I have spent the past eight months back in Columbia, SC working at the same place I worked last year. Although I often felt like I had no life because I worked opposite hours of family and friends, it was an opportunity that I am very thankful for and allowed me to save faster than I could have hoped. I lived with my sister, witnessed the birth of my beautiful nephew, and spent the first eight months of his life watching him grow. That is also an opportunity that I think is very rare, and I am so thankful that it worked out that way. While Columbia (Cola) is a great city, I feel too young and single to stay. And I have dreams waiting for me that aren’t currently to be found here.
To give you a little back story, I never intended to live in Columbia to begin with. After graduation and a beautiful summer spent in Africa in 2008 I came home blissfully happy…. and super poor. I am grateful to my sister and brother-in-law who offered me a place to sleep, let me play wedding planner for last minute details on their nuptials, and even when I found a job, agreed to let me remain as a tenant. I had planned to return to San Francisco after graduation or become a big city designer elsewhere, but the job market was bleak… and I was broke. I hated my job in Columbia but decided to stick it out for the paycheck. I left Columbia and spent most of 2010 traveling the world as a reward to myself, a way to satisfy my desire to explore, and as a continuation of self-discovery (which I don’t think we ever stop doing). I found myself back in the arms of my wonderful sister and back in Columbia in early 2011 (well okay she’s not quite that lovey-dovey but if I caught her in just the right state of exhaustion, I could snuggle up next to her on the couch without protest), and while in search of a permanent job, found a position I wanted to take in South Africa for the summer. So I took a temporary job in Cola. Then, after working in South Africa, taking a US cross-country road trip with Stella, and returning to Kenya for a little research, I was pulled back to the city. First it was my sister asking me to come visit for a week, then it was her asking for me to stay for the birth of my nephew, then to help her through maternity leave, and a visit quickly turned into a living arrangement. Even though I went back to my old job, I actually didn’t intend to stay this long. But in the end I was making a decent paycheck and thought it was worthwhile to stay a little longer to boost my savings. Savings for what you ask?
Oh right, I should probably mention that I’m starting a business and heading back to Africa in a few weeks.
Back in 2010, before I ever took off on extended travel, I knew I wanted to learn more about the field of social enterprise and put my footprint on educational and job opportunities. I just didn’t know exactly how I wanted to go about it. I returned with loads of ideas but nothing that I could put my finger on as ‘the one’. Working in South Africa last year gave me the push to move forward and I shed some of the insecurities I felt. I intended my last trip to Kenya to be primarily for field research purposes, but as you know, I got busy with other things and spent less than a week meeting with locals about my ideas. And that’s okay. You’re probably wondering a million things right now though, like:
-What kind of business is it?
-What kind of social impact do you intend to make?
-Do you know how to run a business?
-How do you know how things work in Kenya?
-Where are you going to live?
-Is it safe? Are you going to die in Nairobi? (Yes I’ve been asked this)
-Are you a missionary?
Okay, so let me start with the easy questions- I’m not a missionary. I repeat, I am not a missionary. I have nothing against missionaries, I just get tired of answering that question on a daily basis living in the south :) I’d also like to venture to say that no, I will not die, and yes I’ll be safe. I follow standard precautions as a solo female traveler. While I don’t want to disclose my living arrangements for the very purpose of safety, I have an idea of where I will live and would be happy to discuss with anyone reading this how to go about finding accommodation for longer-term stays in Kenya. As for the business, I have a name and a mission statement, but I would like to wait to discuss it in detail once I am a bit further along and have more to share. And at that time I can blab all the little details, garner feedback, and beg for your emotional and mental support when I start to second-guess myself. I can say that it will be an accessories brand sold in the U.S. with long term goals to expand into collaborative work with other designers. We will primarily be working with women and are focusing on educational opportunities (both direct through skills training, financial literacy, etc. and indirect through job creation) as well as market connections. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m afraid of failure. But it’s all part of the journey.
I have invested countless hours into this start-up and still have a long ways to go. My best friend has been my rock and my sounding board when my ideas (and my Dropbox) were so scattered and a big hot mess. There were even Skype sessions where I talked and she typed. Seriously, she kept me off the ledge some days. While I have the intuition and basic schooling in business, I am still very hung up on figuring out some of the more detailed day-to-day transactions. But I’m learning. I have an amazing accountant that I found through the SBDC and have even found wonderful support everywhere from former customers of mine to my new business banker.
I will spend a large majority of my time in Kenya designing and creating our first line, making more artisan connections, listening to artisan’s goals and turning these goals into strategic impact plans, possibly hiring a local manager, and setting up the proper channels to do business and implement systems.
Sounds simple right? Kidding! I’m sure that I’ll hit more than my fair share of bumps on the road but this is the plan, a starting point for me to navigate the bustling streets of Nairobi and to explore more regions and connect with more women. So those are essentially my life updates :) I plan to be back in the US in the spring, ready to launch my business and excited for the progress I hope to have made by then. I honestly am not sure where I will ‘settle’ upon my return, but am hoping to head west for a bit. I welcome input on that too though when the time comes!
On to blog updates….
Updates on this blog have been less frequent due to working and spending free time planning my business venture. I hope to post more consistently once I’m back in Kenya. Content may change slightly but will still largely be about travel, human connections, and my love for Kenya. After all, I have some exciting trips planned in Kenya and can’t wait to share new tribes and cultures with you. I plan to expand content to include talking more about social enterprise and starting a business. Some of the questions that I’ve had, and still have, I cannot find through exhaustive Google searches. Perhaps one can find useful information from my experiences or provide me with much needed insight.
I had also hoped to stop, or at least cut back on, advertising on my blog as I work on transforming my site into a home of more personal writings. I have always kept advertising fees in a separate account and 100% of the funds have been used to support NGOs I have met along my travels as well as the boys in Kenya. Over the past few years this has led to a fairly significant amount of money. And with the high expense of John’s private boarding school, combined with the fact that I am now officially unemployed, I am forever grateful to the advertisers on my site who have played a large role in the reason I am able to afford such a great education for John. So for now, I will continue to host advertising on my site, but hope you don’t find it too bothersome. All of the writings on my blog have always been my own, which I hope minimizes its intrusiveness.
So for now Columbia, it’s time we part ways.
You’ve been a great security blanket for me and a great stepping stone to bigger things. But it really is time. And to my dear readers who have supported me, both here on my blog and in my personal life… through marathons, adrenaline rushes, homesickness, volunteer projects, and crazy days of travel, I want to say
I can’t wait to continue to share with you and get your feedback in the coming months on my business. I will leave you with a quote by one of my favorite social entrepreneurs Father G, who started Homeboy Industries and runs several businesses, including a bakery. (This enterprise provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and recently incarcerated men and women, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.)
“We don’t hire homies to bake bread. We bake bread to hire homies.”
Business has the ability to prosper by doing social good. I hope you’ll stay tuned for my next journey and be a part of this leap I’m taking.