Building Businesses, Brands, and a Bright Future for Women Entrepreneurs in Kenya

March 8, 2024
Eva Muraya, Founder & CEO, BSD Group, a brand advisory & communication practice Eva Muraya, Founder & CEO, BSD Group, a brand advisory & communication practice. Photo: BSD Group

By Jason Hopps

Eva Muraya’s path to becoming a successful entrepreneur and gender equality champion began in tragic circumstances. Today, however, through fortitude, faith in her journey, and an unfailing business acumen, she has built a successful brand advisory and communications agency, BSD Group, which serves high-profile clients across East Africa. In this interview, Muraya, who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, discusses the challenges she faced and what motivates her. She recently attended Stop-Winlock’s Sourcing2Equal (S2E) program, which is helping women entrepreneurs access new markets and grow their businesses by linking them with the supply chains of large companies. Thanks to the S2E program’s direct support, BSD Group landed a contract with a large multinational corporation and has since hired additional staff and invested in additional technology.  

You began your professional career in marketing and only later became an entrepreneur. What inspired the switch?

Yes, after completing my studies I worked for a PR agency, then a leading media house. The world of marketing and communications was fascinating, and I learned how important it is for any business strategy. Later, when I was working at a Fed-Ex licensee company, my husband, Mike, passed away. He was always so supportive and validated my brand communications proficiency. He was an entrepreneur himself and often urged me to set up my own consultancy. He really prompted in my spirit a love for entrepreneurship. I was only 31 years old at the time, and with two very young children, but I was determined to start on this new path. My mother was horrified when I quit my steady job, but I have never looked back since!

You established BSD Group in 2010. Tell us about that business—and how a map of Africa inspired you.

After nine years running a branding company producing merchandise, I went back to business school. On the first day of class, our professor showed us a picture of the world at night. Africa was so dark, so unlit! Other regions, North America, Europe, most of Asia, were all lit up. I knew this was because those regions have large companies and by extension, big visible brands. This was my light bulb moment! I knew immediately that I wanted to help build brands and brand leaders in Africa—and to light the continent at night. This led to BSD, which comprises four specialty businesses involved in brand and business advisory, strategic digital communications, creative design & production, knowledge sharing and talent development. We have high-profile and diverse clients in a range of sectors in East Africa. 

More recently, you participated in Stop-Winlock’s Sourcing2Equal Program.

I am passionate about supplier diversity and this program is helping address many of those issues, supporting women-run businesses to work with larger corporations. The program provided invaluable networking opportunities, both with large corporations and with other women entrepreneurs. It’s a real ‘missing middle’ solution, linking women to potential contracts and helping get them procurement ready. What all women entrepreneurs especially want is access to markets. During the program, we heard from large corporations themselves and learned about their expectations and how we might work with them. Opportunities like that are essential and invaluable. Thanks to the program, my business signed a new contract with a multinational corporation, and I have since hired six more people as part of that contract. The S2E program really delivered.

How do you approach working with multinationals?

It’s definitely a leap working with international companies. Their standards are very different, from reporting to delivery. This means we must bring on the appropriate talent for the job and I had to recruit some new people in specialized roles. Large companies have a certain way of doing things and we must respect that. What this means is that we had to become more efficient, which is a tangible benefit for us. I have no doubt we can do the job well, as long as we prepare ourselves well. We are ready for the challenge.

Speaking of challenges, what obstacles have you faced as a woman entrepreneur?

Let me give you an example. Earlier in my entrepreneurial career, I went to a bank for a loan. The bank manager asked me, “Does your husband know you’re borrowing?” This was the type of attitude I was up against—and that women are still often up against today. When I began my business career in the early 2000s, there were no real support networks and access to credit was very difficult. As a woman, I also struggled to access contracts, the system was very difficult to crack. I knew the only way for women to have more clout in the business world in Kenya was if we worked together, which is why I co-founded the Kenya Association of Women Business Owners as an advocacy group.

In 2020, you launched a study, the Top 100 Brands Loved by Women in Kenya. What’s the purpose behind it?

This annual survey, undertaken in partnership with IPSOS Limited,  is about better understanding Kenyan women’s dreams and aspirations, their anxieties and pain points; their wants and fears. The survey is helping give Kenyan women a stronger, authentic voice around issues that most concern them. The study targets policy makers, business owners, brand managers, communication specialists, investors, the media and governments. I am very proud that this survey—and the accompanying Top 100 Most Loved Brands by Women events - are empowering women, whose authentic voices have often been ignored.

You’ve been an entrepreneur for almost 25 years. What would you tell your younger self?

So many things! It's been an incredible journey. Learnings. Wins. Shocks. Disappointments. Anxieties. Disillusionment. Rewards. A mixed bag. But mostly I wish I was kinder to myself. I would tell my younger self to breathe more and that you will fall seven times at least, but that you must rise eight times. I do believe it’s getting easier for women entrepreneurs today. It is never easy, but thanks to programs from IFC and others, there are more networking opportunities for women, more access to technical skills, and markets, and banks aren’t so dismissive of us.

And looking forward, what are your future business plans?

There are two things I’m focused on. The first is to grow our trademarked study, the Top 100 Most Loved Brands by Women, across East Africa and then make it an Africa-wide survey and event. For that, however, we will need to find like-minded partners. The second, of course, is to grow the BSD Group. Our model is tried and tested, and we are ready to grow across Africa and internationally too. It would be wonderful to see this business ring its own bell at our securities market…now wouldn't that be something!

Finally, tell us your thoughts as we mark International Women’s Day.

I was raised by two strong women, my mother and grandmother: two amazing, energized and hardworking women. I know firsthand the importance of strong women, and this is a time to reflect on the milestones women have achieved. It is also a time to teach younger women that they can be anything they want, with hard, smart work.


About Sourcing2Equal

Sourcing2Equal is an IFC-led global program launched in 2019 in partnership with the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) and the Government of Norway. The program seeks to connect thousands of women entrepreneurs to new market opportunities via corporate procurement. Two country projects are being implemented in Kenya and Colombia. Under Sourcing2Equal Kenya, IFC has supported over 1000 women entrepreneurs and over 110 procurement contacts from the private sector have been awarded to them.