While for many years Kenya’s furniture industry has been stunted with poor quality products forcing Kenyans to import from countries like China and India, there has been recent shifts that have not only introduced quality and efficiency in the local industry but also opened up meaningful participation by women. Gender bias limits the steady uptake and representation of women across many industries in Kenya and in Africa at large.
Buildher, a social enterprise based in Nairobi, set out to break the barriers to women’s entry into the construction industry through re-skilling, re-tooling, and job placement. The organisation works with employer partners to provide employment opportunities and linkages to the women they train.
On the other hand, MoKo Home & Living is Kenya’s first affordable, trustworthy furniture brand for lower-income customers. MoKo is the first company in Kenya to apply mass manufacturing techniques to the furniture industry that allows for efficient production at scale. The company is shifting the industry value chain to local manufacturing with stable, higher-paying jobs.
How did it all start?
In September 2021, Buildher and MoKo Home & Living partnered to provide job placements for skilled women artisans who have completed their training in power and industrial tools at Buildher. Moko would absorb some of the trained women within the company’s furniture production line. In this feature story, we spoke with the two companies on this amazing partnership and also heard directly from the women employees and Buildher graduates Cecilia Njoki and Hilda Wanjira.
The Production Engineer at MoKo, Fabian Louis recounts how the collaboration for job creation was first mooted.
‘We recently built a new wood products line and were keen on working with skilled, efficient artisans who have sufficient training in carpentry, joinery, and industrial equipment handling. Normally we would have to recruit and train artisans in-house, but after we learnt about Buildher’s robust and accredited program, and got the chance to meet their artisans, we immediately had access to a richer talent pool that we could recruit from and grow much faster.’
Fabian adds that the Buildher artisans were taken through a short 3-month probation period, after which they were successfully onboarded as term employees with renewable contracts.
According to Daniel Kavita, the Lead Placement Officer, Buildher, the women trainees go through a structured curriculum that equips them with practical and marketable skills that partner employers appreciate. Because of the intensive training, Buildher receives great feedback on the discipline, productivity, teamwork, and leadership skills of the artisans. This is also corroborated by the team at MoKo who are happy to note that since onboarding the Buildher artisans, the company’s productivity has significantly increased. The wood products line has recorded an improvement in production numbers by over 300%, with a lot more room for further growth. This upward trajectory in production and efficiency holds great potential for scalability and enterprise growth.
The two companies share a common vision to create positive disruptions, spur job creation and increased access to greater financial prosperity for local citizens. Buildher team visits the MoKo facility every 2 weeks to review the artisans’ progress and performance, and in collaboration with MoKo identify gaps and collaborate on ways to ensure optimum growth both professionally and at personal levels for the artisans. Fabian further adds that the partnership also aligns with MoKo’s values as a company and also as a social enterprise.
Over time, the artisans have since grown into more senior roles, with most of the ladies leading various workstations. Both Buildher and MoKo actively work to identify key areas of skill and strength and leverage those to create opportunities for growth and advancement for their employees. The artisans regularly receive refresher training and advisory support cutting across technical and life skills.
Straight from the women artisans.
Cecilia Njoki, 34, has always held a dream to work in the construction industry. For years, she was discouraged from pursuing this path because to her family and friends, construction work was a man’s job. And so for about 20 years, Cecilia pursued gigs acceptable for her gender until she heard about Buildher in one of her community support groups. Interested to try her luck, she signed up, attended an interview with the Buildher team, and was successfully accepted into the program.
‘My life now is exactly how I dreamed it would be; working at my dream job and being able to comfortably provide for my family. After successfully joining the training program at Buildher, I was trained in joinery, carpentry, and machine handling. In September last year, Buildher linked us with our current employer, MoKo, where I have since been working.’
Cecilia, like many of the artisans under the Buildher program, does not believe jobs are gender-specific. They are driven by a passion to deliver, a great work ethic, and a shared team spirit.
‘When I came in, I had built key skills in joinery, and now at MoKo, I had the opportunity to try my skills across different roles at the workplace. I have since grown to lead the sanding team, ensuring all work is executed efficiently and on time. My dream career has always been to work in construction, carpentry, or welding, but years ago it was harder to get into these spaces because they are predominantly for men. I was instead advised to pursue tailoring. Now nearly 20 years later I am happy to be finally working in the space I desired and happy to see the impact of my work on my life and that of my children.’Hildah Wanjira, Team Lead-Sanding, MoKo.
The collaboration has also resulted in a refreshing gender dynamic at MoKo, with the Buildher artisans being the first women joining the wood products line. Working in a male-dominated space has presented interesting experiences and perspectives for the ladies.
Both Cecilia and Hildah note a significant improvement in their quality of life, as they are now able to comfortably upgrade their living conditions and cater to their daily expenses and that of their loved ones. For instance, they have both been able to move into better and more secure neighbourhoods and are now able to afford basic needs like school fees for their households.