Weekend with the CEO

Patricia Okelo's love for tea and a thing for birds

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Patricia Okelo is the founder of Candid Conversations, a community of female entrepreneurs. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Patricia Okelo can easily survive in China. Or London. Basically, anywhere with tea. She loves tea. Her love language is in large cups filled with tea.

But what Patricia really pours in spades—rather than teaspoons—is a diffident charm, meaning she can easily get away with murder. She laughs at herself, and while serious, doesn’t take herself too seriously. 

Her motherly nature is what has raised her to dizzying heights, from which she draws her superpower. And why not?

She’s been married for 23 years. She’s been in business for 23 years too—which she started and moved to be with her husband in Mombasa.

She is the founder of Candid Conversations, a community of female entrepreneurs.

In March 2019, she founded Kayana Creative, a female-owned business accelerator that is creating an enabling environment for women to move their businesses from ideation to launch and then to scale. (Kayana is named after her two daughters—Kaya and Ayana. She also has a son—Zahari—who she says she has big plans for now that he missed out on the naming.)

Patricia is also the founder of Willart Productions which offers professional design services for Kenyan-based organisations.

She is the recipient of the Enterprising Women Award, 2014, in Florida, US. In March 2021 she was awarded the Jacobs Well Women Impacting Differently award in recognition of the work she is doing with female entrepreneurs.

In March 2022 she won the Diversity and Inclusion Gender Equality Award at the National Diversity and Inclusion Awards and Recognition.

Like a mother, she seems to have so many plates in the air but she takes it all in stride. The only thing you can’t get her to do, however, is to talk in all, or any, of the WhatsApp groups she is put in. Not for all the tea in China.

How has motherhood been with business?

My goal in life was just to become a mother. It’s how we were conditioned. I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur, but I always knew I would be a mother.

Entrepreneurship was accidental, I was working in a media house and my husband was working in another town, and my skills were not transferrable.

My husband comes from an entrepreneurial home and he encouraged me to start, and since he had worked in the corporate sector, he held my hand, and thus through the structure I opened the business and started trading with multinationals.

How has entrepreneurship informed your motherhood?

Faith and realising that children are here for a season. You have to raise independent children. I did a diploma in Early Childhood Development and Maria Montessori (Italian educator (1870-1952)) says that from the moment a child is born their only desire is freedom.

That is the same with business. If it is supposed to grow let it grow. The second thing is meeting different personality types and letting them deliver.

Without mothering instincts, it is difficult to let this happen. Being able to appreciate each child as an individual and still work in harmony.

Kayana is a young adult. What did you know then that has helped you now?

I understood that the industry was changing. That time we were doing all our graphic designs by hand.

The ability to embrace new technology has been really good, I didn’t shun it nor think technology is taking our jobs, but maybe creating new jobs.

How have you raised your business and family successfully?

This thing of lumping things as stereotypes is a problem for us women. What makes women ‘women’ is that we are uniquely designed, we are nurturers, and we take care of the family and the elderly.

The system is not designed to capture this. I had all my children when I was running my business but if we use those same nurturing qualities, you will also be able to raise great businesses.

What’s the soundtrack of your life right now?

A lot of praise. There is one thing that entrepreneurship does which is give you a deep faith in God. Even with the best laid-out plans, anything can happen.

I got here through a lot of hard work. It’s not for the faint-hearted, you can come up with shortcuts, but they may cut you short.

When I wrote a handbook for women in business, I asked them to decide whether they want to be a Panafric business or a fantastic regional small business that they can pass on to the next generation.

And as a woman, it is okay to consider when to expand when you know the home is stable.

You work hard, do you also play hard?

I used to think that I do. I go to the gym but out of necessity because of my age haha!

And how young are we?

Ah, we are very young! Almost half a century haha! As women, we need to look after our bodies. I love weight training.

I found after Covid-19 that I lacked a lot of motivation—do you know I used to love walking? But I have a trainer at least two to three times a week. I am looking forward to going back to walking.

What does walking mean to you?

I am a tactile walker. I learn a lot. I listen to a lot of podcasts which serve as company when I am walking. I don’t mind walking with people but I love walking while speaking on the phone with my girlfriends, sometimes for up to 45 minutes.

At home, I have an age range of children and they can be very demanding. I promised myself once my birthday passes, I will get back to it [walking].

Are you thinking of indoctrinating your children?

My eldest daughter is away in school (college) but my middle child is a gym rat. She also loves swimming, which is a solitary sport and going to the gym with her dad. But she is also introverted, like her mother.

You are introverted?

Very much so! In fact, you need to read a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking [by Susan Cain].

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Patricia Okelo is the founder of Candid Conversations, a community of female entrepreneurs. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Is there a special treat that you do just for yourself?

When my children were young, my husband and I agreed we wouldn’t work on Sundays. Sundays are family time. We kinda dropped the ball with my last child whom we realised is missing out on the tradition, so we are back at it.

Recently, I started keeping Mondays as my self-care day, since I work all the time running multiple projects. On Mondays, I meet my girlfriends and do my self-care — hair, nails, massage, and spa. You know, girly stuff.

What’s your superpower?

My superpower is connecting people. I am a connector; I feel like I need to connect you with so and so because it will be beneficial for you.

Okay. Who do you know that I should know?

Clarah Masinde. Oh, what a story she could tell you about her business.

Conversely, what’s your kryptonite?

Solitude. I need to be in myself. I need to connect with Patricia before connecting with other people. I love my own company.

If you could do something just for yourself, what would it be?

I am torn between walking and going on long hikes, preferably with someone who knows the terrain. I would also love to learn more about birds.

I don’t know why but lately I am drawn to birds. Maybe that is a hobby I can pick up later. But I also love reading and books remain with me.

Why birds?

During December birds fly from far away and they hibernate here. In Kisumu, last December I saw this beautiful bird.

When it was resting it was black, but when it opened its wings, it was a deep scarlet. Ah. Beautiful, I tell you! Or maybe it is just a season? Maybe I am just growing old haha!

Maybe. You mentioned books stay with you. What are you reading?

Mitchelle Obama’s The Light We Carry. I love two chapters especially, the one on friendship and how purposeful she has been with her friends and the chapter on her relationship with her husband and the different seasons of that.

It was written for an American audience but it was very authentic. I feel like I am reading it at the right point in my life. And also, TD Jakes’s Drop The Mic where he talks about his public speaking style. I found it very helpful.

Do you have a special childhood memory?

My father was shot by gangsters when I was young. I remember visiting him in the spinal injury ward but people say I made up that story.

I remember I was very small, and my father was in a massive bed with light splintering through the window. That is a memory no one can give you.

I come from a close-knit family and I had a lot of time, drawing a lot as a child. Many of my friends are great artists.

When was the last time you drew?

I doodle a lot. I think in pictures. Doing it in an intentional manner is maybe what I probably should consider.

What is an unusual or absurd habit that you have?

I am a planner. When I can’t see the end of something I will not pursue it. I have a wait-and-see attitude, which is odd for an entrepreneur.

Nearly everybody complains I don’t call them enough, but I like WhatsApp. One-on-one texting. I am in so many groups but they are all archived.

People keep asking me if I am mad, but no I am quite okay! Be personal haha! Oh, and I am under no compulsion to leave these groups.

What is the dumbest thing you have spent money on?

Other than shoes and clothes? I want to spend money on the metal sculptures, you know those ones you see on the road? But my family will never let me do that.

But I will make it my gift this year. Maybe a bird? But it has to be something massive. A rhino? There is one along King’ara Road. They just won’t let me.

It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?

Yes! But I am not really a spendthrift.

When you think of the weekend what food comes to mind?

Githeri but we don’t eat it over the weekend. I love my nyoyo. In fact, I even eat it on Mondays. But Tuesdays, we do chapati and tea, straight from the jiko. Bliss! I drink tea like a mad woman. I love tea. I could live for tea. In fact, I find it very offensive if you don’t offer me tea.

Lately, what have you become good at saying no to?

To the things that no longer bring me joy. Relationships that don’t serve me, or where I see trouble, I don’t go down that road. I am an empath so I tend to absorb people’s problems.

What do you do before the lights go out?

I read.

What’s a weekend hack that has made your days better?

I used to cook a lot but now my weekends are all about resting. I am a Netflix and Chill kind of person but I only watch documentaries.

And puzzles. Look for them. It engages your mind. I have a puzzle table, and there is one that has taken me three months.

What are the three things you hold true and dear to yourself?

One, treat everyone like you would love to be treated. Two, when somebody shows you who they are, believe it. And finally, always aim to leave the room or the person you are interacting with happier. Leave them with something. This is probably why I don’t do groups.

If you were to travel anywhere alone as an introvert, where will you go and why?

I prefer travelling with my family. But I love the train. But nobody wants to train with me. People like the novelty of it, but that’s where it ends.

One of my favourite places in the world is Diani. The ocean just calls me home. I would also love to go to Goa in India. My husband took me to Malaysia recently. I loved that.

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