Women face a number of barriers when it comes to doing business such as inadequate capital or limited access to financing. However, with the right support, they are able to thrive in their areas of business. Zeinab Zakaria is one such woman. The 26-year-old recounts how she left the medical world to take up running her father's textile venture and growing the business.

Growing up in a business-oriented family, Zeinab Zakaria, 26, left a career in medicine to venture into the business world. After pursuing her dentistry studies in Turkey, she was afraid of coming back to Kenya to start hustling for a job. Instead of looking for a job, she joined Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to do a Bachelor’s degree in Information and Technology.

She thanks her father for a smooth career shift. Unlike most women in her community, her father has always been the rock behind her ventures, giving her a chance to seek new opportunities in life.

“Most women in my community are usually married off once they complete school. This was different with my dad because he took me abroad to further my studies despite many people in our circle being against it,” she points out.

She was also inspired to explore the business world by the fact that her father was losing a lot of money in the hands of his workers. Her father was not fortunate to get the education she did so he only knew some basic operations of his textile business, which remained a small venture despite the demand. It became apparent his workers were stealing money from him whenever he sent them to the bank to deposit his daily takings but because of his lack of education was not able to know it was happening. This realization prompted Zeinab to get into the business to help the father account better for the money he was getting and prevent the loses.

Her love and dedication to her family and the wish to see them grow the wealth her dad had created made her, her two brothers aged 25 years and 20 years, and father officially launch Zakbar Enterprises Limited in 2017 to continue with her father’s textile business but in a bigger and more organized way. They started importing textile from countries such as China and Turkey and selling them to retailers in the country.

Seeing the potential in her children, their father gradually offloaded major responsibilities to them and eventually left them to fully manage the business, as he delved into real estate. Zeinab was given the responsibility of managing the business account with Absa Bank (previously Barclays Bank).

“The only interactions I had with the bank before this was when my dad would send me on errands to the bank during my school holidays. I didn’t have any interest on knowing the bank then, until I became part of the family business and the financial part fell under my docket,” admits Zeinab.

Now fully managing the business with her two brothers, she had to learn the nitty gritty of doing business and how to grow it. They have expanded the business and now have two branches - one in Marikiti, Mombasa and the other in Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate.

Before COVID-19 hit, she recalls importing up to two containers of textiles worth about Ksh 200,000 every week during peak seasons and overseeing every stage of operations from lowering containers from the port, to distribution to their various shops. She is also responsible to approximately 30 workers of the company.

The nature of the business involves sending and receiving huge amounts of money from clients around the world. She interacts with Absa Bank almost on a daily basis and they are very supportive, which has earned her trust and they have been there with her every step of the way. She admits to trying other banks as suggested by her clients for easy transactions, only to come back to Absa.

“Through Absa’s online banking services, I keep track of my balances across my numerous accounts. I have also benefited immensely from their swift transfer services, which facilitates fast transactions with our clients. Their foreign rates are also super friendly because I get to negotiate with their main team in Nairobi,” she says.

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The fact that the bank has also given her a loan limit of up to 10 million shillings as a way of supporting women managed businesses, makes her feel safe in the business. She works courageously knowing that she always has a place to fall back to – thanks to Absa Bank.

She has also benefited from the numerous seminars the bank invites her to such as the Mortgage Tour in Mombasa held in March this year, which she reveals sparked a fire in her about real estate.

“In short, I can simply say that Absa Bank is as supportive as my father,” she concludes.

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