Highly motivated, hardworking and focused, 26-year-old Belinda Nyangasi is the proprietor of Diamante Solutions Limited, a company that seeks to change people’s outlook on wealth and finances within communities. She also owns several agribusinesses. She shares her infectious passion for life with EDNA GICOVI.
Growing up in Kibera with a mother who was a kindergarten schoolteacher, Belinda Nyangasi thought she would follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher when she grew up. While in high school at Moi Nairobi Girls, she fell in love with accounting and excelled in the subject owing to an inspirational accounts teacher whom she greatly admired. However, accounting did not have a bearing on her choice of degree to pursue at university when the time came. She had long shifted her focus to other things and was in the pioneer class of the University of Nairobi’s procurement and supply chain management programme. She graduated in 2010.
In 2011 she got a contractual job with Faulu Advisory Services, a subsidiary of Faulu Kenya. Faulu Advisory Services offers capacity building to entrepreneurs in business and those aspiring to start business, as well as entrepreneurial groups and institutions that serve them. She was posted to the Central Rift region where she worked as a business advisor, training various groups on proper financial management and empowering them to better their lives through good business management practices and relevant income-generating activities. She thoroughly enjoyed her work and was greatly moved by the huge impact the services her company offered made to the communities she worked with. Her contract ended after one year and she returned to Nairobi to look for another job.
She sent out dozens of applications to different companies seeking a position in procurement and supply chain management. Three months down the line, she hadn’t received a response from any of the companies. “I wondered why none of the companies responded. I even asked friends to have a look at my CV thinking perhaps there was something I had not done right and needed to change,” she says.
Tired of staying at home, Belinda started looking into other options. An idea was spurred by her experience at Faulu, where many of her clients had been motivated to start businesses, borrow money, and also start saving. “I decided to continue with the line of work I did at Faulu – helping people in my community to start business and other income generating activities, as well as training them in good financial and business management practices. The only problem was that I didn’t have an idea how to get started,” she says.
Her passion to see change in her community in Kibera and a sense of urgency to empower and equip people with knowledge and skills on business and money management and how to share their God-given gifts with the world through business ownership drove away any doubts she had in herself.
“My inspiration was to see people’s lives elevated. I wanted to challenge them to think and do something for themselves and not just sit and wait for the government. I wanted to drive away the ‘tunaomba serikali’ (we implore the government) mentality. I had lived in Kibera and noted many times that the poor struggled with feelings of hopelessness and believed they were doomed to never make it in life,” she says.
In November 2011, she registered Diamante Solutions Limited with an objective of reaching out to a new generation of people who would experience personal transformation by adopting sound financial principles and be mobilized as change agents to not only alleviate poverty but also create sustainable development trends. Belinda invited two friends with expertise and networks that would be key in running Diamante to partner with her.
“It was challenging at first. Not many people understood my vision and I was turned down by several of the organisations I approached seeking partnerships,” she says. However, St. Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization in Kibera opened their door to her. This is a grassroots organisation committed to working with caregivers, mostly single mothers, to provide early childhood development, food and health services to orphans and other extremely vulnerable children in the community.
The director wanted to empower the mothers of the children at the organisation’s school who were from the slum and faced major financial struggles. They were required to pay school fees of Ksh250 per month for each child, which most parents found difficult to raise. At times the director had to provide food for some of the mothers, as they couldn’t fend for themselves, leave alone their children.
“Most of the women depended on their husbands for everything. If their husbands said there was no money for food, they would sleep hungry,” says Belinda. She embarked on training to help these mothers become empowered into self-sufficiency. She met with the 40 mothers on a weekly basis for six months, teaching them how to manage whatever little money they had in addition to empowering them to start their own businesses and stop being fully dependent on their husbands.
“At the end of the training, the women came up with very good business ideas and the organisation that ran the school gave them Ksh1000 each to get started. Today, 18 of the women are self-supporting and are able to pay school fees for their children without much trouble. They learnt the importance of saving, planning and budgeting. I’m glad the training had an impact,” says Belinda.
Impressed by Diamante’s work, the director of this community organisation referred her to another organization, also in Kibera. This time round she worked with a group of 32 HIV-positive women. “We covered different topics at every meeting and towards the end of the training, we brought artisans to teach them how to make bags, earrings and soap, among other products, so that they could have skills they could use to make a living,” says Belinda.
The going was not always smooth and there were a few disappointments along the way. “Most of the women in this group did little with the training we offered, claiming there was no market for their wares. It was clear they felt that others owed them a living because of their situation. They had not made much, if any, effort to market their products. I suggested the Maasai Market as a place to start and some of those who took their wares there were able to sell,” says Belinda, adding that she refused to be discouraged by such attitudes.
Diamante has faced numerous challenges in the course of its work. For example, because of the donations and free services offered by many charitable organisations within Kibera communities, some people have become used to handouts and are unwilling to roll up their sleeves and do some hard work to better their lives. She is fiercely determined to rid people of the poverty mindset and learned helplessness
There have been many success stories nevertheless. Belinda has successfully conducted business trainings in several organisations operating within Kibera and its environs and these have positively transformed people’s living standards as well as enabled them to make informed decisions about money.
Some of the organisations she has worked with include Life In Abundance, Mirror of Hope, Swahiba Youth Networks, Childslife, and Ghetto Light, all NGOs working in Kibera. She has also worked with Christ Is The Answer Ministries Kiserian and Woodley branches. She also trains individuals and has helped those referred to her acquire and put into practice necessary skills to improve their businesses and personal finances.
Diamante’s most recent project is in partnership with Swahiba Youth Networks, a church organisation that works with disadvantaged youth in urban slums. Swahiba and Diamante set up a mentorship programme for girls, through recognition of the effectiveness of youth mentoring as a social intervention.
“We began a one year mentorship programme for high school graduates. We seek to give them an opportunity to learn from experienced and well respected professionals from different fields, some of who have faced various challenges in their lives but have risen above them,” she says.
They are also training the girls in entrepreneurship skills. “We have told them severally that they can take themselves to college and not wait for their parents to do so. Most are from poor backgrounds and don’t get financial help from their parents. Some have already taken up the mantle and are engaging in business. I’m very proud of them,” says Belinda.
Diamante is also looking to work with SACCOs this year and has already started some work with the Kibera Matatu Owners Association Sacco. They held a business-training programme with the Sacco in February of this year. Diamante also hopes to work with bigger organisations and government ministries that deal with youth and women.
Belinda usually challenges those she trains to think about what they would like to see change in their lives in a year’s time and also think about the actions they need to take in order to make that change happen. But does she practice what she preaches? “Yes,” she says enthusiastically. “The important lessons I learnt from Faulu about money have helped me become more financially disciplined,” she says.
She is keen on budgeting and growing her savings and belongs to a Chama (savings or investment group). “You can’t give what you don’t have. I can’t start talking passionately about saving to others yet I don’t do it. It’s a discipline I’ve worked hard to cultivate in myself,” she says.
Belinda also runs several businesses, supplying chicken to restaurants, butcheries, caterers and households, in addition to making pure, homemade peanut butter for sale. She started breeding rabbits for sale recently and recently acquired a license from the Kenya Wildlife Services to rear quails.
“People should open their eyes and see the existing, profitable opportunities out there, especially in agribusiness,” she says. She firmly believes that we can all change the world and have an impact wherever we are if we recognise that we have the ability to do much more than we’re currently doing.
To the youth, she says, “Don’t sit around for months waiting for employment. Find a way to start a business if you can’t find employment. Get started today!”
Published on April 2013