Thinking Of Quitting That Job? Here Are Five Successful African Entrepreneurs Who Chose Passion Over Profession
“If you don’t have enough belief in your dreams to actually put in the work, then you’ll just have to make do with working for someone who does believe in theirs.” I know. That’s not even the real saying. But let’s just think of this reworded version as mild treatment from a drill sergeant in a boot camp.
Do you really love what you do for a living? Do you look forward to every working day with enthusiasm or do you just suffer through your day job like you didn’t have a choice? Well, here’s the thing; you do have choices. Okay, maybe not a lot of them, but choices still. And you don’t want to hit midlife regretting your life choices for the last two decades.
I get it – life happens and we don’t always get to do stuff we love the most. There are numbers to crunch and bills to pay. So, maybe it’s okay to slug it out with that nine-to-five for the rest of your active years. Don’t get me wrong – there are those who would do a great job of that and be completely satisfied and happy with their lives. We might even say they’ve found their purpose. But I’m not talking about them.
I’m talking about you who gets struck with a bout of listlessness when that alarm clock stirs you up on a Monday morning. I’m speaking to those who, without any desire for their current engagement, just huff and puff through work on a daily for the sake of a paycheck. This is for those who reach their workplace every other day and are convinced day-by-day that they have no business being there.
“Chase your dreams. Follow your passion. Do what you love.” Those are probably the most cliched lines you’ll ever hear. But here’s what I do know – if you’re going to ever become a world-beater, then you’d want to take those words seriously. There’s a hardly a single person who ever became really successful and celebrated at a venture they pursued half-heartedly half the time.
They may come from diverse worlds and lead very different lives but the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and individuals have one thing in common. It’s not that hard to figure out – they’re all doing something they actually enjoy, something they love. So, there’s got to be something in there.
Actually, they may not have known what they loved from the beginning, but at least, they knew enough to quit doing what they didn’t in the beginning.
There are no two ways about it; if you continue to hang in there just so that you can take home a paycheck even though you know you absolutely hate what you do for a living and have the capacity for more, it will only be a matter of time before you become a shadow of yourself.
If you’ve got so much potential and still feel some or all of unhappy, unappreciated, undervalued, underpaid, and overworked at your current job, that might actually be your cue to walk away from it and try out something that actually suits you.
And if you’re looking for some extra motivation, there are some real-life examples of African entrepreneurs who have trodden that path and are currently thriving at something they chose for themselves, not something they had to make do with. Such individuals quit their jobs to pursue something they love – creating jobs and impacting society popped up as by-products.
Now, here’s a look at a few Africans who have called time on working on someone else’s dream and are currently doing an excellent job of building theirs. And perhaps you too can.
- Chania Lackey, Fashion Entrepreneur (Kenya)
Before Chania Lackey became something of a star on the Kenyan fashion scene, she was a corporate lawyer and maybe a good one too. But she was also thirsty for more.
These days, she runs a fashion label known as Swaheelies – a brand that has distinguished itself with its signature product; handcrafted footwear made from African fabrics.
Chania quit her job as a practicising lawyer to set up the footwear company and it’s probably the best thing she ever did. Not only has the business grown in leaps and bounds since she set it up, but she’s also employed hundreds who would otherwise be worse off.
The footwear is manufactured by local craftsmen in the Kibera area of Nairobi, Kenya – one of the world’s largest slums – where gainful employment is hard to come by and families struggle to make ends meet. Through the footwear brand, she has put hundreds of the locals to jobs, providing them with a means of livelihood – something that may have been scarcely possible if she’d kept the robe and wig.
Through a combination of creativity and passion for fashion, Chania has brought to life a social enterprise that creaetes jobs and empowers local artisans in Kenya, creating both wealth and value in one passionate move. And to think it all started with her ditching the chambers and abandoning the courtroom.
- Chris J. Onwuasoanya, Solar Power Entrepreneur (Nigeria)
Chris held a respectable position at JP Morgan in the United States before the lure of passion set him on an entirely different path. He has since returned to his home country, Nigeria, where he is now making the most of the country’s untapped solar energy sector.
For a country that gets no less than 325 days of sunlight every year, it’s somewhat criminal that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually on electric bills, petrol, and diesel (for power generators). And yet a huge chunk of the over 180 million inhabitants of the country are left in the dark.
Over the years, much has been said of Nigeria’s potential for solar power, but very little has been done. But it is individuals like Chris who are rewriting the narrative. Since starting the solar business in Nigeria, Chris has seen his company handle several solar projects for clients across Nigeria – solving the crippling power problem in parts of the country.
It was not the easiest of starts but some grit and creativity have put him in good stead. In just a few years, the company has grown into a force to reckon with in Nigeria’s developing solar power segment.
For Chris, it’s been something of a transformation from ‘annonymous calvary man’ in one of the world’s biggest financial institutions to CEO and Founder at Atlantic Waste and Power Systems; a company that is doing its bit to help alleviate the epileptic power situation in Nigeria, while creating jobs and adding value to people’s lives.
He indeed held a senior position at JP Morgan but he would certainly not want to trade the freedom, fulfillment, and sense of responsibility now afforded him by his new venture – something that was borne out of passion.
It’s still early days for the business, but it’s easy to see the company going places in the coming years.
- Eric Muthomi, Food Processing Entrepreneur (Kenya)
Just like Chania, Eric is a trained Kenyan lawyer who had other dreams. And that led him to eventually jettison the profession to pursue a passion. That passion turned out to be a rewarding business in food processing – a multi-billion dollar industry these days.
Eric hails from Meru which is one of Kenya’s largest banana-producing regions. Bananas are a staple in East Africa, as they are in many parts of the world. Sensing a drawback in the nature of the banana supply-chain, Eric took the initiative.
Bananas have a very short shelf-life, rotting only a few days after ripening and because of inefficiencies in storage and distribution, a lot of it is doomed to go to waste.
There is another problem in that most banana farmers in Kenya harvest the produce at almost the same time, knocking down the price of the commodity in the market due to oversupply. Because of this, markets are flooded with bananas around harvest time and during the off-season, prices are jacked up due to scarcity.
Eric discovered that more value could be added by buying surplus bananas from local farmers during harvest time and processing it into banana flour, which has a longer shelf life and can serve different purposes.
That idea has since turned the lawyer into a successful entrepreneur with his company, Stawi Foods, producing not only banana flour but also banana-based baby food, which is fast becoming a preferred baby food brand in Kenya.
By choosing to execute his idea instead of toiling at a profession people would mostly describe as respectable than rewarding, he’s creating jobs, guaranteeing income for local banana farmers, and keeping markets stocked with a steady supply of banana products throughout the year.
- Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, Waste Recycling Entrepreneur (Nigeria)
This Nigerian MIT-trained software engineer exhibited some courage by walking away from a lucrative job at one of the world’s largest technology firms, cutting short her five-year stay at IBM in favour of a return to Nigeria where she now runs a waste recycling business.
Bilikiss is CEO and Co-Founder at Wecyclers, a for-profit social enterprise working to help communities rid their neighborhoods of unmanaged waste. Founded in 2012, Wecyclers uses low-cost cargo bicycles called “wecycles” to provide convenient recycling services to households in Lagos via an SMS-based incentives plan.
In parts of the western world, waste recycling is a multi-billion dollar industry, but the venture is only beginning to get some sort of foothold in parts of Africa. Bilkiss stumbled upon the recycling idea while working on a project during her time at MIT.
After learning about its huge potentials, she made the tough call of quitting her job in the United States and making a return to her homeland to set up the waste recycling business. It took some doing initially but these days, it’s more like a fairytale run.
Apart from being covered by local and international media, and winning numerous awards/cash rewards, Wecyclers has created jobs for several people, cleaned up communities, and improved lives. How she must be glad she chose passion over profession.
- Christian Ngan, Bio-Cosmetics Entrepreneur (Cameroon)
Christian Ngan is the Founder of Madlyn Cazalis; an African hand-made bio cosmetic company that produces body oils, natural lotions, creams, scrubs, masks, and soaps. His brand discourages users from whitening (bleaching) their skins, by encouraging the use of natural, well-adapted products.
You can find the company’s products in various cosmetic stores, spas, beauty institutes, and retail fronts across Cameroon and neighbouring Central African countries.
Christian is considered one of Cameroon’s most accomplished entrepreneurs, earning a place in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for two years in a row (2014 and 2015) – actually becoming the first Cameroonian businessman to ever be listed.
Like the other individuals in this list, Christian had a choice to make between chasing his own dreams or staying as one of the many cogs in a big machine. He chose the former. And what a rewarding choice it continues to prove to be.
Having cut his teeth in financial services – first as an Analyst at Quilvest Group; a French investment bank and then as an Associate at Findercord in Paris – he left the world of finance in 2012 and returned to Cameroon with one thing in mind; to create an African skincare brand.
Armed with savings from his years in France, he set up the business and it has since turned out a revelation. It seemed like he had a ‘comfortable’ job in France but there was a lot more nestling just outside his comfort zone.
So, don’t be afraid to make that move if you will it – you might just be on the cusp of something spectacular.
Featured Image Courtesy: thegrio.com