Our Pearls And Heels lady today is Teresa Njoroge. Teresa Njoroge is the founder of a hybrid social enterprise called Clean Start. Teresa seeks to positively impact and transform the lives of extremely poor women and youth, marginalized and caught up in a revolving door of a life of petty crimes, via entrepreneurship training, character development and life skills – holistic personal development services, to create profitable (and legal!) enterprises that sustain them and their families over time. Hence raise generations of entrepreneurs who exhibit strong values and, in her commitment for social change, to break the chronic poverty …petty crimes…incarceration cycle, cut the high rates of recidivism and grow the nation’s restorative justice programs.

Teresa says “I have been in the forefront through my advocacy work, in my mission to build the bottom of the pyramid economy, an ardent advocate against social injustices in Africa and inclusive Africa, with focus on how imprisonment disproportionately affects individuals and families living in poverty. An active Discharge Board member of various Women Prisons in Kenya, through the Ministry of Home Affairs – Prison department, working closely with the department of rehabilitation and social work of Kenya Prisons, I ensure successful re-integration back into society of re-formed ex-inmates. Clean Start gives second chances through collaboration with those who desperately need it and receive it graciously knowing they won’t need a third. A former professional banker with some of the International Banks in Kenya, am a graduate of the University of Pune, a Spark* Kenya fellow, 2015, a Vital Voices Lead Global 2015 Fellow, and Acumen EA 2016 Fellow.”

Teresa Njoroge
  1. Describe your typical day?

My typical day involves rising up pretty early to ensure the kids are ready for school on time and have had their breakfast and bags packed with all they’ll require. My day-to-day schedule varies; it could be meeting with the Clean Start team and working on our strategies, programs and calendar of events among other things. Other days I could either be in a prison meeting the authorities or with the inmates on our programmes. On other days we take institutions to visit the prisons to create awareness of what goes on, educate them on how they could plug in and assist us achieve our vision. I also meet with ex-inmates and discuss possible re-integration options for them.

There are days I will be on Radio or TV or at an organization speaking about the work we do and how the society could bring in the much needed change at their levels.  Other days, I could be offering Fraud Awareness training to financial institutions and other corporate organizations. My Partner at Clean Start, Joss and I also offer Psychometric Profiling for corporates, through which we synergies job placements and mentorship for the women we work with and whatever the day looks like, I have to ensure that I am back home in the evening in time for my kids’ bath time, homework, dinner and then put them to sleep.

  1. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Since I can remember, as young as nine years, I had already made up my mind I wanted to be a professional banker, drawing the inspiration from my dad who was a career banker and who has been one of my biggest role models! I put in concerted effort in my studies and eventually achieved my dream career and grew up the ranks into management with various International banks, here in Nairobi.

Seven years into my career, I unfortunately handled a fraudulent transaction unknowingly which eventually cost me the career that I had worked so hard for. Three years after losing my banking career, I then set up the social enterprise Clean Start, which has given me so much happiness. I have built something from scratch to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I am having a wonderful time learning, growing and meeting great people along the way, who contribute to building an extraordinaire organization, is always a pinching moment for me!

  1. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would involve my mentors more. I wouldn’t worry too much about getting it right. I would take more risks and throw perfectionism out the window. I wouldn’t shy away from asking and would boldly follow my idea and not entertain the fears of what if?

  1. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?

Being able to inspire and motivate others.

Displaying high integrity and honesty.

Being a problem solver and an analyst.

5. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?

Nairobi offers a great blend of industry players in all sectors both local and international. As a good networker it’s easy to tap into the opportunities their worlds bring. It offers an environment good enough to incubate an idea to the growth level, something our youth need to tap into. For us at Clean Start it hasn’t been an easy sell, asking for second chances especially for the ex-inmates, but when the society get’s to understand that these are people who have never even gotten a genuine first chance for starters, then it get’s easier to discuss mentorship for them, starting small businesses for them or a job placement. The change I would love to see in Nairobi is more inclusiveness, in all fronts.

The East African Acumen fellowship has really helped me professionally. Without a doubt the East Africa Fellowship program has fundamentally altered my mindset and I sincerely don’t think I could have found this kind of learning and connections anywhere else!  I have been able to achieve more with great impact and focus our goals, making my ideation’s a reality!  I gained more energy, enthusiasm and got great opportunities. I am confident of Clean Start’s direction because of the backing from Acumen!

  1. What motivates you?

My kids motivate me to be the best version of myself in all areas of life.

Clean Start – the chance it accords me to make an impact in other people’s lives. That chance to be a part of something that is bigger than myself, lights up the fire in me!

  1. How do you define success?

Success to me is about the positive difference you make in people’s lives, including your own. Leaving this world, a much better place, for generations to come.

  1. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My Dad! He has done an awesome job in the different phases of my life! I can never say thank you enough and will forever be grateful. I thank God for him.

  1. What is your favorite aspect of your job?

Transforming the lives of women who have been caught up in a revolving door of a life of poverty and survival crimes by changing that cycle to a cycle of renewal, successfully, is my favorite aspect.  Seeing that transformation come to fruition.

10. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?

• Do what you enjoy.
• Take what you do seriously.
• Invest in yourself.
• Build a rock-solid reputation.
• Take time off.
• Build a top-notch business team.
• Level the playing field with technology

11. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?

Get mentors. Be patient. Ask, Ask, Ask. Invest in yourself. It is important to get knowledge, you need to do research and learn every day.

12. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?

The most satisfying moment for me has been surreal! It was the courage to turn a difficult experience when I lost my banking career, a profession I had grown to love since I was so young and invested so much in and turning it into an opportunity to positively impact the lives of women in prison. It’s moving beyond myself and exploring our common humanity through other people’s stories and moving beyond labels that we give ourselves and others and finding a world of unlimited possibilities.

13. What makes you happy?

My kids make me happy, they do! Seeing the women we work with walk that journey from despair to a life of hope, with decent sustainable means of livelihood that makes me happy. Seeing the strides that we have made at Clean Start, from an idea born in prison, makes me happy!
Also journeying with like-minded people to bring collective social change makes me happy and the Acumen EA Fellowship creates this space!

14. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

My non-work times are an important time to unplug from the day-to-day and get a chance to think more deeply about Clean Start and the industry players overall. Even when I’m technically not working, I’m always processing in the background and thinking about Clean Start. It’s normally a great chance to reflect and be more introspective about bigger issues.

This is always the time I spend with my family, with loads of combination of family activities with my kids. I read stories for my kids and we play our favorite games together. I love taking walks and so I go for the walks with my kids. I love inspirational reads and listening to worship songs or Blues!

15. Where you see yourself in around 10 years?

Ten years is a long time, I would love to lay out a good timeline to maximize and make the best of it! I want to have made an impact through Clean Start in a significant and positive way, not only in Kenya but in the greater East African region! My team is everything and by that time I hope to have a stellar team that carries the Clean Start vision beyond!

My kids will be teenagers and I would love to have prepared for that time by making the right decisions in all fronts of their lives, now.

Author: Rayhab Gachango