Since time immemorial women have faced a variety of challenges. This include but are not limited to; societal beliefs and expectations when it comes to women’s leadership abilities, lack of mentorship and career development opportunities, pervasive stereotype, lack of financing, boys clubs and having to conform to masculine cultural norms as a coping mechanism.
Over time, women have learned how to best navigate these challenges and the face of corporate organizations, businesses are slowly changing.
Recognising the need to increase the women working in business, Safaricom started a programme called Women In Business. Anchored on SDG 10, reducing inequality within and among countries, the platform is aimed at creating economic empowerment and ensuring a fair share of procurement opportunities are allocated to women.
Millicent Maina is a charter member of the Women In Business programme. Besides being the CEO of a fast-growing micro company Dynamo Solutions, she’s ranked as a top performer and has won awards as the best subcontractor by Tier 1 Contractors, that is by Adrian Kenya and Cammusat. Following her business growth and success, Millicent enlightens us on her business journey and the challenges she has overcome to give hope to other women. She shares her experience since she joined WIB programme, the impact it has had on her business and the significance of such programmes in reducing inequality within and among countries.
She leads an engineering company providing telecom, electrical and civil services. In that space, Dynamo solutions also provide the following;
- Fibre support and maintenance for Safaricom,
- Power, that is installation, service, maintenance of generators, solar and battery inverter systems for banks and corporate customers,
- Cooling, (supply installation and maintenance of Air conditioners),
- Security solutions. This includes installation and maintenance of biometric systems and electric fences.
Dynamo solutions have been in business since 2016 and over the years the company has grown to accommodate up to 34 employees. As a member of Women in Business, she is passionate when it comes to supporting and getting women in this unique space.
Dynamo is also a Safaricom (Enterprise Business Unit) EBU partner thus they resell Safaricom’s products and this includes Till numbers, Paybill numbers, internet connectivity and IoT (Internet of Things).
- What is Women In Business?
Women in Business (WIB) is a Safaricom initiative. It started in 2017 after Safaricom realized there was a gap in the procurement process and the number of business opportunities granted to women. For instance, before the programme was introduced, women used to apply to specific categories of business where they felt comfortable. You could find many women in categories such as branding, marketing, the supply of food or printing papers. However, very few women were in the technology space. So then Safaricom decided, why don’t we try and empower women so that we have them in that space? That’s when Safaricom formed a mentorship group, which I am also part of.
The mentorship started with 6 members but now it’s in its fourth cohort with about 27 members. In the group, you will find women who once did marketing, events, but have diversified into technology, and things such as fibre roll out and maintenance. I majored in power and cooling before the programme came to form. But since then, I’ve diversified into fibre support and maintenance.
- What led you to join WIB?
As women, we need to come together. We need to hold each other’s hand to be able to achieve our goals, drive an agenda and move the conversation forward. I can tell you, things are not easy when you’re out there alone. But when you are a couple of women in the meeting, the dynamics change. This is where being a part of WIB comes in handy.
As part of the mentorship group, I will not be alone in such matters. If I am looking for a business I will have the support of other women and in the team, there will probably be a member who has more experience and who knows the game all too well. This makes it easier to pick a conversation and state our case. The member with more experience can vouch for us even if we don’t have the experience and she becomes accountable to ensure that the work is delivered.
Now, let’s say I will be working with a company like Adrian. Safaricom becomes the contractor, I become the subcontractor. The good thing is that even though the job is trickling down through all these facets, Safaricom knows that I am the subcontractor working under Adrian. So they make sure they are tracking performance, my role in supporting SDGs and women in that space – which is then different from just giving women businesses.
So, in the end, you find that being part of WIB is more than working directly with Safaricom. Through support and working within Safaricom’s ecosystem more women become even more accountable, they venture into different opportunities and this expands their portfolio and business success.
- So, how can you describe your journey since you joined women in Business?
The journey has been fantastic. I have had the privilege to interact with experienced people, companies that have run for 10 years, and even companies as old as Safaricom itself.
You see when you’re young in business and you get to interact with people who have massive experience, I’m talking experience in terms of how you can run your business, how to think differently, how to pitch for work, how to deal with issues such as hiring and recruitment and even people who can give you insight and information when you’re lost within the Safaricom ecosystem, because its possible, everything changes.
In short, I have grown. This is in terms of knowledge, how I run my business, how I’m looking at opportunities – which I couldn’t have seen otherwise and even the ventures I’m involved in. Therefore, being in this space becomes an eye-opener. Because even whilst you’re diversifying you are not walking into it blindly. There are different women with different experiences and so knowledge, guidance and support are availed to you right when you need them.
- Interesting, so what highlights have you noted since you joined WIB?
Our business portfolio has grown in the last two years, anchored by the Safaricom WIB, which I joined in 2018. Through WIB, I have taken part in mentorship sessions, which have helped in leadership and business growth.
Additionally, in the last one year, WIB has had a tremendous impact on my business, and some of the highlights are:
- 300% Revenue growth,
- Creating an impact on society through job creation. We’ve had 200% employee growth,
- 27% of Dynamo employees are female and we are targeting to reach 30% of female employees in the next year,
- We are also working with Nyaga Youth Polytechnic to recruit more interns.
This was after one of the interns brought to our attention that from a class of 20 students only 2 graduate each year. That’s when I realized if we don’t take the chance and make the difference, such girls won’t tell a different story.
At the moment we have onboarded 5 interns, and very soon we are hoping to have more engineers on our teams, after the 3 months of training is over.
WIB got me out of my comfort zone and I learnt how to continuously have conversations on how to grow our businesses, implement strategies and set targets.
Hence, overall, Safaricom has changed my outlook when it comes to understanding why its important to nurture and get women in the technology space. Because often we feel technology is for men and then we learn women can do it too. That is one thing I am proud of and I relish seeing their joy especially when women learn that they too can succeed in this space.
- If you were asked to give advice to women on joining WIB, why would you tell them to join, based on your experience?
Let’s start with the following.
- Business Strategy
Strategy and structure are critical to business survival and growth. The WIB mentorship sessions have focused on training in these areas. Whether exploring new opportunities or maximizing on existing opportunities, the sessions have been key in giving me improve efficiency in operational expenditure. This has allowed us to manage costs and grow.
Because WIB embraces the framework of integration and collaboration, it has been easier to invite experts for training sessions at no cost. I have gained diverse skills in communication, business networking, finance negotiation, recruitment and building teams, business development and writing, among others.
- New opportunities
Through the WIB initiative, I have the opportunity to work with 1st tier contractors and also to interact with Safaricom employees. For instance, I had a chance to meet the Enterprise Business team and through this interaction, Dynamo is now an Enterprise Dealer.
- New collaborations
The mentorship encourages all women to intentionally and strategically give each other business and form partnerships that help deliver the best services for clients. Through connecting and collaborating with other women, Dynamo has gotten more businesses and in return supported other women-led organisations in getting more business.
- A boost in achieving my goal and purpose
My continued focus is to develop and implement strategies to position Dynamo as a consistent provider of quality services, to manage our organizational risk, and support our staff in working effectively and efficiently. I am committed to mentorship, which leads to connection and collaboration, all enabled by WIB.
My aim is to mentor more girls entering the employment field and women seeking to do more business in technology.
- On that note, tell us what challenges do women face in business?
One of the main challenges’ women face especially the younger ones is getting a job opportunity. For instance, in my team, most girls have had to work in construction sites to install cables, sockets and the likes. Some of the girls were working in a garage and had to leave because the people who hired them refused to pay. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you can do as a woman.
Having been in that space for a long time I can relate. Because of the gender stereotypes surrounding women, we always have to prove our capacity regardless of the experience or credentials.
So I believe these are some of the things we have to address as women because most of us have been in such situations and we understand the challenges more than anyone else. This is the narrative I am trying to change by giving young women a chance, not because they are women but as people who have the capacity to work.
- In relation to that, tell us what role do programme such as WIB play in reducing inequality within and among countries? Why is it important?
WIB is Safaricom’s initiative. But what they are doing differently is they take it upon themselves to do the necessary introductions and make 1st tier contractors accountable. They give women-owned businesses opportunities, not so that women can have work, but because these businesses have the capacity needed. So you find WIB as a programme facilitates equal opportunities between men and women contractors.
Aside from that, through WIB, Safaricom brings women together and helps them understand its more effective for women to work together. In the same way, Safaricom has ensured that women understand SDG 10 and that they have aligned their activities with what it takes to achieve this SDG.
Another challenge businesses face is getting the finances to run their business processes. To counter this Safaricom has a couple of financial institutions on their panel who are willing to support women with the needed cash to run projects.
8. Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation and adaptation, how has this affected your business?
Setting aside the digital transformation for a moment, Covid-19 has made us become very sensitive on how we work given we are essential service providers. The pandemic has made me to relate more with my employees and to understand their challenges. Before then, we didn’t provide transport but this changed because we needed to make sure that our employees feel safe. Likewise, before we didn’t have to deal with work and distractions from kids during online meetings and so on.
When it comes to digital transformation and adaptation I would say at first the idea of having meetings online was met with a lot of resistance. Additionally, it was very difficult for me to manage people as they worked remotely. This was because not many could find an office space at their homes, where they could have some alone time. However, people were resilient and with time they were able to balance work and personal life. This changed how we used to conduct business and the general view we had about working from home. I also had to learn to be patient and trust that people could deliver regardless of the context.
Over time I realised that knowing your responsibilities as an individual and working to ensure they’re met on time is the most important thing.
As a company, we’ve also learnt to adjust and adapt because not everyone can meet their tasks while at home. For example, while the support staff can, technicians have to report to work daily. We also have to got to the field to visit them. Hence due to the difference in circumstances, we have had to hold lots of conversations and counselling in order to establish everyone’s take on the matter and the impact the coronavirus has on everyone’s health.
9. What are the strategies should big businesses set in place to ensure that opportunities reach women and more people come on board, now that the future of work is now?
Not all corporates have embraced the 30/70% when it comes to giving women work. As a result, you get a lot of stereotyping and people end up not believing in the women agenda. So if companies were to borrow a leaf from Safaricom then it would become easier for women to get into the space and prove that they have the capacity. Read up on the Equileap Gender Report That Shows How Adoption Of Gender Equality In Kenyan Companies Remains Pivotal For Economic Change
This is regardless of the field. Be it technology or a different field, if more private institutions supported women then we would have a better society.
10. What role can different companies play in supporting such programmes?
It all begins with recruitment. I believe there’s a need for other organisations to embrace women right from when they step out of college/universities. It is also important to give women the opportunity to drive the agenda because this conversation is easier driven by women as they happen to understand more of what they’re going through. If we look at Safaricom, Bob Collymore was driving the conversation alongside women who were leading from the front. Therefore if we had more women in positions and driving the conversation, more people would be able to understand where women are coming from and the essence of supporting women.
11. The Women In Business programmes met its vision for championing SDG 10. Paint us a picture of how that would look like for women, people of different origins/abilities and the country at large if this SDG 10 was implemented everywhere.
The Women In Business movement is not only meant to benefit the women working for Safaricom either directly or indirectly, but it is also targeted to all women.
Through the programme, women receive support, grow, run sustainable businesses and eventually, they contribute to building the economy. Capacity building has enabled women to diversify, handle different scopes of work which has facilitated business growth and sustainability in case a venture doesn’t pan out.
Networking and collaboration which is supported by the programme lead to more opportunities, more capacity and women going for bigger projects as consortiums. Hence, if this movement reached its peak you would find that many women-owned businesses are generating revenue, paying taxes and impacting GDP of the country positively.
Aside from this, the creation of employment would lead to more opportunities for women and more households receiving support. The increase of women, people of different origins and abilities in management level, would mean that more people would be driving SDG 10 in various organisations and thus culminating efforts for the betterment of the country and region at large.