Christine Khasinah-Odero, 32, is the CEO of Supamamas, an event and marketing company that provides an exclusive platform for Kenyan mums to share, connect and get information through a website www.supamamas.co.ke and events. She also owns another marketing company Cosma Ventures – that provides marketing and events management solutions. Christine is warm, friendly and quite humorous’ traits that have obviously helped her get to where she is in life. Hers has been a journey of constant learning through failure, persistenence and always striving to succeed. She speaks candidly to ESTHER KIRAGU about her life.
Christine Khasinah-Odero was born and bred in Nairobi. This third born among six siblings grew up in Nairobi’s Umoja estate and schooled in Umoja Primary School before attending Butere Girls High School for her secondary school education.
Growing up, she was a daddy’s girl and admired her dad for his diligence and hard work. “I watched him rise up in his career from a clerk to a director in an insurance firm,” says Christine about her dad who is now a retired insurance broker.
Christine’s mother is a secretary in an audit firm in Nairobi. “She worked hard to bring us upright,” Christine says fondly about her mother. As her father’s career rose, they moved from Umoja to Tena estate before settling in Kilimani estate. This gradual growth in life inspired Christine to want the same for herself.
ASSERTIVE FROM A YOUNG AGE…
As a middle child, Christine recalls fighting for space and attention. “My dad had university admission forms for United States International University (USIU), Nairobi. He kept them for my sister, hoping that she would excel in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) and join USIU.
However, since I performed better than her, I got the opportunity to join USIU in 1998 to study for a Bachelor degree of commerce in marketing. “At USIU I had a major culture shock. I think all that English was puzzling to me, having grown up in the hood,” says Christine, adding that adjusting to the fancy lifestyle at USIU was quite a challenge.
With time she fit in well especially through sports and became the best tennis player throughout her campus life. In her final year, she was named the Inter-University champion in table tennis. “I knew that whatever I put my mind to, I would outshine others. My French lecturer, Ms. Dorothy Ooko, also inspired me greatly. She looked comfortable in her skin, was knowledgeable, tough and exemplified everything I wanted to be,” says Christine who still holds Dorothy in high esteem.
Christine finished her university degree in 2003 and immediately got an internship in an insurance company. As she did her internship, she pondered about her next move and decided that she wanted to do a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA). She searched for colleges on the Internet, applied for an MBA course abroad and received several invitations – to the Universities of Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
“I settled for the University of Liverpool and joined in late 2003 to do an MBA – marketing option. This opportunity gave me exposure. I learnt to be creative, a problem-solver and very hands-on in life. The degree work was demanding but I had no option but to excel,” explains Christine, adding that she is so proud of her MBA because she worked very hard to earn it.
EXPERIENCE AT DIFFERENT JOBS…
On completing her course, she returned to Kenya in late 2004 and got a job at an ice cream making company in Nairobi. “I was unhappy with the work ethics because I felt that my skills were not being utilised fully. After a year, I moved into a financial investment company but soon found out that working with figures wasn’t my area of liking and a year later, I was on the move again. This time I went to the tours and travel industry,” says Christine.
She worked in three different tour and travel companies at the managerial level, positions that provided her with opportunities for challenge and growth. Christine says one of her challenges was asserting her authority on people, especially since she was very young and most of her collegues were much older than her. But she eventually got used to it since her position demanded it.
She was doing well until 2007 when the post election violence (PEV) in Kenya hit the tourism industry hard. In January 2008, she found herself jobless and in addition she was expecting her first child.
Christine decided to start a tour and travel agency and rented office space at Nairobi’s Agip House. But she was soon to learn that running a business was not an easy feat. “Business was not forthcoming especially since the economy and industry had been adversely affected by the PEV. And so I closed down my business,” Christine explains.
She took some time off to think about her next course of action and it became clear that looking for employment was her only option at the time. After several months of job-hunting she got a job at a garage in Karen, Nairobi, as an administrator and receptionist. She says that though she was over qualified for the job, she didn’t let that get to her head. Instead she purposed to learn the business and set out to do what she knew best; marketing and offering everyone who walked through the door exemplary service.
“Of course there were times when I wondered if all my parents’ effort to educate me were paying off, but I knew that something great was in store for me. After two and a half years, I quit and went to run my business. I came to appreciate the administrator and receptionist job since it provided me with a chance to work very closely with the managing director and learn from him useful tips on business management,” she says, adding that no job is too small to learn from.
STARTING OUT …
In 2010, Christine decided to use her skills and passion to start a business. “I was always good at events management and made every small family occasion at our home a grand event. I therefore set up shop to run a company, Supamamas, that would do events for mums-to-be and mums between 22 to 45 years of age, specifically with kids up to 12 years,” explains Christine.
She started out with a group of six women. Being strangers to each other, they decided to run it as a chama – a women’s micro investment group to give them a chance to get to know each other. Christine still organised events including a mum’s fun day out and day of the African woman for the mums in the chama, and invited a speaker to inspire them.
“I wanted to show them the potential of Supamamas since I believed in it,” says Christine. However, against her better judgment, she partnered with her friends and launched Supamamas in August 2011, in a successful ceremony that saw close to 60 mums attend.
THINGS GO HAYWIRE…
Not long after, Christine and her partners had a major fall-out. “After the launch, everyone returned to their daily job except me since I was jobless at the time. Besides, I wanted the company to run on a daily basis and not an occasional one like it was. This didn’t go well with everyone and the deal ended up being messy. Eventually, I took over Supamamas and registered it as a company. Today I run it with the help of two assistants,” she says.
Christine stresses the need to be cautious about partnerships. “All partners should put in the same energy and be equally resourceful, otherwise you start feeling short-changed,” she warns. She began running Supamamas on social media and was amazed at the overwhelming response.
“Within three months I had over 1,500 members on the Supamamas facebook page. The page provided a forum for mums to share information that they could relate with. Each day had a theme, which the mums would have a conversation about. The Facebook group went viral and many people were talking about it, but it was not translating to revenue for me. Besides people clashed severally over different opinions, and things got out of hand,” says Christine.
BEING PERSISTENT DESPITE THE ODDS…
She decided to close down the Facebook group and have women register to be paying an annual registration fee to be members of the group Supamamas. Some of the benefits members enjoy include paying subsidised entry fee at events, subsidised rates to exhibit at events and advertise on Supamamas website: www.supamamas.co.ke, and also enjoy social and career support from other mums.
The events took time to pick and this stressed her out. During this difficult time, she recalled her admiration for her French lecturer at USIU and the encouragement she got from her family and this helped her pull through.
Today, Christine has held several successful events including a Mum and Baby fun day, Single Mums Event – a celebration event for single mums’, Supamamas members’ barbeque event and etiquette in networking event.
“We provide an opportunity for women in business to promote their businesses by exhibiting their products and services in all our events. The events are sponsored by several companies,” explains Christine.
Christine says she seeks to empower women in these events by providing them with information and inspiration through several speakers who grace the events. She also gives back to community and is a member of the Rotary Club of Langata. Through Supamamas, she organised a cancer event for children at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) children’s cancer ward in mid 2012, as well as the maternity ward.
The women at Supamamas also have a self-help group where they save and can access loan facilities. “I am really glad that I’m tapping into the strength and resourcefulness of women and using it for a great course. These women provide inspiration, social and emotional support to each other. I am very grateful to my family and friends like Carol Chemarum, Lyn Malenge and Gerald Njuguna, who helped me establish a website for Supamamas when I was just starting out,” says a delighted Christine.
Christine says that people ahead of her who have excelled at what they do inspire her and she strives to do her business with integrity, diligence and excellence.
Christine is married to Paul Odero, an ICT Manager working with an NGO in Nairobi. They have a three-year-old son, Miles Malowa. “My husband has always supported and allowed me to be myself,” says a thankful Christine, adding that the women at Supamamas have become her newfound family.
Christine hopes to do more great events in the future and build partnerships with various stakeholders. At the moment there are Supamamas from Kenya, South Africa, UK, Germany and USA and she hopes to build more chapters abroad. She also hopes to set up an ICT centre in Nairobi that will provide mentorship, inspiration and information for young girls and women.
Christine is of the opinion that everyone is cut out for different things. “Some people are good in employment while others are good in business. The most important thing is that one is passionate about what they are doing. Money is important but it isn’t everything, just purpose to thrive at whatever you are doing regardless of your circumstances,” she says in conclusion.