Pauline Wanjiru Kamau


In 1995, Pauline Wanjiru Kamau completed her 'O' levels from a little known school by the name Gatuamba in Gatanga, Central Province. In search of employment, she travelled to Nairobi and settled with a cousin in Embakasi. She did a series of jobs and in 1999, Pauline was employed as a salesperson in a city stall. As it were, after a misunderstanding with her employer, Pauline threw in the towel. She quit her job and established her own stall at Ushindi Expo Centre on Nairobi's Muindi Mbingu street.

Modest beginning
To raise capital for the business, she combined her savings with that of her husband. Their beginning was modest. She recalls: "After paying goodwill for the business, we just has enough money to purchase three mobile sets; a Nokia 3310 model, a Siemens C35 model and a SonyEriksson 1018 model." She continues: "Since our stock was modest, we would get an order from a customer, and using their money we would purchase the requested phone in Luthuli Avenue at a bargain. We would then re-sell it with a mark-up." All the profit would be injected back to the business.

Despite a number of challenges, the enterprise was making profits and business was thriving. One early Sunday morning, the entrepreneur received a call informing her that the centre which housed their stall was on fire. By a stroke of luck, her property was not burnt. Nevertheless, like all the other tenants in the building, she was thrown out of business as it underwent lenghthy renovations.

As luck would have it, the couple had registered another business, Bridges Mobile Connections. The business (a mobile phone dealership) sold mobile phones and accessories. Following the unfortunate incident, the couple embarked on strengthening the business.

Financial assistance
In 2005, Pauline was introduced by a friend to PAWDEP. As a team of 40 women, they joined hands to form Kiambu Oasis group. Together the women started saving with PAWDEP. Under this arrangement, they would set aside any amount above Kshs. 200 for saving. After accumulating a considerable amount, individual members of the group would be advanced credit by PAWDEP, with their savings acting as collateral.

Upon saving about Kshs. 18,000 over a period of nine months, Pauline applied for a loan of Kshs. 50,000 which was approved. On receiving the money, she injected it into the business which continued to thrive. A few months later, she was able to repay the loan and to apply for another, all the while continuing with her saving. Subsequently, she would repay the second loan and apply for a third one, which she serviced well.

"I discovered that the faster I repaid the loans, the less the interest I paid on the principal. In addition, it also meant that I was able to apply for a bigger loan that I would use to expand my business," explains the entrepreneur. To date, she has been able to service all her previous loans and is currently repaying a loan of Kshs. 800,000 from the microfinance institution.

Pauline appreciates the important role PAWDEP has played in assisting her to grow her business. She says:"Out of my own experience, I know that women entrepreneurs, especially those in emerging enterprises, face a lot of barriers when applying for loans from commercial banks. With the help of PAWDEP, I can foresee the other members of my group growing their enterprises just like I have done."

Training support
In addition to receiving financial assistance, Pauline has also received training from PAWDEP. The entrepreneur is one of the lucky women who have been assisted by the micro-finance institution to enroll for the 10,000 Certificate Programme for Women Entrepreneurs at the United States International University (USIU).

The programme is offered by the Centre for Excellence in Entrepreneurship Development (CEED) and supported by Goldman Sachs.

"Prior to the training, I did not have clear structures for the business and its operations were not well organized. I realized that without the necessary business knowledge, I would not achieve my objectives," she says regarding the programme's benefits.

By pursuing training and applying some of the lessons she has acquired, she admits that she has been able to restructure her business. She has ccomputerized her accounts and has a digital inventory of her stock that makes it possible to monitor its movement. As a result, she says that she is able to delegate work and entrust her employees with the handling of the stock. These developments have resulted in a positive change on the attitude of her employees. They feel trusted and consequently, they have become more productive.

Like all other entrepreneurs, Wanjiru experiences numerous challenges ranging from stiff competition, to the delicate task of recruiting and retaining staff. Since she imports her wares, she has to deal with delays as her cargo awaits clearance at the port. "In addition, as a mother of two little children, aged three and a half, and seven years respectively, she has to juggle between parenthood and entrepreneurship, which is quite delicate.

The entrepreneur is motivated by her humble upbringing which she says spurs her to work hard each day. Her mother died when she was eight years old and she was brought up by her aunt, who she credits for making it possible for her to go to school. Likewise, she credits her aunt (who passed on in 2005) for teaching her how to be responsible and more specifically, how to use her money wisely.

By applying some of these basic lessons, she has been able to build her enterprise with the support of her husband, Today, Bridges Connections sells mobile phone accessories, both on retail and wholesale basis. The company's clients come from all over the country as well as Uganda, Tanzania and Sudan.

Optimistic about the future
"I am grateful to God for bringing the business this far and to PAWDEP for offering me financial and training support," says Pauline, who is a born again Christian and who borrows heavily from her Christian beliefs as she runs her business. She is also grateful to her husband, for offering her invaluable advice and support as a partner in the business. The entrepreneurs plans is to expand the business to other towns in the near future. She also plans to increase her product portfolio and is currently negotiating with overseas suppliers to make this possible.

Advice to women entrepreneurs
Pauline advices her fellow women entrepreneurs not to be timid in their quest for success. On the contrary, they should confidently knock on the doors of financial institutions like PAWDEP, so as to learn more about the products and services they maybe offering. In addition, they should not despise a humble beginning, in so far as they are passionate and focused on the businesses they want to establish.

"As a rule of thumb, if they put God first in all their endeavours, besides being open to their spouses, victory will surely come their way," she ends.