Female Empowerment and Business Survival during COVID-19: Esther’s story

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At Bridge for Billions, we not only recognise the need for more female founders in the ecosystem, but we tackle this hands-on by promoting inclusivity and accessibility. This of course, is a value that 24 year old entrepreneur Esther Oulo shares. Like us, she also champions resilience. We interviewed her to find out how her venture Beauty Business Hub is encouraging female empowerment in Kenya and how she is using resilience to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak.

‘I saw an opportunity’

Esther started off her beauty salon business with no previous experience in the sector but spotted an important opportunity in a problem she hoped to resolve: 

“I recently graduated last year and I started doing business to pay for my school and upkeep…I applied for a tender for the university tuck shop that provides salon and barber services, and luckily I qualified and won.

I had no prior experience in beauty, so I went to a government workshop on youth and employment which teaches you everything you need to know about business. How to start a business, making a business plan, how to source products. I won a grant and took myself to beauty training therapy to learn the business. My auntie manages a salon, so she was able to help me.  I basically learned through apprenticeship.

The university [where Beauty Business hub is located] has high traffic and flexible working hours and we are also close to many student residences. You also have to think about where the university is, it’s located 7km from the main town so to get to the centre to do a treatment you’d have to incur high transport costs and the increased price of treatments.

So, I saw this as an opportunity. I hoped customers would want to avoid paying travel costs and enjoy  student friendly prices and opt for me. That’s how I started.”

‘If I can learn a skill…it’s teachable’

Creating social impact through female empowerment has been a driving force behind Esther’s business model. She’s achieved this through a paid internship program: 

“I felt if I had no clue about this industry, but I can learn a skill and then make money from that skill, then it’s teachable. I was an engineering student so it’s really different to what I’m used to. I started with my friends and created an internship program. They also wanted a way to keep themselves grounded in terms of financial stability.

My business offers paid internships opportunities to girls aged 18-24. That’s fulfilling because I get to teach them a skill and see them earning from home. This self-quarantine they’re already earning from home. From the internships the girls can also start to forge their first line of clientele.”

Female Empowerment
Esther with her first cohort of interns

‘Female empowerment is so important’ 

Esther believes strongly in female empowerment and goes by the mantra “empowered women, empower women”. She hopes to inspire  young women like herself, a process she began by thinking about the importance of the training she has received: 

“Female empowerment is so important. Actually, what made me think about this was the fact that I looked at myself and thought had I not been trained by this government program, I probably wouldn’t have known how to manage this business. Somebody took me through the process of equipping me with the skills I needed.

Now, when I do a program, I teach the girls I’m working with. So, when I’m done with the Bridge for Billions program, I will teach the girls I employ what I’ve learned, I’m like a link between you [Bridge] and them based on the fact that I got this opportunity.

The first job is wanting to learn. The second is going to look for the opportunity to learn. It’s a hands-on job – you can learn the skills but then the customer cares how you talk to your client, how you engage with them in the process. That’s something I’m trying to teach them. Yes you gained the skill, but I want you to learn how to make money out of it. By becoming independent, by becoming self-employed or being employable, because you have a skill that someone needs. Empowered women, empower women.

‘How will you spring back? That’s all that counts.’

Esther gives us advice on how we can prepare to spring back after the Covid-19 outbreak: 

“I’ll be honest I have no idea what the future looks like. The university has been closed down indefinitely. The price of products has sky rocketed due to higher costs of importing from China.

But, I read somewhere that of the 10 hours you have to work, you should spend the first hour planning. So right now I think the best thing you can do is sit down and plan. After this outbreak what’s next for the business? You know your business in and out, you already know where you’re struggling, you know where your cash points are. Plan. Set steps that could mentally plan you for a leap.

Right now a lot of people are facing challenges mentally, physically, financially but how will you spring back. That’s all that counts. How will you spring back? I’m currently investing in incubation programs like Bridge for Billions, I’m doing my business plan, I’m working on my website.

Now that I have the time, I’m strategizing my business from a new perspective. And Andrea [Esther’s business mentor from Bridge] has been instrumental. The fact that she always shows up is really encouraging. Having the university shut is making me think outside the box. Where else can I make money and still impact the community? That’s something I wouldn’t have thought of because I would have been in my comfort zone.”

‘You just have to show up’

What’s missing in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kenya today? A focus on the importance of ceasing opportunity: 

“I believe that opportunities are around us, you just have to show up. You have to show up. I feel like we have resources, but how many people are actually interested in following through? You know? You’re given the opportunity but the perseverance and the follow through is something else.

I feel that the mentality we have about employment prevents us from being creative enough to look at the problems we have in society and solve them. I saw a problem and I decided to provide a solution. So I feel that it’s partly our fault that we’re not as aggressive as we ought to be with this. That mentality that we need to be employed by someone to have a stable life that puts us in the situation that even if somebody had the resources to be an entrepreneur they would still opt for, you know, let me just go to work. There’s a sense of security there.

I tell the girls, if you test financial freedom from your skill, that opens doors. So really empowering them to improve their lives is what inspires me.

I think in my situation we don’t have enough positive stories to look up to, because the rate of unemployment is high. Everyone is saying 2020 has not been fair to a lot of people. So, in my opinion they don’t see enough stories to inspire them.”

Thanks, Esther, for your sincere words and advice. We’ve been truly inspred by your approach to female empowerment as a part of your business journey. 

To learn more about Esther’s business follow her @beautybusinesshub on Instagram and check out her YouTube video here

If Esther’s story has inspired you to take a deeper look into your business, apply to The Bridge for Billions online incubation program here

Phoebe Smith

Phoebe Smith

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