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Lancaster entrepreneur uses business profits to educate Kenyan children

By JoAnn Flett

As Printed in The Marketplace – March/April 2018

Dorothy Dulo is a social entrepreneur from Kenya who lives in Lancaster, Pa. She is soft spoken, thoughtful and exudes the gifts of the Holy Spirit like kindness and gentleness.

“As a woman entrepreneur, you need to have self-confidence and passion for what you do,” she said. “You also need to be relentless in doing things that will lead you to your goals.”

Dulo is intentionally giving women and girls opportunities to become social entrepreneurs, and to pursue their passions and interests.

 She and her husband, Roger Godfrey, are food entrepreneurs who started Rafiki Shoppe in Lancaster. (Rafiki means friend in Swahili).12.27.17 DorothyDuloRafiki JBP001Dulo hopes to sell Kenyan products in the US to expand her African mission.

They saw a need to bring authentic African cuisine to Lancaster and surrounding areas as a means of cultural engagement and to support the work of Rafiki Africa Foundation (which Dulo founded) in Kenya. Rafiki Shoppe stores are located at Lancaster Central Market on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays all year round. The Shoppe also provides services at Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market in Philadelphia every Saturday, and at other seasonal markets. The couple also runs a catering service year-round. Roger is from Uganda.

Many professionals who work in the international development arena are seeing the value of women entrepreneurship. A report by World Bank in 2015 suggested that increasing the number of women-owned businesses is key to ending extreme poverty. In July 2017, the United Nations magazine, Africa Renewal, produced a special edition noting, “Opportunities for women and girls to thrive in their careers are crucial to the advancement of women and their potential contribution to the African economy.”

Dulo has an Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Pennsylvania’s Eastern University. She also leads Rafiki Africa Foundation based in Kosele, Homabay County, in southwest Kenya.

The foundation’s goal is to partner, and to empower local communities to end the cycle of poverty through sustainable and scalable projects. She divides her time between the US and Africa, making four to five trips per year to Kenya. She has worked tirelessly to provide access to early childhood education in Kenya. For the past 20 years, Rafiki Africa Foundation has supported Kindergarten to Grade 8 childhood education, through their LightHouse Academy program. “Children are the future and change starts with them,” Dulo said. “Our programs have a holistic approach to empowering families.”

LightHouse Academy in Kenya has graduated over 180 students who proceeded to high school and then college.

One of Dulo’s struggles is being respected as a female social entrepreneur. Kenyan culture is often hostile to women and heavily reliant upon men, who are not obligated to remain faithful to their spouse in an environment where HIV/AIDS and other diseases are prevalent. Additionally, having many wives is considered a point of pride in many Kenyan communities.

Many entrepreneurs who run small and medium-sized enterprises know about experiencing funding challenges. Unsurprisingly then, another challenge for Dulo is to receive greater funding in order to create more impact for women and girls in her community. Unemployment in Kenya is 40 per cent. She hopes to use entrepreneurship to create jobs and improve the rural economy. Increased funding will help expand business training programs for these women and girls in the hopes of nurturing more social entrepreneurs. Additional capital will also be used to expand work in Kenya, increasing production of products for sale in US markets.

‘“I hope to scale three social enterprises in the next two years,” she said. “These include a bakery, tailoring services and agribusiness.”

Their current farm in Alendu, Kenya provides jobs for workers, and serves as a platform to teach agriculture while being a source of food for students and the local community. The farm produces two acres of vegetables and four acres of fruits, teas and herbs. It feeds 200 students for two meals per day, five days a week. The surplus teas, herbs and fruits are sold in local markets.

Dulo’s Christian faith plays a key role in helping her to navigate making tough decisions, building partnerships with like-minded businesses and managing the challenges of working in two very different cultures.

“God gave me the vision to be a bridge of hope to my community,” she said. “My Christian faith gives me the strength to face these challenges while at the same time keeping my eyes on the big prize—transforming people’s lives.”

Dulo believes that networking with other women entrepreneurs is a great way to learn, to grow and to get support. She recently attended a networking forum put on by ASSETS Lancaster. The ASSETS program was founded in 1993 by MEDA, and is now an independent organization. (ASSETS originally stood for A Service for Self-Employment Training and Support).

This thoughtfully developed networking program offering from ASSETS Lancaster made its debut in August, 2017 at the #SheOwnsIt Forum.

(Read more at https://assetspa.org/programs/womens-business-center/sheownsit-forum/.)

The forum was attended by over 150 female entrepreneurs. The program featured sessions for women in various stages of developing their business plan: idea phase, start-up phase, and growth phase. Participants were encouraged to network and build relationships to support each other.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” This is because one of the salient features of women entrepreneurship is that women will use funds to feed their family, pay school fees, and to meet the basic needs of their families and community members.

Dulo has used entrepreneurship to meet needs both in the US and in Kenya. Through the medium of business in Lancaster and at various Central Market sites she can generate funds that are repatriated to Kenya to help young children in the early years of their lives. These are children who would not have ordinarily had a chance for an education, or to pursue their interests in all areas, including science and the arts.

Dulo is an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word. She is working to shift economic resources out of areas of under-performance and into areas that yield greater productivity.

She is a fine example of what it means to empower female entrepreneurs. By her commitment to social entrepreneurship, she characterizes how female entrepreneurs become powerful change agents in their communities. ◆

JoAnn Flett directs the MBA program at Eastern University, a Christian university near Philadelphia, Pa.