Noreen Makosewe –  Founder & M.D. of The Radical Leap Group Interview

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Noreen Makosewe – Founder & M.D. of The Radical Leap Group Interview

"Just do it. Sooner rather than later. While you are thinking about it, foreigners are taking the risk and investing. If you delay, by the time you make a move all you will have is the smallest part of whatever is left over." - Noreen Makosewe (Founder & M.D.of The Radical Leap Group)

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What is your full name?

Noreen Makosewe

What is your age range?

41-50

Where were you born and raised?

Born in Nakuru, Kenya. Raised in different cities eventually settled in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya.

What countries/states did you school in?

Kenya.

Did you go to university? If so, where did you go and what did you study?

Information Systems and Management at Greenwich University (UK)

Executive Coaching at Noble Manhattan accredited by the International Institute of Coaching and Mentoring (UK)

Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence at Case Western University (Distance Learning, US)

Negotiation Strategies and Skills at University of Michigan (Distance Learning, US)

Regional Competitiveness and Stronger Cluster-Based Economic Policies at IESE Business School (Spain)

In what countries are you based?

UK and Kenya

What do you do to earn a living and when did you start?

I’m the founder and Managing Director of a consultancy that specialises in strategy, technology and market expansion solutions for businesses and governments. It was launched in 2008 and began as a coaching practice called Radical Leap. Over time we have pivoted twice and it’s now called The Radical Leap Group.

The majority of my work includes advising CEOs, boards and governments on strategies that drive accelerated and sustainable growth and development in different sectors. I also get to facilitate business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G) negotiations for trade, investment and revenue growth whilst designing technology solutions, systems, processes and frameworks to maximise efficiency, sustainability and profitability.

In addition to The Radical Leap Group, I have two other ventures;
Female Founders Africa – building a pipeline of bankable women-owned businesses and preparing them for investment
Dream Accelerator Academy – an online resource hub for budding entrepreneurs

I sit on the board of a couple of organisations; US-based CiTEDD Global Consortium, and Kenya-based Job Creation Africa.

What did you used to do before you did this?

My professional journey began at the age of 17. I had migrated to the UK from Kenya to study, and took up part-time jobs in retail to look after myself. After my father passed away in my early twenties I chose to work full-time and study part time. My first full-time corporate job was as a Receptionist at the headquarters of a luxury hotel group before moving to the financial services industry as a contractor at an investment bank. I launched Radical Leap in 2008 whilst working at the bank.

What inspired you to move back home and start your business?

Whilst in the UK, I always knew I wanted to return home and make use of the knowledge and networks I had acquired. My move back was systematic. I knew that moving cold-turkey would not be wise. So travelling home for short visits to see family and to study the lay made sense. With the networks I had built in the UK, opportunities to travel and do short stints of work in other African countries came up. That gave me the opportunity to do some research and get a better understanding of the opportunities and growth gaps in different regions. That research showed me that the opportunity for me was in bridging three main gaps for SMEs; revenue growth, technology, access to markets and access to capital. All of these are areas we cover at The Radical Leap Group as well as Female Founders Africa working in collaboration with partners and investors.

Why should anyone use your service/product?

One of the competitive advantages we have is our research-based CRYSTALLIZE™ system, which we have used in different markets and industries with great results. Also, by virtue of our work we have build strong networks and reciprocal professional relationships. These mean that we are able to serve clients in different markets and tap into our networks to unlock additional value for both our partners and clients. With our support, clients have been able to launch, grow and expand their businesses. Additionally, partners and investors have also benefited from the value we bring through our networks. Over the years we have helped companies generated combined revenues of millions of dollars.

Tell us about your team.

When I launched Radical Leap, I intentionally set out to make it a “portable business” meaning, I set up systems and processes that would permit the business to run from anywhere in the world. My goal was a lean business that required little to no overheads, and that was not tied to a physical location. Over a decade later, when COVID-19 hit this model was a blessing for us. Many businesses took a hit but we were able to keep going with a small team of remote workers, most of whom are contracted freelancers. Our team’s locations include UK, US, East Africa, West Africa and Asia.

What is something you wish you knew before moving back home to live and start a business?

There isn’t anything specific I wish I knew before setting up shop back home. My move back was strategic and systematic. I had seen people move back all at once, end up regretting it, and go back to the UK or US. With that in mind my move was much slower. Luckily, I have family in Kenya so I have a support system that I leaned on to transition. Having a base in both UK and Kenya means I can do business from both locations and maintain opportunities and networks.

Would you advise other people to start businesses or invest in Africa? Please also share the drawbacks.

Africa is the final economic frontier of the world – even though the Arctic appears to be presenting new possibilities. The opportunities in Africa are immense, for those who are willing and able to take advantage of them. I would say doing business in Africa is not for the fainthearted. The pitfalls are many but the rewards can be just as many. For anyone considering the continent for business, I would highly recommend doing research. Not text-book and internet research, but actually booking a flight and getting on the ground in the country of interest.

Never assume you know everything about any African country based on the media, multinational reports and second-hand highlights from other travellers. Africa is dynamic and things change very fast country by country. Parts of Africa are modern and developed. Other parts still need development. Be open-minded about both. Break out of expat networks and network with people who were born and brought up in whatever country you want to do business. They know the lay of the land much better than individuals who visit temporarily and work in exclusive environments and neighbourhoods.

Follow country guidelines for doing business as an outsider who has been away for long or never been to Africa at all. It’s easy to fall prey to scammers if you try to take shortcuts to get things done quickly. It’s also one of the quickest ways to collide with the law and reduce your chances of being permitted to do business in any country due to lack of compliance.

On this topic of doing business in Africa I would also highly recommend hiring a consultancy that specialises in international trade, business development or market expansion. At the Radical Leap Group we help facilitate trade between parties in different countries. We also provide strategic advisory to companies wanting to enter markets in which we have experience and networks.

Did you experience a culture clash with homegrown Africans?

Not really. I was born and brought up in Kenya. Migrated to the UK at the age of 17 and came back home on visits. The only thing that has stood out for me as I have transitioned into working on the continent is the exclusion because you are deemed an ‘outsider’ if you have lived abroad for many years. No matter how much you think you blend in, the ‘diaspora’ label is never removed and you are always treated like and outsider – like you belong but you don’t really belong. Because of this, in every African country I have visited there are communities returnees and diasporans have created for themselves so they can support each other and feel seen, heard and understood.

Are there things that you can get abroad that you miss whilst here? How do you deal with it?

Majority of things I get in the UK I can also get in Kenya. But they are three or four times the price and it hurts. The pricing is understandable because taxes in Kenya are quite high. Having said that, there are now more and more companies that specialise in personal shopping and shipping so you can shop for products from any store in Europe, USA, Middle East and have items delivered directly to your doorstep in five days or less.

That being said, what we are also seeing is the growth of the cottage industry where small businesses are sourcing and producing quality items locally. The global pandemic really catalysed this and caused more people to want to buy local brands, which is brilliant.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other Africans looking to start-up?

Just do it. Sooner rather than later. While you are thinking about it, foreigners are taking the risk and investing. If you delay, by the time you make a move all you will have is the smallest part of whatever is left over.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other Africans in the diaspora?

I am still diaspora myself but this one piece of advice I can give because it also applies to me – get involved. There are networks and government initiatives in different countries focused on Africa. Get in involved in those and get the help you need to invest in the country of your choice. The good thing is some countries like UK, US and Canada have got funds allocated to initiatives in Africa. Many diasporans do not take advantage of this. They should.
If you are a business person in Africa, we would love to hear from you. Fill this interview if you are Homegrown or this interview if you are from the diaspora, and we will share it on the site!

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