According to those in the know, there are 22 things creative people do differently. For starters, they get inspired at the least expected moment. When they fail, they try again. They are repeatedly told to get real jobs but more often will follow their heart even when this seems unwise. But probably the biggest giveaway that Hyasintha Ntuyeko, a Tanzanian small-business owner with big dreams, sports the creative gene is her uncanny knack for creating opportunity where others only see difficulty.
“You don’t need to move mountains to make a difference. My experience has taught me that the capacity to dream big is not confined to any country, age or gender. The desire to take initiative, be your own boss, advance your life and improve the world is universal as long as you keep in mind, the roadblocks are universal too.”
Ntuyeko was born in the Dodoma Region of Tanzania, almost smack in the middle of the East African nation that borders the Indian Ocean. The eldest child of four raised by her mother, Ntuyeko was fortunate to have the financial support of her uncle, a medical doctor, to attend St. Joseph College of Engineering and Technology in Dar-es-Salaam, where she received a Bachelor of Engineering in Information Systems and Network Engineering.
“Learning is ongoing process to me. As my business grows, so do the challenges so my skills also need to grow.”
Believing in the value of a university degree to secure employment, Ntuyeko’s family was proud when she seemed firmly on that path, pursuing a career as a network engineer with several telecom companies. And Ntuyeko herself truly believed this is what she was meant to do.That is until the day her aunt Victoria planted the seed of inspiration.
“I had sent off my job applications and money was tight, I was leaving for home the next day. Aunt Vicky had urged me to do something temporary until I got a ‘real’ job and invited me over. ‘I have something I want you to see,’ was all she said,” Ntuyeko recalls.
Ntuyeko’s aunt was waiting with a friend who had stopped by to sell some cosmetics and sanitary pads. As a gift, Victoria sponsored her niece $35 to buy some supplies that Ntuyeko in turn could sell. With the items in hand, the 25-year-old visited a friend and, encouraged by her support, decided to postpone her trip home and see if she could have some success selling the make-up and pads.
“The next day, I took my products around the street and managed to collect $12. I was so happy because I only had the $12 fare to get back home, and I kept it for a month carefully making it last. And then, in just one day, I doubled it. I was amazed.”
Amazed and highly motivated to repeat her success, Ntuyeko went out again, and again, and again. “I realized I am actually a pretty good salesperson. I managed to sell a lot within a short time, even my aunt was surprised. I loved selling, but I also really believed in the products. The money definitely motivated me, but I also enjoyed interacting with my customers, the women.”
Ntuyeko spent all her time walking the streets along with other vendors, finding customer after customer. For the first four months, she purchased supplies from her aunt’s friend but after a while she had to go to the source as the woman was unable to meet her demand. “I travelled to Mombasa (Kenya) for the first time to collect the products. After that, I returned every two weeks. It was very tiresome. I did that trip for some months, building my savings all the time, until I finally had enough capital to connect with the main supplier in Nairobi.”
With the money she saved and some extra chipped in by two university friends, the determined Ntuyeko closed the deal with a Nairobi supplier, returned to Tanzania, and opened an office where she sold her goods. “I started to see the big picture of my business and how I could create jobs for others. As I did not have anyone to support me financially, I could only depend on my savings. I spent only on essential needs and opened an account where I placed the rest pledging to never touch that money no matter what.”
With a reliable supplier, and repeat customers, her business started to take off. Ntuyeko offered free classes on sales and entrepreneurship to women who in turn sold her products. Noting some gaps in her own experience, she took some classes in marketing, record- and stock-keeping and management. “Learning is ongoing process to me. As my business grows, so do the challenges so my skills also need to grow.”
During this time, she missed several interviews from her initial job applications and then completely stopped applying for jobs. While very happy with herself, Ntuyeko’s family and friends were less than impressed. Her aunt was blamed for turning her on to the sales job and her uncle hounded her to drop the silly venture and take up a position as a lecturer that her alma mater had offered in the meantime. No one seemed to understand why she felt so strongly about her small but growing business.
And then the rug was pulled out from under her after a few months. Her Kenyan supplier became highly inconsistent and Ntuyeko’s customers noticed. “I was so frustrated. I shut down the training classes. I didn’t want my family to know my business had started shaking. It was so painful for me when I remembered all the effort I had put in it and now it was dying.”
But instead of looking for employment, she decided to create a solution to her supplier problem. She spent hours researching local medicinal plants and discovered bamboo charcoal, an environmentally friendly material used in alternative medicine to neutralize poison and prevent infections that also has excellent absorption properties … eureka!
“I knew no factory in Tanzania would be able to make herbal pads without chemicals, so I went to the Chinese embassy in Dar asking them to refer me to a factory in China. It took a lot of visits but I finally got a name.” And, just like that, off she went to China to meet the soon-to-be manufacturers of Glory pads.
Ntuyeko’s business received a boost when she was accepted to join Femtanz, a program funded by the Finnish government that provides business support training to women who wish to establish and grow their own technology-enabled businesses. “I cried after receiving that phone call. Femtanz really opened my eyes and empowered me to move from a sole to a limited company.”
One year later, Kasole Secrets Company Ltd, specializing in organic sanitary pads and panty liners, has sold in more than 12 regions of Tanzania, and has a fulltime staff of four. There are plans to open a Tanzanian-based factory in 2019 and produce other less expensive pads targeted at low-income women.
In the meantime, the accolades keep coming. Ntuyeko has become a thought leader in Tanzania on menstrual hygiene and organized a rally in the capital earlier this spring. In 2015, she attended Dartmouth University as a prestigious Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders. She was awarded second place in the trailblazer category of the Tanzania Annual Young Professionals Award, and has been selected to join the 2016 SLUSH Innovation Summit in Finland via TANZICT, an ICT sector development project run by the Tanzanian and Finnish governments, and will be one of only four female entrepreneurs joining the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi.
And what do all the naysayers think of her success today?
“One day my uncle heard me being interviewed on the radio and he called in. ‘I didn’t know you are so confident. I am so very happy for you my darling. You are an inspiration.’ As Nelson Mandela used to say ‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’ I carried those words with me on my journey and truly believe anything is possible if you decide it so.”
- Business is all about perseverance, focus, commitment and working smart, if you possess those qualities you will real achieve your dreams
- Value your time, plan well and share ideas and challenges with others.
- When things are not working as expected, sit down and re-evaluate. There will always be challenges but you can adapt to them
- For women especially, it is true we have more responsibilities since we are mothers, wives and workers, but that should not be a reason for us not to live our dreams, what we need to do is to learn how to plan our activities based on priorities and the time we have. God has given us has the gift of communication and that is the reason why we are the Prime Ministers of our families. Just know what you are good at, know your talent and then start to move.