Approximately 39.1% of the working population in Kenya is unemployed. The bulk of these are young graduates considering around 50, 000 students graduate annually from Kenyan public and private universities. The Ministry of Education estimates that 2.3 million youths are unemployed.
The informal sector has become a big source of employment to young people.Many people are opening small scale businesses locally known as ‘juakali’. Others have a dream of starting successful companies and enjoying the Kenyan dream. The difference between those who make this dream a reality and those who fail lies on their hard work and trust in God, says Ruth Mawia, a young entrepreneur and founder of Koola Waters.
Ruth is a 28 years old and the owner and director of Koola Water Company. The company deals with manufacturing, treatment, packaging and distribution of pure drinking water.
Ruth was born in Kyondoni, Kitui County, and Eastern Kenya. She says being brought up in a semi-arid area where water was very scarce was a way of God’s formation in what she would do later in life although she had no idea about it at the time. Although Ruth was brought up in a semi-arid area and was concerned about the poverty in her homeland, she did not know what to do to help her community.
After finishing her secondary school education Ruth joined African Nazarene University where she studied Mass Communication majoring in Electronic Media. It is during her internship at Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) that the idea of starting a water manufacturing plant was born.
She started her water company in 2014 with an estimated capital of two million Kenyan shillings ($20, 000). She raised the capital through prudent saving, loans from family and friends and through partners. She said that three years after starting her company, she has paid off all the loans and now the company is registering profits.
Located in Karen, Nairobi, Koola Waters now packages 1000 litres per hour from 1000 litres per day in 2014. She says this has been due to increased demand of the product and also increased sales which have enabled the company to invest in more efficient machines. The company gets its water from Nairobi City Council but they have now drilled their first borehole. The borehole will provide reliable clean water at a cheaper cost. This will make it possible to subsidize prices to the consumers.
“The biggest challenge was market penetration”, she says, “most consumers did not want to change their brand and it was hard to convince them”. By providing better products and services – pure water, good customer care and timely delivery – than their competitors, they have been able to overcome that. Since the company was not making profit during its early years, there were many financial difficulties. Most of the times, she used to bail out the company with her salary.
Holding onto a job and operating the company proved difficult. She took a gamble and left her job to concentrate fully on the young company. Looking at the lorries being packed to distribute water to different parts of the country is a clear testament that the gamble paid off.
Under the directorship of Ruth, Koola Waters has grown to be one of the most sought after water brands in the country. The company now provides water to residents in Nairobi. The company is in its final phases to start the distribution of Koola water to the Western part of Kenya. It is amazing to see a company that is three years old serving millions of Kenyans.
The target customers are mostly the mass market, with majority of customers being Kiosk owners, shops, whole sellers and depots. Koola Waters also sells in several supermarkets and hotels in Nairobi.
Ruth has been recognized as a successful young entrepreneur by many organizations giving countless interviews on television and other media channels. She was listed by Bizna Kenya under ‘Top thirty under 30 millionaires in Kenya’ category. She was also given a fully paid trip by the Chinese Embassy to China. She has also been recognized by her former university, African Nazarene University.
Through Koola Water Company, she has started an academy for young entrepreneurs. The academy gives mentorship, consultation and coaching. Interested young entrepreneurs are free to email her through the Koola Waters website. She also engages in charity work in several children homes including Korogocho, Mathare and Rongai children’s homes in Nairobi. She also helps in a Girl Rescue Centre in Machakos. “My biggest joy comes from putting a smile on others”, she says.
“Without God, we cannot achieve our dreams. In every venture we must make sure God is the controlling partner. God guided me during the early challenging moments of my company and he guides me every day as I continue managing my company” she says. Ruth also advices graduates not to lose hope due to lack of employment in the country. She says God has made everyone a success and if you have an idea of starting your own business then put faith, hard work and dedication to it and it will succeed.
Ruth has employed 9 young people in her company and she encourages those who get the opportunity to own a company to consider employing fellow youth. She explains that it is only through helping one another that the unemployment issue in the country can be resolved.