creative & Environmental built”, it was an important step to starting my journey, I was 19 years old and determined as I started  gathering ideas in a book, during that time I also met my co-founder Ysolde Shimwe.

Alaba: What attracted you into sustainability and fashion?

Kevine: I come from a creative family of painters, poets and writers. I loved hand making things and I thought that creating was really my passion, with that I really wanted to add a meaningful value that will bring positive change in my community; that’s why our company is part of the circular economy with a focus on waste management.

Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind your brand, UZURI K&Y and the problems it is set to address?

Kevine: UZURI K&Y is an African inspired eco friendly shoe brand with a vision to brand Africa as an origin of sustainable fashion items on the global market. It was established in Rwanda in 2013 by two university friends Ysolde shimwe & Kevine Kagirimundu with a purpose to solve the environment and unemployment issues in their community. 

The company’s core problem that it’s solving focuses on recycling the wastes of car tires where everyday in sub saharan Africa, over one million of them are dumped in landfills  and sometimes taking up space from inhabited and vulnerable neighborhoods. In addition to that, it takes up to 80 years for a rubber tire to decompose while polluting water, air and even become nurseries for mosquitoes that carry diseases. Furthermore, in Africa the youth makes  60% of the total unemployment rate and young women are more likely to be unemployed even more often than young men. 

In order to tackle these issues we craft viable solutions to recycle car tyres to make functional and fashionable footwear for conscious millennial consumers. The company is also currently running its own production facility, four retail stores and using ecommerce to reach international customers. It is also equipping the youth with practical and soft skills  to increase their potential of securing jobs or even creating small businesses. So far, 1,065 youth have been trained and among those 70% are women and 10 have started small businesses.

Alaba: How have you been able to attract customers and build the company till date?

Kevine: Our customers are women who seek shop eco products. Our strategy is to use storytelling via social media channels, we also set to offer a wonderful experience via our retail spaces.

Alaba: What challenges did you run into starting out?

Kevine: I would say there are 3 major challenges as we started: lack of skilled labour, dominated market with second hand and imports and access to finance.

Alaba: Are there other areas that UZURI K&Y is aiming to be more sustainable?

Kevine: We have confidence that we shall be able to brunch into a more diverse range of products, such as sustainable sneaker and even turning the wastes into more useful products.

Alaba: One of the things that stood out on your platform was your intense screening process for each item. Can you explain why you decided to go with this process and what it actually involves?

Kevine: We developed techniques and ways to safely produce our products and it has become our unique proposition. It is an advantage and very important to our customers.

Alaba: Is your brand gender inclusive? What is the importance of gender inclusion in the brand’s choices?

Kevine: Yes, it is important with a special focus on creating jobs for women who are often left behind in different fields.  Inclusivity is crucial for the entire world to fight gender inequality, we are proud to be part of this change.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Kevine: I believe that entrepreneurs will be the key pioneers to changing the African continent, It feels like being part of a history book!

Alaba: Where do you see UZURI K&Y in terms of products and markets in the next 5 years?

Kevine: A household African brand, with a tremendous impact on the youth through skills transfer and entrepreneurship.

Alaba: Finally, what’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs, especially females in the sustainability and fashion industry?

Kevine: Trust yourself that you can do it! 

UZURI K&Y footwears

 

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Hustle and Business: Empowering a new generation of Africans through storytelling

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Hustle and Business Host, Darlyn Okojie and Guest, Kelly Praise (Photo: Hustle and Business)

One missing link to sustainable growth in businesses in Africa prior to this time is the absence of the unique stories of African innovators and entrepreneurs disrupting the ecosystem. There are entrepreneurs breaking new ground in various sectors, but their successes are not replicated by others due to a lack of platforms to share their stories.

There is a scarcity of well-curated stories and accurate data about Africans succeeding in business and careers. As a result, those hoping to follow in their footsteps have no choice but to start from scratch, making the same mistakes as their predecessors or contemporaries. This circle of no reference to leverage continues to hamper Africa’s growth rate.

We haven’t done a good job of capturing the “how” in our African success stories. Knowing where the rubber meets the road is the missing link in explaining why we have not maximized our success in terms of replicating and building on the successes of our fellow Africans. There are not enough relatable stories out there for other Africans to learn from and lean on as they travel their own path.

The need to fill this crucial gap inspired the launch of the Hustle & Business Podcast this month; Africa’s premium podcast where innovators, disruptors, and entrepreneurs on the continent can share their stories for other Africans to learn from and leverage for their own growth. Most stories of business successes in Africa are not contained in many textbooks. So, the curation of these stories is critical as we seek to multiply success on the continent.

The podcast became the medium to reach our audience, whose fast-paced lifestyle may not always afford them enough spare time for new knowledge consumption, but can always listen while engaging in other routine activities, such as cleaning, driving, walking, working out, cooking, etc. It’s 100% convenient and easy to comprehend.

In the Hustle & Business podcast, we will be sharing inspiring stories of young and not-so-young Africans building businesses, excelling in their careers, and creating legacies for others to pattern after. We will be spotlighting opportunities for business in Africa and strategies to succeed in the world’s next-largest talent market.

We are also passionate about using this podcast to build and foster a community of listeners that includes proficient and business-inclined individuals, startups, women, tech founders, SMEs, aspiring founders, established businesses, and the like. 

Through this podcast, we will be amplifying the voices of African entrepreneurs and innovators. Creating effective brand awareness for their enterprise. Hence, we are reaching out to everyone in the ecosystem. Are you an innovator, business leader, startup founder, career person, SME, entertainer, artist, tech bro, VC, or disruptor and you have got stories to share? Our door is open and we are excited to have you on the Hustle & Business podcast to inspire others. Regardless of where you are in your journey, your story is never insignificant; rather, it will have a greater positive impact on others than you can ever imagine. So let’s grow together on this journey.

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“I’m writing my story so that others might see fragments of themselves.” –Lena Waithe.

Being a guest on this podcast also gives you a unique connection with your existing clients, new audience, and potential customers. It helps you to establish an authoritative presence in your field, and easily introduce new and existing products, special events you’re planning, or anything else you need to share.

To our listeners, expect premium content, masterclass interviews, practical lessons, and relatable stories, verifiable personalities, while you prepare to learn, laugh, have fun, relax, and get better at your craft as we listen to others share their stories. 

Tune in every Wednesday at 4 pm (WAT) to listen to new episodes, and follow us with the hashtag #hustleandbusiness on social media. The Hustle & Business podcast is the long-awaited podcast for those making a difference on the continent. Join us on this exciting adventure!

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Darlyn Okojie on entrepreneurship and building Memo Africa

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Darlyn Okojie is a serial entrepreneur and business expansion expert. As the Co-Founder & COO of Memo Africa, Darlyn is responsible for the day to day operation process while building a team to create a Tech solution to People Management. She founded Memo Africa with Ademola Koledoye to create memorable moments across the world. Darlyn Okojie has a past experience of building a business spanning three countries, raising capital and ensuring that the word about the service reaches the right audience. Her First Business, Rugs and Floors Africa, currently operates in three countries, Nigeria, Ghana and Rwanda. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Darlyn speaks on her entrepreneurship journey and vision is to make Memo Africa the go-to automated system for People Manager: “Future of Memo Africa”. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: To begin, could you briefly tell us about your background?

Darlyn: I spent the early part of my childhood up till my youth in Benin City. I attended all levels of education down to university where I studied Accounting at the University of Benin. My upbringing has made me extremely loyal to my city. After I completed my higher education in 2014, I got my first ever job at Lamudi (Popularly Known as Jumia House) in 2015. While at Lamudi, I worked as a key account manager in an online marketplace firm. A year later, I moved to Cars45 to spearhead the company’s efforts in building and maintaining relationships with strategic partners. Throughout my career, I have been involved in various aspects of people management, even through running Rugs and Floors from January 2020.  At the moment, I’m focused on building Memo Africa.

Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and the problems you plan to solve?

Darlyn: An impactful model to me is my father. I didn’t realise he had that effect on my entrepreneurship life until I looked back on how much I have been able to achieve career-wise. He showed me the only way to gain success is through hard work and dedication. His tenacity and energy in delivering is extraordinary. There have been countless times where I’ve found myself wondering how he gets the energy to go even through obstacles. A quote from a book by Shakespeare, Macbeth, pops into my head whenever I think about my dad. “I am tied to a stake I cannot fly, but bear-like I must fight the cause.”

The life of an entrepreneur is quite fast-paced, there’s no time for breaks and no option to quit, you just have to keep going. It reminds me of something my mum always says, “Person, nor dey Live life go back”. Good or bad we need to keep moving forward in life or in business. I believe my motivation stems from the ability to keep going and building.

Alaba: Memo Africa is one of the startups you co-founded, what sparked the interest? How does the platform work and who are your target audience?

Darlyn: Memo Africa was birthed by various challenges both my co-founder and I faced throughout our work life. From my first job to my current ventures, I have seen how people managers handle welfare related issues in organizations and it inspired me to create a solution that makes their work seamless. We notice that people struggle to remember important dates when it comes to the lives of their employees and it is key because it makes the employees feel valued and appreciated. But dates like birthdays, onboarding and orientation processes, sendforths, and many others dates are lost in transition.

Memo Africa is a simple solution that people managers can use to automate welfare packages to be delivered to both remote and on-site teams across the world. We believe this technology solution will boost business productivity as the team members feel motivated and cared for while saving people managers time to focus on more critical issues.

Alaba: Since you launched, what are the challenges and successes?

Darlyn: It would be best if we start with the positive aspect of the business, the success. At the moment, we have acquired clients both from Nigeria and Ghana, and signed three companies into our system. We have achieved these while facing various economical challenges like Inflation, exchange rate and cross-border payments issues. 

I also noticed that small business owners and other entrepreneurs face these challenges which is why I recently started recording my journey on my Medium account.

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Alaba: What’s the future of people management? Do you see Memo Africa as part of the future?

Darlyn: The future is Tech! The world is evolving to become digital and automated. It is important to ensure that regardless of where people work from, they are treated with the same respect and dignity as they would be if they were working from a traditional office space. Memo Africa is the technology solution born to connect the people in an organization through our automated management system of celebrating them. Staying connected to and creating memorable moments for your team is the best way to keep them motivated while working.

Alaba: Where do you see Memo Africa in the next 5 years in terms of market and expansion? 

Darlyn: We have a large vision set for Memo Africa and are ready to take the action to grow and scale up the Tech StartUp. Currently, our most viable product which is our website  is up and running. We are planning on developing the Mobile App version to increase the accessibility and personalisation of the system. We expect to become the go-to platform for all people’s welfare across Africa and in the world. Our tentacles are set to expand into many African countries. We are open to acquiring more clients, partners and Investors.

Alaba: What fuels your passion and how do you relax?

Darlyn: Aside from the rush of the non-stop cycle of developing businesses, I find myself passionate about finding and implementing solutions to create value in people’s lives. You can find me locked on Netflix to unwind after a busy day or exploring the different countries in the world.

Darlyn Okojie (Photo: Supplied)

Alaba: Lastly, your advice to young women who want to launch into entrepreneurship?

Darlyn: My number one advice to young women who are launching or building their business is that your key to success lies within you. Everything you need to succeed is in you, your thoughts and action shapes your future. As long as you can think it, you can absolutely do it. You need to study and understand your potential, strength, weaknesses and limits. I believe self awareness is the most powerful tool to achieve anything in the world.

I would also say you shouldn’t believe you can only grow & scale up alone, it’s okay to have mentors and role models. These people have walked the mile. All you need to do is find someone who has successfully crossed the path you are hoping to pass. You would be surprised by the number of people ready to guide you or refer you to the next life challenger.

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Eno Eka: Creating Her Dream Life in Canada

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Eno Eka is a business analyst and consultant based in Calgary, Alberta. An award-winning career coach and keynote speaker who has been recognized for helping more than 100,000 professionals in 90+ countries  kick start their professional careers.  She is a business analysis content developer and course instructor at the University of Manitoba. Eno is the CEO of  Eny Consulting Inc. and the Founder of Business Analysis School.

In 4 years of arriving in Canada, Eno has touched the lives of thousands of immigrants in Canada. She has curated mentorship and coaching programs for immigrants to Canada which have sought her recognition and awards globally. Eno is an embodiment of service as she volunteers with several non-profit organizations to help immigrants to Canada integrate successfully and become gainfully employed.

Eno volunteers as a mentor with Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC) and sits on the Board of the IIBA Calgary Chapter as Director of Education. She also volunteers at the Calgary Drop-in Centre and Calgary Dream Centre.  She is a Giving Back Sponsor for the Women in Need Society (WINS). Eno Eka is the host of the Livestream Podcast, Fireside Chat With Eno where she shares valuable insights on job search tips and strategies for new immigrants.

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Eno Eka

Her awards and achievements include:

  • Forbes 30 under 30 nominees 2020, Education Category.
  • Alberta Top 30 under 30 recipients 2021.
  • Calgary Top 40 under 40 nominees 2019 and 2020.
  • Universal Women’s Network, Winner 2019 Award for Mentorship.
  • RBC Women of Influence 2020 Award Recipient.
  • Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada 2020 Award Recipient.
  • Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 award Nominee 2020 and 2022.
  • RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards Nominee 2020.
  • Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Nominee 2021.
  • Immigrants of Distinction Awards Nominee Finalist 2021.
  • 2020 Tällberg/Eliasson Global Leadership Prize Nominee.
  • Top 8 Female Business Analysis Influencers To Watch in 2021-Globally Recognized & Featured by the IIBA.
  • Women of Impact Awards Nominee 2022.
  • Women Empowerment Awards Nominee 2022.
  • Campaign Ambassador for the United Nations and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • Host of the Global Business Analyst Online Meetup.
  • IIBA Global Corporate Member.
  • IIBA Endorsed Education Provider for all IIBA certifications.
  • Authorized Training Partner for Agile & Scrum through ScrumStudy

 

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