Sammy and Josephine Mwedekeli were busy
Josephine was first to take an interest in the business, and Sammy joined her once he understood the network marketing model and its limitless income potential. Together they joined forces, their eyes riveted on their vision of creating time and financial freedom.
Once they achieved their dream and quit their jobs, their network marketing company called on them to open the East African market. In 2005, the Mwedekelis moved back to Nairobi, Kenya, and seven years later they had successfully launched five African countries.
Having been in the business for sixteen years, eight of which were spent in the U.K and the other eight in Kenya, the Mwedekelis have a unique perspective on the extraordinary challenges network marketing faces on the African continent, as well as the mind-boggling opportunities available to those who can see into the future.
Discovering the Business
In the mid-nineties Josephine was suffering from a health condition that could not be helped with conventional medication. One day her friend Birgitta came to visit and offered her some natural products to see if they might help her. Josephine reluctantly tried them for a few months, and her health greatly improved. Birgitta advised her to register with the company so she could buy the products wholesale. Josephine became a fervent user of the products and shared them with her family and friends.
Birgitta noticed consumption going up and told the Mwedekelis, “You guys are doing great, you’re moving lots of products. Have you considered running a business?”
Josephine was working full time heading up a laboratory at a hospital and couldn’t see herself taking on anything else. Sammy didn’t want to go door to door or look for sick people to tell them about this product. Trained as a navigator on merchant ships, he had abandoned his first profession which he found to be incompatible with married life. He had gone back to college to study international trade and finance, and was now working for a multinational.
“When our friend offered us the business opportunity, I didn’t see the bigger picture,” he says. “But she kept telling stories of people who were living a great lifestyle.”
Birgitta kept asking Josephine to take a look at business, until one day she agreed to attend a meeting. Sammy took her there and waited in the car listening to music.
“The presenters at the meeting spoke about many issues that were affecting my life,” says Josephine. “Lack of financial freedom was one of them that hit home. At the time, we were living in a small house that could hardly fit a growing family, and we had no plan for being able to afford better housing.
“That night I decided to do the business with or without my husband. I started the next day, and several months later I had a small team and lots of customers. I was earning $200 to $300 a month and saved everything I earned.”
One day a relative who had financial challenges came to see Sammy and Josephine to ask for their help. They told her about the business and connected her with Birgitta, who invited all of them to an event in Birmingham, 250 kilometers from where they lived.
“I wasn’t too keen on driving 250 kilometers to go to a function,” says Sammy, “but I really thought this could help my relative. Together we drove all the way to what turned out to be the company’s annual convention.
“It was the first time I ever sat in a network marketing meeting and I was blown away. I saw people go up on stage picking up checks for $2,000, all the way up to $150,000. I had never seen this amount being given away in one session before.”
More than intrigued, Sammy got in touch with the recipient of one of the checks, and asked, “Is this real?”
The person said, “Absolutely.”
Sammy said, “What do you have to do to earn this?”
The person told him he would need to sit through to the rest of the meeting to find out.
After the presentation, Sammy asked, “When can I get started?”
He learned a few more things about the company, including that it had a profit sharing program where distributors who qualify share in the company profits.
He told Josephine, “I like this. This is what I want to do,” and joined her in the business.
With their sponsor, Birgitta Stevenson,
in the U.K. after recognition, 2003.
As soon as Sammy discovered network marketing, it dawned on him that working a job was like being in a prison.
“Until then I wasn’t feeling good about myself because I didn’t have time I could call my own,” he says. “I used to leave home early in the morning and return late at night, simply because of the position I held in the organization I worked for. I was literally giving all my time to my employer. I also didn’t like that we couldn’t buy anything without a loan or a credit card. I didn’t think this was healthy.”
Seeing a chance to attain time and financial freedom, Sammy decided that by giving the business the same effort as he was used to giving his employer, he would buy himself the freedom to do the things he wanted to do, when he wanted to do them, without seeking permission from his boss.
“The opportunity to determine my own income level without having to negotiate every year for a salary increase was very attractive,” says Sammy. “I wanted to find out what my potential was, how far I could go.”
First he needed to figure how to create time for his new business.
“I went to bed thinking about my job and woke up early to make sure I was on time,” he says. “I was used to working overtime just to keep my boss happy. I decided I was no longer going to do this and changed my priorities. I promised myself that in three years I would be free. Driven by my dream, I became more efficient at my job and made sure to finish by 5:00PM so I could go out and build my business.”
Sammy and Josephine made a contact list and each day after work they would meet at the railway station to go to appointments. They invited people by making phone calls during the day—five minutes here, two minutes there, and at lunch time.
From smaller meetings, they would invite people to company-sponsored meetings that were held in various places in London. On weekends they would attend trainings with their new recruits.
“We had no problem working seven days a week,” says Josephine. “We were in a hurry to obtain our freedom. We didn’t rely on anyone to push or lead us. We attended as many trainings as we could to learn the basics, then just put in the time. We attained the position of Manager, our first-level leadership position, three months after we decided to do the business.”
Sammy adds, “The relative we had taken to that annual convention was our first recruit and became the wind beneath our wings. She went to the U.S. where our company was based and she built her business from there. Very dynamic, she became a manager at the same time we did.
This was the first time Sammy earned money more quickly than he ever did at his job. Investing two, three hours a day into the business yielded a higher return than the ten hours a day he put in at work. Experiencing the time leverage aspect of the business grew Sammy’s belief. His wife felt better than she ever had before, so he knew the products worked, but when those checks started coming in, they strengthened his belief in the company and in network marketing.
Moving to Africa
Within four years Sammy and Josephine’s business was earning four to five times what their salaries were paying them.
“In August 2004, my company had its annual convention in San Diego, California,” says Sammy. “My wife and I had qualified for the event which meant the company paid for all the expenses and also gave spending money. We decided to take our entire family to San Diego and spend the rest of the month touring California.”
Sammy drove his family from San Diego along Pacific Highway to San Francisco, stopping at each point of interest and visiting beautiful places like Yosemite. After spending a month in California, he could not bear the thought of going back to work, so he wrote an email to his boss saying he wasn’t coming back.
“My boss accepted my resignation, paid me a couple more weeks of vacation he owed me, and that was it,” says Sammy. “My wife quickly followed suit. She was a bit jittery in the beginning, but I told her, ‘This is the way to go. There’s nothing to prove anymore, this works. Look at where we are after four years.’ In August 2004, we both quit our jobs and set ourselves free.”
Prior to network marketing, Sammy and his wife lived in a three-bedroom, low-cost housing unit. Two years after joining, they moved to a London suburb and bought a four-bedroom, brand new, stand-alone house. For the first time in their married lives, they both owned a car.
Three years into the business, they began to invest in rental properties and made other passive investments.
In 2005, the owner of Sammy’s network marketing called from Scottsdale, Arizona. He told Sammy, “We’re expanding into Africa, and we were thinking you’re the right person to open Kenya for us.”
Sammy had lived in England for over thirty-four years. Feeling the desire to make a significant contribution to the Kenyan people, he saw a opportunity to add value and help them by sharing his skills and knowledge. He accepted the company’s offer and moved his family to Kenya.
Sammy started the business in downtown Nairobi in a single room with a couple of desks and a small product center on the fourth floor of a rundown office building.
“The first four months were challenging,” he says. “After that we grew quickly and moved to a 5,000-square-feet office in a better part of the city. Within three years we had four offices in Kenya and also opened Tanzania and Uganda. In our fifth year we added Rwanda and Burundi.”
East Africa forms an economic block called the East African Community, comprised of Tanzania, Botswana, Rwanda, and Uganda. Sammy and Josephine were able to set up the infrastructure and training systems for the company in that region.
“We developed many leaders who are now enjoying amazing lives,” says Sammy. “We’ve seen people go from nothing to true wealth. We went from zero sales in 2005 to close to $25 million in 2012.”
That year, after seven years of being a regional manager for his company while also building his own network marketing business, Sammy decided to relinquish the former of the two roles.
“Building five countries up from zero is not easy,” he says. “We decided to pass that responsibility on to someone else so we could focus on growing our team. We enjoy this much more than being administrators.”
Training his team in Nairobi, Hilton Hotel, 2013.
Recognizing a new leader in Kampala, Uganda, 2010.
Recognition in Hawaii, 2013.
East African leaders retreat in Zanzibar, 2008.
Reflecting on how building in Africa is different from building in the U.K., Sammy is cautious not to generalize or paint a black and white picture.
“Let’s say an average monthly income in Europe or America is about $2,000,” he says. “In Kenya or East Africa, the average income of anybody who has a job is about $200 a month. Add the fact that our unemployment rate is 60 percent.
“In the U.K., we can take guests to a presentation and if they want to get involved, all we need to do is help them process their application and they can purchase their first order before they even leave the premises. This immediacy is made possible because of credit cards and because the cost of a starter pack represents only a small portion of their monthly income.
“Compare this to a prospect in Africa who is equally keen but only earns $200 a month. He has no credit card. The cost of the starter pack is greater than his monthly income. As his prospective sponsor, you have to exercise patience by either waiting for him to save up the money or come up with some ingenious plan of action that will fast track him to earning a starter pack. Consequently, to build a team in Africa requires not only extraordinary effort and leadership of the highest order, but also a lot of patience.
“As a networker, I like to know my statistics. For the reasons given above, my averages in Africa are very different from the ones in Europe. In the U.K., I need to speak to about twenty people to get one yes. In East Africa, I need to speak to probably fifty to sign up one person.”
Josephine points out another factor that has an indirect impact on the growth of network marketing in Africa, which she calls the phenomenon of the extended family.
“Because we don’t have a social welfare system, it is expected of any family member who earns money to extend financial support beyond the immediate family to their extended family members. This includes paying school fees, medical care, food, and so on. Given that the majority of our people are unemployed, this is a huge responsibility and burden carried by salaried individuals.
“Because we have these extended family ties, people here have a tendency to want things quickly, and network marketing takes time. We know you can’t build a stable and sustainable business overnight. Many of our people don’t have the patience to wait for their businesses to mature and catch momentum. Often when we present our business, people respond, ‘I don’t have time for that. I need to find something that brings in money right away so I can support my people back in the village.’”
Another challenge Sammy mentions is how the African educational system conditions professionals to be job seekers.
“We don’t believe in running or promoting our own businesses,” he says. “When we graduate from school, the first thing we look for is a job. Despite the risks employment entails, we crave the status that comes with it. Working for a corporation means I get to wear a tie and sit in air-conditioned room. This makes me feel proud, even though I get paid a pittance and the job steals all my time away from my family.”
According to Sammy, developing the entrepreneurial spirit is a top requirement to launch the African continent into the twenty-first century.
Technology and Communication
Another crucial difference Sammy notes is that while in Europe, America, and the Far East, information technology plays a big role in any business, Africans still do network marketing the traditional way.
“The majority of people here don’t have computers or Internet access,” he says. “We still go out on street corners and to shopping malls to talk to people, hand out fliers, and invite strangers to presentations. This is time-consuming in today’s world.
“Personally I’m experimenting with how we can bring African networkers to embrace technology. Young people are more comfortable and up to date with online media, but the older generation also needs to learn how to build a business online. I had to bring myself up to speed, too. Many people here still don’t understand how powerful the Internet is and how it’s revolutionizing the way we do business.”
Related to the technology challenge is the lack of reliable payment and delivery services.
“In England or other parts of the world, if I want to order products for a customer, I simply go online, place an order, and have it delivered at a designated address. Here I have to go out, battle through horrendous traffic to a company store where I purchase products, and personally deliver them to my customer. This is because we have a complicated address system which few people understand.”
“We can’t use the technologically advanced internet-based systems our company provides,” Josephine adds, “Not only do people not have credit cards, many don’t even have bank accounts. Africans have basic cell phones for talking and texting, but find smart phones expensive, particularly the costs associated with the use of apps. This being said, Africa is modernizing very fast in terms of telecommunication and driving costs downwards so more people gain online access through mobile devises. Kenya is one the fastest growing markets for Internet use in Africa, so we are moving in the right direction.”
Breakfast meeting in Kenyan town.
With leaders in Tanzania.
With leaders in South Sudan.
With leaders in Hong Kong.
Time and Space
Despite tremendous challenges, Sammy and Josephine have been very successful in developing the East African market for their company.
“You just have to adopt and create solutions to problems,” says Sammy. “Let me give you an example. In London, because of an organized and efficient transportation system, it was easy to plan our day and whereabouts with a great degree of precision. I knew how many prospects we could see and where and for how long. We would meet prospects at their own homes or some other convenient place.
“In Africa, planning movements is difficult. To meet with people, I normally invite them to a specific place rather me going to see them. This way I can do five or six meetings a day. If I had to go visit people, I could see only two people in a day. It’s also better for them to come to me if they are really interested.”
“Another example is Africans are very laid back when it comes to time,” says Josephine. “If we have a function scheduled for 2:00PM, it never happens at that time. It may start between one and two hours later. That is just how it is. A simple solution we found is if we want an event to start at 2:00PM, we announce that it will start at noon. That way, everybody will be there by 2:00PM.”
A positive factor for the business is that Africans are very social.
“It’s natural for us to talk to strangers and develop rapport quickly,” says Sammy. “In England, when I speak to someone I have never met before they are suspicious. ‘What does this person want from me?’ People assess you. In Africa I can talk to someone I have never met before and within minutes we know so many things about each other you would never know it was the first time we met. Our social nature is very helpful in networking.”
When asked who buys his products, Sammy describes two categories of customers. The first category he refers to as last-minute crisis managers.
“These are people who run for our products as a last resort,” he explains, “because they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and have only a couple of months to live. These are desperate customers who usually don’t last long.”
The second group comes from the health-conscious, well informed section of society that understands prevention and wants to stay fit. They are middle- to upper-class individuals who take responsibility for their health and are interested in natural products that safeguard the environment.
“This group constitutes the majority of our customers,” says Josephine. “These people hold nice jobs, and will probably not do our business. Money’s not an issue for them, so they are not looking for a business opportunity.”
But Sammy says in the last five years he has noticed a subtle change in the socio-economic landscape. “Middle class folks are now starting to discover the virtues of our business. They are grappling with the same issues as their counterparts in America or Europe. The cost of living is going up, and incomes are not increasing to match inflation. This causes the middle class to look increasingly at network marketing as an alternative to employment.”
“We cannot market our products to almost 60 percent of the population that lives on the breadline,” says Josephine. “However, when occasionally we do offer them our business, we sometimes find our greatest leaders.”
She illustrates her point with the story of Salome Masunga, a young lady she and Sammy first met in 2005.
“Salome was a primary school teacher earning about $200 a month. She had two daughters who were very smart and wanted to be doctors, and there was no way she could pay for their education. Her husband was a retired civil servant and the pastor of a local church. When we showed Salome our opportunity, she jumped in with both feet. Determined to educate her daughters, in no time she was earning several thousands of dollars a month. Her two daughters went to study in the U.S. and graduated last year from medical school. They did it without any loans or scholarships; their mom’s business financed their entire education.”
“There are people at that level of society who have big dreams,” Sammy says. “When we present our business opportunity to them, they see a ticket to escape poverty. When we first opened up Kenya in 2005, most of the people we recruited were motivated by economic challenges. Today, we are not so much selling the financial benefits, because most of the people we talk to earn good money. Instead, we tell them, ‘You don’t have to work for fifteen hours a day for some corporation. You can earn the same amount and more and have time to call your own. You can take as many vacations as you like.’ Lifestyle is what’s attracting the middle class into this business.”
East African Rally, Nairobi, 2011.
Visiting ancient ruins in Kenya.
On South Folk Ranch, Dallas, Texas.
Touring California with family in 2004.
Concurrent with the rest of the direct selling world, the majority of networkers in Africa are women. About 70 percent of Sammy and Josephine’s team is female.
“Socially men are the breadwinners of the family so they’re busy doing a job,” Sammy explains. “Wives are supposed to stay home and look after the children and cook for their husbands when they come home. Women are becoming better educated and many feel undervalued in this traditional role, which doesn’t allow them to be who they want to be and use their talents.”
“Women have discovered that network marketing offers a perfect opportunity to escape that trap,” Josephine adds. “Many don’t want to stay at home, especially when their kids grow up. They want to come out and be economically productive. They want to work for their dreams the husbands promised but have failed to provide.”
“Women are naturally good at network marketing because they are caring and empathetic,” Sammy continues. “They are willing to go out and listen to other people’s problems and offer solutions. Network marketing is perfect for them, and as their income builds, their husbands join them. In the beginning most men don’t pay attention to the business—I was a case in point. Later it becomes our business, but women are the prime movers in our network.”
Having been leaders in network marketing for the past sixteen years, eight of which they spent building in Africa, Sammy and Josephine believe the future of network marketing in Africa is bright and its potential enormous.
“Africa already has a population of over a billion and is expected to grow to 2.4 billion by 2050,” says Sammy. “Half of this population is above 21 years old. That means that over the next ten years, we have no less than 500 million potential consumers and distributors of our products. Let’s be conservative and assume we can enroll only 1 percent of this population to consume our products over the next ten years. That equates to 5 million customers. If they would consume only $50 worth of products a month, this equates to $250 million worth of turnover a month. That is huge.”
Despite enormous challenges facing Africa today, it is one of the fastest, if not the fastest developing region in the world. Its economy grew an average of 6 percent in 2013. In 2014 it is expected to grow by 7 percent. Each year more people pull themselves out of poverty and move up the socio-economic ladder.
“Africa is no longer a dark continent,” says Sammy. “We are making our way into the twenty-first century very fast. What does this mean for my network marketing business? There will be more people who will appreciate, be able to afford, and demand high quality products such as the ones we market.
“Secondly, vibrant economies bring with them socio-economic problems amongst workers whose solutions lie in network marketing. There will be those who do not wish to be slaves to their employers. They will be seeking lifestyle, money, and time freedom. There will be mums who want to work from home and be with their children.
“I am so excited about the future of network marketing in Africa I sometimes can’t sleep. I imagine the millions of lives yet to be changed through the products and the business. I think of the leaders we will create in the process. I believe the next ten years will be most exciting for those who can see what we see.”