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In wood, I have found my life’s purpose

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With a twang that borders between a mixture of urban and rural upbringing, Catherine Soi, 35, would pass as your normal banker or a model. But she is neither: she uses wood pallets to make an array of elegant furniture. The young entrepreneur is the owner of Soi Pallet Design—a novel outfit birthed in 2018 that is making in-roads in the overcrowded arena.

Wood pallets have been around for decades as mechanisms for shipping and storing larger items. However, few saw their value and so were thrown or used as firewood. But now, Soi has found a new use for them.

With two workshops in Kisumu and Nairobi and more than 10 employees, the pallet design company has set sight on penetrating the corporate furniture scene and expanding across Eastern Africa.

She is an entrepreneur who wears many hats; if she is not designing elegant furniture, she is checking on a family she fully supports from Kiboswa area, Kisumu county. She learned about the family’s predicament two years ago from a social media group called “Kisumu Mum”. The mother had abandoned her family.

With her savings and well-wishers contributions, Soi was able to build the family a decent home. Four months after the house was complete, Soi tried to convince the woman to return home and take care of her three children, but her interventions were futile. The woman eventually switched off her phone.

Catherine Soi in her workshop.

Long line of artists

The father would then do the unthinkable; he sexually abused the daughter, an act that would later land him in Kodiaga Prison. After seeing all these forms of abuse, Soi later decided to place two boys at Ebenezer Rehabilitation Centre and their sister at Familia, a non- governmental organisation in the county.

She understood the struggles and decided to stick with them, “I had a rough childhood and at some point I used to live like that. I will support them till the end,” she explains.

Making a name in a male-dominated field for Soi, has not been a walk in the park. After several false starts and numerous discouragement from

her peers, she finally found her passion: wood pallets, which she gets from god owns in Nairobi.

She chuckles as she recalls a situation in which one of her clients almost backed out of an offer after realising she was a woman.

“That week I had not sold anything, so when the client inquired about a particular design, I was jubilant. After meeting him, he kept asking whether the carpenter was still on his way coming. I told him I am the carpenter. He didn’t believe me, until I started showing him some designs,” she says.

Soi has tried farming, boutique business, but always come back to wood, she narrates, “It has taken me several years to realise that is my purpose in life. I have dipped my hands in farming, opened a boutique, but I always return to using pallets.”

As a designer, Soi is always trying new things. At six in the morning, the single mother of four wakes up, says a prayer, checks her social media pages and email, where she interacts with clients before heading to the workshop in Lolwe estate, Kisumu county.

At 8am, she gives her employees instructions on new orders and checks progress of other designs, before heading out for meetings or social media marketing. Digital marketing and referrals, she notes, is what makes her enterprise soar. In a good sale, she pockets between Sh10,000 and Sh30,000 for a three-seater household pallet sofa- depending on the design and material used.

But finding her passion in wood pallets traces its way several years ago. Despite coming from a line of artists, Soi never dreamed of becoming a carpenter and even excelling in the trade.

She recalls one incident in 1982 with her grandfather, a revered carpenter then in Makimenyi village, Bomet county, who forecasted her later years as an entrepreneur.

“At age three, I occasionally visited my grandfather’s workshop. On this particular day, he was working on a table. I was so disruptive, so he gave me a hammer and some nails to keep me busy. And true to his “prophecy”, I was so engrossed in the process that he managed to complete working on the table,” she laughs.

He was preparing me for something big, unknowingly, she explains. Her sister is in interior design and her uncle, a carpenter, currently works for her.

Interestingly, it is an entrepreneurial path she bumped into, albeit, accidentally, but her steel determination to make her mark in Kenya’s furniture scene is eminent in her designs.

Support single mothers

In 2017, before venturing into carpentry, she worked for a mobile phone manufacturing company as a sales representative covering Western region. With tight schedules and an irritable manager, who used to violate their rights, Soi developed health problems.

“We used to work for long hours. And when you were found with a slight mistake; the manager, a foreigner, would subject women to 20 press ups and men 40 press ups as a form of punishment, so I had to endure the pain, since I really needed the job. And worse, the manager used to threaten us with a sack” says Soi.

And when she could not stomach it anymore, she quit. Life outside employment was rough. She moved to a new house, but did not have any furniture. With little cash, she had to be creative.

“I went to the shop and bought wood pallets, which I used to make some few furniture for my new house,” recalls Soi.

After some months, she got a job as a M-Pesa attendant, but she did not last long there, too. Then came the eureka moment, as she puts it. “I was feeling bored, so I decided to post seats I had made on my Instagram page under the topic ‘Do It Yourself’. Within minutes, I started getting inquiries,” says Soi.

I did the same on my Facebook page. “And the results were amazing. That day alone, I got four offers,” she says, adding that she did not even know how she would deliver the furniture to her clients.

“I had to rely on my clients deposit to finish the job. Although they were not aware. My first orders turned out to be too lousy. I instantly became a carpenter. I used to learn from YouTube on pallet furniture making and new designs,” she adds.

Soi has received several awards, including Blaze by Safaricom Award under the Production and Sales Category in 2018. She also attended a Start-up Accelerator Programme by Ygap, an impact entrepreneur investor from Australia that supports social entrepreneurs to impact persons living in poverty.

She started doing things differently after the trainings; sharpening her entrepreneurial and book keeping expertise.

Like any startup, access to capital still pulls her pallet-making business back from shooting to the league of big players.

“I do not have enough credit to grow. I am knocking on doors for capital to grow even bigger,” she says, adding that she plans to pass her skills to single mothers unable to put food on the table.

For now, she is determined to pass her skills to the next generation of women and would not stop.

“I will only be satisfied when I pass my skills to other women, especially single mothers like me,” she says..

Soi maintains her support for women in ‘odd’ jobs.

“As a woman entrepreneur, I will be celebrating empowerment. It is no longer weird for a woman to do odd jobs. Most women are out there getting and excelling at the once perceived odd jobs” she concludes.

CATHERINE SOI

“It has taken me several years to realise that is my purpose in life. I have dipped my hands in farming, opened a boutique, but I always return to using pallets

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VIDEO: A TRUE PLACE OF PEACE for the young ones too!

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Amani Ridge the Place of Peace is the place to be for those who seek to settle in a peaceful domicile.

Families are coming here not only to survey the place where they will soon establish their dream homes, but listen this…to enjoy the quietude and take photos too! They come here to take a walk and enjoy the amazing views.

Others just come to appreciate and walk along the walls of Peace, Happiness, Knowledge and Wisdom.

Others still come here to confirm the value additions that are being placed here courtesy of Optiven. Watch this video expounding on this gated community’s architectural projections: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os3nubny8Vg&t=1s

For the young ones who make their way here, they have a chance to breathe the fresh air, to enjoy the serenity of the open and refreshing skies of these cool Kiambu environs. The young girl captured here can attest to this.

You are free to visit the project and enjoy the Peace as you enjoy the magnificent developments happening at Amani Ridge the Place of Peace

Do you want to be part of Amani Ridge the Place of Peace great experience? Get in touch with Optiven Today:

Contact Optiven Group: 0790 300 300 Email: admin@optiven.co.ke Website: www.optiven.co.ke George Wachiuri Blog: www.georgewachiuri.com
YouTube: https://bit.ly/2VdSuFJ

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Intelligent Water Fountain Takes shape at Amani Ridge the Place of Peace

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As you drive into Amani Ridge the Place of Peace, you will be welcomed by a spectacular solar powered water fountain that is currently in the process of being installed.

This water feature will be an excellent landmark to look at as it greets you after a long tiring day. It is set to be decorated with live flowers and the water below will have live fish.

What’s more, the fountain will be lit at night to give it a splendid scenery for night lovers. This new feature which is being installed adjacent to the Wall of Wisdom is also surrounded by amazing landscaping and beautifully done flowers, pebbles and exotic trees. Watch this video expounding on this gated community’s architectural projections: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os3nubny8Vg&t=1s

This water feature will truly be an attraction to all the Amani Ridge the Place of Peace residents and guests alike.

Visit Amani Ridge the Place of Peace and witness and enjoy the upcoming splendid feature.

We thank one of our customer, Eng. Gabriel Ndungu, CEO Noble Parks & Pools, who has taken this assignment with so much professionalism and passion. Watch video here for more information about this mesmerizing gated community: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoGdZijAbf4&feature=youtu.be

Gabriel is amongst other professionals who are at the frontline, to make Amani Ridge the Place of Peace, one of the best gated high end estate in East & Central Africa.

Want to be part of Amani Ridge the Place of Peace great experience? Get in touch with Optiven Today:

Contact Optiven Group: 0790 300 300 Email: admin@optiven.co.ke Website: www.optiven.co.ke

George Wachiuri Blog: www.georgewachiuri.com
YouTube: https://bit.ly/2VdSuFJ

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Foreign students rethink US business schools

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This summer, dozens of incoming students at New York’s Columbia Business School had planned to sail around the coast of Croatia for a week to get to know each other.

Instead, they are chatting online and playing icebreaker games on Zoom. With the coronavirus still spreading, social gatherings like the sailing trip organised by students are on hold, and there is a good chance that when school starts in September, many classes and events will be held online.

Columbia and other elite US business schools like Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania have said they will likely move to a “hybrid” model of virtual and in-person learning. It is a far cry from the typical MBA experience which features close contact with fellow students, in-person networking events, trips overseas and lunch sessions with CEOs.

The changes have some students reconsidering the value of a degree that can cost upwards of $100,000 (Sh10 million) a year in tuition, housing and other fees.

International students, who make up roughly 35 per cent of the student body at most elite US business schools, are particularly unsure about the decision.

“The virtual environment might take away a chunk of the MBA experience,” said a 27-year-old student from China who was admitted to Wharton and is considering whether to defer for a year.

“That’s what a lot of people including myself are thinking through now,” said the student, who declined to be identified because of concerns about his visa status and employment prospects

. Education upended

The United States has been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with more than 1.7 million cases and over 100,000 deaths.

Higher education has been upended with most schools sending students home in the spring and moving classes online. The US hosts over a million international students at its higher education institutions, according to the State Department data.

International candidates account for 36 per cent of people who enroll in full-time US MBA programmes, according to Graduate Management Admission Council, an association of business schools.

If institutions do not resume in-person learning, enrollment, particularly among international students, is likely to take a hit, according to a GMAC survey. Only 43 per cent of the international MBA candidates surveyed said they planned to enroll if programmes begin online. Forty-eight per cent of them indicated they would defer in that scenario.

By Standard Business

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