Mary Njoki is the CEO and Founder of Glass House PR, an award-winning pan-African PR firm headquartered in Kenya that offers custom public relations solutions across Africa. She founded Glass House PR in 2012 at the age of 23. Mary has worked with more than 100 organisations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, Facebook, Viber, Paxful, Nissan, and African governments such as Zanzibar and Ethiopia among others through her company, Glass House PR. She has mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. 11 years after launching Glass House PR, Mary Njoki in this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, shares more on her entrepreneurship journey. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career journey?
Mary: I grew up in Ngarariga village in Limuru. I finished High school at the age of 16, but my mother could not afford to take me to University. I found solace in acting, doing some gigs at the Kenya National Theatre to hone what I thought was a fledgling acting career. A year later I gained admission in the university to study Information Technology at Graffins College. It was while here, I concentrated on coding. I then got a job with an IT firm as a marketer, then later a Business developer. I then moved to another IT firm as a Business Executive.
Here, I started volunteering at K Krew and I gained my first experience in the media which ignited my love for Public Relations. Soon after, I moved into a PR agency and it was in between my jobs where I enrolled for part time classes at Daystar University Majoring on Public Relations.
Alaba: What sparked your interest to go into PR and how did you launch Glass House PR?
Mary: After my two jobs in the IT industry and while working at the PR agency, I discovered more about PR and I was determined to find my purpose. Deep down I knew the future of PR was on Digital media. I resigned, determined to start my own company. Initially I wanted Glass House to be a social Media company as I understood technology. I started Glass House PR with an initial capital of Sh6,000 from my savings, a laptop, an Internet modem and tons of optimism.
Starting the company was not easy and the first year of business I did a lot of pro-bono jobs but I learnt alot. I then realized that there was a lot of groundwork needed for my company to gain establishment in the industry. I was a member of Business Networking International (BNI) when I was employed and this network and skills also became my capital. Presently, I have worked with tech giants like Viber,Facebook Paxful,Walt Disney Africa among others.
Alaba: What services does your company offer?
Mary: We are a Pan-African PR Agency, offering PR strategies, media relations and management, digital media communications, event management, we are a whole 360 PR agency that help brands tell their stories through different channels to their audiences.
Alaba: Before venturing into entrepreneurship, what lessons did you pick as an employee?
Mary: I have worked with SMEs, directly working with the founders, I learned and picked different lessons which actually formed the basis of the name Glass House PR. There used to be a lack of communication between us and the management, lack of transparency, and over time one realizes you do not need to share everything with everyone. But I felt that was lacking, and from that I learnt that when I start a business, I have to ensure that there is clear communication with all the public that I am dealing with. Working with millennials and GenZ, I realized the importance of employees’ inclusion, sharing with them the vision and allowing them to see themselves in it. After I resigned is when I realized I was just an employee and I was never included.
Alaba: What lessons have you learnt as a female entrepreneur?
Mary: I have learnt that growth is a process that takes time. Keep discovering and learning every day. Becoming a leader is a process, one has to build a community they can learn from, also lead and leave a positive impact on. I have learnt to walk in wisdom and be more discerning, I have learnt to have boundaries and while disrupting the PR industry, I have previously worked through naivety, which is the major challenge women go through but grown out of it. For one to keep growing, one has to communicate their vision while bringing others onboard.
Alaba: Could you share some of your accomplishments so far?
Mary: I have worked with more than 100 organizations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, etc. I have also mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. I have spearheaded the conversation of the future of finance in Africa through the annual ADFS summit “The Africa Digital Finance Summit”, which is held in conjunction with governments, regulators, start-ups, and thought leaders from around the world in the digital finance and decentralized finance industries. I have won several awards locally and internationally.
Alaba: How has Glass House PR impacted society?
Mary: I came up with a billion startups, we are yet to grow it to where it’s supposed to be. It is a platform where we have been mentoring entrepreneurs and we hope to do more across the world. Glass house PR intends to help these startups tell their stories, get their market share and learn how to position their brands to their audiences. We have also spearheaded certain conversations in the society like the “The future of finance in Africa” through African Digital finance summit; to redefine value exchange in Africa, inviting governments, regulators, stakeholders and private sectors to discuss this.
Alaba: What’s next for Glass house?
Mary: We are getting into a lot of content production and content marketing. We hope to be part of the people who will shape the future of media and how the future of decentralized media will look like.
Alaba: What is your source of inspiration?
Mary: I draw my inspirations from God, I have learnt from him over the years through practice. Everything I do, people or companies I bring on board, things I walk away from, I seek God’s guidance. Any mistake in the past has become a lesson that I have learnt from as a leader.
Alaba: Any advice to someone who wants to venture into PR and entrepreneurship ?
Mary: Pursuing a career in PR can be a rewarding and exciting career choice for those interested in telling authentic brand stories.
Harris M: Keeping the craftsmanship alive through African fabrics
Harris M was created by Congolese entrepreneur Harris Mayoukou, Harris M. is a young fashion and accessories brand inspired by the bustling streets of Château Rouge, a colourful district of Paris. This project is above all a family story that begins with a sewing machine belonging to the great uncles of the designer in Congo. A machine that was offered to his father in the 70s and that the latter offered him in turn at the launch of the brand. Moreover, she still uses it today in the production of pieces in her Parisian workshop.
Coming from a family of artists and talented couturiers, Harris was keen to carry on this family legacy through his brand Harris M. She makes it a point of honor to take only fabrics produced in Africa in order to support the crafts and printing works still present. The brand offers accessories and casual wear mixed clothing, comfortable and quality. The founder defines the brand in 3 words: KANDA which means family in lari. Because she wanted to perpetuate one of her father’s first jobs.
Harris took her first classes in a very small workshop in Montreuil in order to keep this practice in the family and keep this precious link. Then PASSION because all the pieces are made according to the desires and the favorites. Finally ETHICAL, because it tries to ensure that small craftsmen, whether they are in France or in Africa, continue to be paid at the right price
APINAPI is reducing waste and supporting the autonomy of women
APINAPI is a social business focused on zero waste and symbolizes the meeting between France and Senegal. It all began in 2010, when Marina Gning and Jeanne-Aurélie Delaunay founded the company APINAPI in Paris, with the aim of democratizing washable diapers and natural baby products. After 10 years working in the cinema industry, they wanted to raise awareness about washable nappies and natural care products for babies.
During her travels in Senegal with her husband, Marina finds that the products she offers in France are perfectly suited for Senegal. Indeed, she sees how plastic waste litters the streets of the country, especially disposable diapers. These, which were a few years ago a “luxury product”, have become very accessible with the arrival of low-end brands.
These layers, of poor quality, give irritation and are not reliable. The family budget is reduced and women with low incomes use a single diaper for their baby all day! By offering washable diapers to her sister-in-law in Dakar, Marina sees how much easier her life is: less redness, less expense, less waste. In addition, the diapers were a great success with the friends of the young mother.
The trigger is born from there. What if these washable diapers were the solution? In 2015, she got fully into the project with her partner, her husband and Marianne Varale. The team was born, and in 2016 Marina and her husband decided to sell their apartment in France to settle in Senegal and launch ApiAfrique.
Today, ApiAfrique is a Senegalese social enterprise, which offers innovative, local and environmentally friendly solutions for the hygiene of women and babies. Its vision is to promote sustainable solutions that contribute to women’s empowerment, waste reduction, the fight against exclusion and job creation.
Meet French-Senegalese mothers after black babies
Douce mélanine Founders
N’dioba DIONGUE and Astou diongue, two French-Senegalese mothers have both had bad experiences with baby cosmetics products that contain potentially dangerous or allergenic substances. Looking for a solution, they found out that products adapted to black and mixed-race children can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Following these bad personal experiences, they decide to react and remedy them by offering healthy products, especially for babies. This is because they are fragile. The beginnings were not simple: market research, business plan, search for formulators, etc. It took several months before they could find a lab to work with. Not being in the trade, they also had to train in formulation.
Douce mélanine was born in 2018, with the aim of offering a range of care products with 98% natural ingredients, traditionally used in Africa for baby care. The goal is to transmit care rituals with products from the African pharmacopoeia. For example, we can find touloucouna oil, with unsuspected virtues which is relaxing and is used in Africa for infant massage. A necessary return to the roots, to allow babies to enjoy all the benefits of this treatment with ancestral oils.
Then in 2020, as for many entrepreneurs, the coronavirus came knocking on the doorbell. After several questioning and restructuring, they decided to stay the course. New tests are carried out, formulas are retouched, and the adventure resumes in 2021 to never stop. Today, Douce Mélanine has made her way and has found her place in many bathrooms all over the world.
DOUCE MÉLANINE fights every day to offer mothers products with healthy compositions. Its products are formulated and manufactured by a French laboratory certified Ecocert and COSMOS. Without perfumes, tested under dermatological control and composed of ingredients from the African pharmacopoeia, babies will appreciate its care which will bring softness, hydration and relaxation.