The career path of Patience Barandenge has been nothing short of eclectic. She has been a gospel singer, organized musical festivals, and even hosted a television cooking show. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics, but has also worked as a model, a casting director, and a clothing designer. More recently, as Head of Women’s Market at RawBank, she created and launched the Lady’s First program, a division of the bank devoted exclusively to female customers.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has one of the lowest rates of access to finance in the world, at only about 1% of the population. Women in the DRC represent 23% of all registered businesses, but can still have significant difficulty in accessing loans and financial services. Patience Barandenge recognized this problem and set out to do something about it. She began by running focus groups of women to help determine their specific banking needs and researched growth opportunities for female entrepreneurs. With that information, she not only created the Lady’s First program, but takes an active, hands-on role in getting women the services and opportunities they need that have not always been available to them. Less than 18 months after the Lady’s First program started, Rawbank had lent US$2.96 million to women entrepreneurs and 371 women customers have opened accounts valued at US$5.9 million.
Perhaps it is not so surprising then, considering her own varied career path as well as her work with female entrepreneurs, that Patience would decide to exercise her own entrepreneurial muscle. In 2013 she launched an office cleaning company, P3. Why cleaning? “I’ve always been a maniac for cleaning and easily found fault with the cleaners that I saw. I couldn’t help but notice when they did not clean a place as they should.” The solution, obviously, was to start her own cleaning company.
“Being born in a family of boys taught me that sometimes you have to fight to get what you want. I’ve always been very ambitious and aimed to make a place for myself in society. I’ve always believed you must think big, live big.”
Having already mentored so many women she was well-prepared in many respects, but she was also aware of the barriers women often face. “Societal attitudes and social norms prevent some women from starting businesses. Many of the women entrepreneurs in the DRC run very small businesses that operate in the informal economy. This not only limits their ability to earn income for themselves and their families, but also restricts their contributions to overall socioeconomic development and job creation.”
When Patience started she had little in her savings account and just one client lined up. But she had a business plan and a wealth of knowledge about women in the marketplace as well as personal career experience. She did the paperwork, secured the equipment and uniforms for the workers she needed, then began hiring and training. By 2015 she had expanded the services she provided to include catering, event planning, and graphic design, and changed the name of the company to P3 Multi Services. She now has 20 employees.
Patience was born and raised in Kinshasa, the only girl among four brothers. “Being born in a family of boys taught me that sometimes you have to fight to get what you want. I’ve always been very ambitious and aimed to make a place for myself in society. I’ve always believed you must think big, live big.”
Never lacking for energy, Patience has also launched her own organization, Dream Ventures, an incubator for young women entrepreneurs. Patience explains, “Dream Venture was born of a passion for helping young girls to become autonomous financially.” The young women who become part of Dream Ventures receive mentoring, financial support, and a shared work space. Dream Ventures also employs three women. At the time of writing, Dream Ventures was working on a reality show where women from across Kinshasa compete to develop business plans and win prizes of up to US$100K in the form of loans.
Not surprisingly, Patience has a few words of advice for women wishing to start their own businesses. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Just like winning, it is part of the game, and it’s not permanent. What’s important is that with every failure comes a lesson. Learn to anticipate and accept risks, mistakes, and even failure.”
“Also, it is important to have external advisor − a coach or a mentor. And do not wait until it is too late before preparing an emergency plan. Finally, and perhaps most importantly: Dare to make decisions, dare to dream. It’s the only way forward.”
Wise words from a woman who walks the talk and follows her own advice of thinking big, living big.
- Do not listen to what people say. If you want to leave your job to start a business then do it! Only you are able to judge what is right for you. Regrets ten years from now will be more difficult to manage than some contradictory voices today.
- Choose the right partners. I thought I could do it all alone. I was wrong. Being part of a team is much better. Having 3−4 associates is the ideal team size to start a business. On the other hand, make sure your skills complement each other. This will avoid frictions and struggles of influence.
- Have challenging conversations with your associates at the very beginning. It is better to set down on paper all the details of the relationship between partners from the start rather than solve these problems once the cashflow is suffering or, on the contrary, the profits begin to return.
- Creating a business involves a lot of responsibility. A good lawyer will advise you on adopting the right legal regime and protect you personally as well as your financial investment.
- Make sure you have a business plan in place. You need to face reality and set your budget because a startup is not a hobby. It can cost a lot of money. You have to budget
Patience’s story first appeared in Women Creating Wealth, A Collection of Stories of Women Entrepreneurs from across Africa. You order or download a copy here.