Konga ditched a top IT job to sell baskets

Abraham Konga, 35, was always the lucky kind. He landed a juicy job with a big IT firm in Kigali a few weeks after completing his degree at Jomo Kenyatta Information Technology University in Kenya.
Konga serves a customer at his crafts shop in Kigali city. The New Times / Ivan Ngoboka
Konga serves a customer at his crafts shop in Kigali city. The New Times / Ivan Ngoboka

Abraham Konga, 35, was always the lucky kind. He landed a juicy job with a big IT firm in Kigali a few weeks after completing his degree at Jomo Kenyatta Information Technology University in Kenya.

He, however, quit just after two weeks on the job. “Sitting behind a computer for hours wasn’t my thing. I am a people person and like to do things that impact positively on lives. So, there was no way I could achieve it by spending over eight hours a day in an office,” he says.

A holiday trip he took to Butare in the Northern Province a week later turned his life around. While travelling to Butare, he saw beautifully-woven baskets in Gitarama that were being sold by seemingly poverty-afflicted women.

“My mind quickly got to work… Here was a chance to fulfill my passion,” I said to myself. “I was convinced; I couldn’t let it go just like that. I could help them sell their merchandise at a better bargain so they can get out of poverty,” I thought.

 He says when he returned to Kigali from the short holiday, he drove back home to Kigali, withdrew Rwf30,000 from his savings and went back  to Gitarama. “I looked for the best quality baskets, from three women artisans, originally and, that marked the beginning of my crafts shop,” he narrates.

But competition was high as neighbouring crafts shops sold each basket at Rwf1,200, whereas his were going for Rwf1,500.

However, one aspect about his items made the difference. “I chose quality over quantity; that is what made me stand out and, over time, people started to prefer my crafts to those of my competitors,” he points out.

Konga says his real breakthrough in the trade was in late 2008, when he got big orders from three customers at about the same time. “These customers recommended other people to buy from my shop and, eventually, the chain of clients widened countrywide,” he says.

As demand for baskets grew, he diversified and started selling other items like woodcarvings, batiks, cow-dung portraits, jewelry and fabric. He says as a result, the list of suppliers also grew drastically from three women to 25 co-operatives, offering different items. The co-operatives have over 600 members. Konga says his running capital for his shop, Art Point Rwanda, is about Rwf6m.

“I have been able to send my three kids to school without facing any financial problem and met  people who have become close friends. Most importantly, I have been able to support the communities, especially women who are assured of better prices for their products.”

Giving back to society 

Konga says he organises training workshops for his suppliers and other people to enhance their skills so they can improve the quality of crafts. He adopted a street kid who is now in school, and a homeless woman, who he trained in handicrafts and later employed her.  He also reaches out to the disabled. Konga has partnered with Gahini Rehabilitation Centre in the Eastern Province and sells greeting cards made by the centre without charging any commission.

Challenges 

However, his trade is  not all a smooth ride. Konga says the biggest challenge is satisfying people’s varying tastes and preferences, especially as the tastes keep changing.

He adds that since most of the artisans are rural people with no formal training in crafts making, ensuring consistent product quality is difficult.

Advice to entrepreneurs

“You can only become a successful entrepreneur by doing what you love, then money can always find you as long as its quality work,” he advises. He urges entrepreneurs to always look out for information about their field of interest, especially from newspapers, magazines and the Internet, to enrich their knowledge and understanding.

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