African Women Pushing the Boundaries of Internet Access

One of East Africa’s leading women entrepreneurs, Njeri Rionge is a pioneer in the region’s Information Communication and Technology (ICT) sector. Twelve years ago, she founded East Africa’s first mass market Internet service provider, Wananchi Online Limited.

Wananchi is a Swahili word meaning citizen and the company prides itself on making internet connectivity affordable for the average African household. Since its conception the company has grown to become the largest internet service provider in East Africa and is worth $173 million USD.

“I did many things before I touched the thing that I turned to gold,” she recently said on a television show. This included everything from hairdressing to clothing retail.  In 1999, in a time when internet access was still unfamiliar to the general public, she recognized an opportunity to use the internet to overcome the stark differences between East Africa’s educated elite and the ordinary populace. This idea proved very successful and lead to the creation of Wananchi Online Ltd.

Rionge’s love for business and diverse interests has led her to adopt a personalized approach to entrepreneurship. “You will never find me hanging on in anything longer than I should,” she remarks. Playing to her strengths, she excels in planning and sourcing funds for new projects, but when this phase is completed, she passes the project over to a managing director or executive. In her words; “I build organisations and then hand them over…- that is my type of entrepreneurship.”

Her lists of successful companies include Ignite, a management consultancy and Insite, a new-technology firm, but the company she is especially proud of is called Business Lounge. Designed as an entrepreneur incubator, Business Lounge, offers networking and brainstorming opportunities to ardent entrepreneurs looking for support especially during the start-up phase. The company is aligned to her firm belief that Africa is the next economic frontier and the need to create sustainable indigenous organisation to lead future growth is now more urgent than ever.

Undaunted, Rionge also engages entrepreneurs via motivational talks and life coaching opportunities, hoping to rub off some of her success to aspiring entrepreneurs. Her advice to entrepreneurs is simple and inspiring; “Keep [your strategy] simple and implement that plan step by step with courage, conviction and love above all.”

Source: By Louis Nel for BusinessTrade.org

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