Social media can be a gracious tool for meeting giants; I was introduced to Bikundo Onyari by way of Facebook. He was part of a global practice for World Peace and a friend to Contributor, Wanda Gail Campbell. We began to converse and connect through his posts quoting Rumi. As part of our global perspective, Bikundo was requested to contribute to Garden Spices, and we discovered that his “peace” reflects his business interests and practices. – Victorine
Bikundo Onyari was born and raised in Nairobi, Africa. He is “41 years and four months” old and was the first-born of 5 children; the middle child was the only girl. “Playing with us, she became more of a boy,” Bikundo laughed. “We allowed her to be a girl sometimes.” Meeting with African tradition, Onyari lived with his mom, who was a housewife, and his dad, who was a factory worker. “The husband always had the role of provider,” Bikundo indicated. “The women stayed home to take care of the children.” However, when his dad retired, Bikundo’s mom opened a grocery store. Bikundo and his family lived modestly in an “informal settlement.” Bikundo noted, “You would call it a ghetto…our house was wooden with a roof made of iron sheets.”
Bikundo went to a public school 1km away from home. He attended preschool and started “Class 1” (first grade) at age 7. “Our whole family attended the same school. So, I could pass down the textbooks,” Onyari said. “Then, they kept changing the syllabus.” He found that he loved the arts. He used to paint and loved acting. “I loved the primary school because it let you be yourself.” His tenure at “Primary School” was Class 1 – 8. Then, he entered high school for four years. “ It used to be fun…there was a market nearby,” Bikundo recalls. “We used to stop after school and eat fresh mangoes, play, and have fun.” When he reached home, there would be a “roster” of chores for them, which never included laundry, washing dishes or cooking. “I can’t cook today,” Bikundo admitted.
High school was on the other side of town – two buses away. Bikundo attended high school for four years, and afterward, was in a quandary about what career he would pursue. Money was not his main goal; happiness was. With no decision made about career, he decided to get a job. He joined a theatre group, as an actor for two years, with good pay. “For one show, you earned $5!” Bikundo said. “I could buy my clothing.” Although his family lived modestly, Bikundo still had to help his siblings at home. After two years of acting, he became a theatre director. He began to work for a project for the prevention of drugs and crime that was supported by the United Nations. In this project, he taught street children. “Theatre was a way of educating them,” Bikundo indicated. “ We would go to the market and perform Participatory Theatre, with audience participation. They took part in the play.” It resulted in Bikundo’s full-time job.
College started for Onyari at age 20. “Kenya was going through a democratic challenge, with demonstrations and tear gas.” Bikundo thought, “What is my contribution to the cause, the expansion of democracy?” He was passionate about law. He entered into studying law, but after a year, he found he had no interest, “no connection.” The theatre project lost its funding, so his job ended. “I went back home for a year and worked in my mother’s grocery store.” It was there Bikundo experienced small business and discovered the concept of social entrepreneurship. “I used to ask myself if there was a way to combine profit with social responsibility and development,” Bikundo indicated. “I went to university to study Social Entrepreneurship, (SE).”
For his thesis, he was challenged to either create a job, a non- profit or a for-profit company. He chose to start a company for profit. “I had discovered my passion was in training people. I used to speak to young adults, which I enjoyed.” Bikundo found that through his experience in teaching his siblings, he had gained what he needed in this area. “My mom told me I was a very good teacher,” Bikundo reflects. “…if only you had the patience!” At age 21, he realized his life had come full circle. His answer to his calling was “here all the time.” He started ANDE – ANDARE (to walk, to grow, to move). His logo was a footprint.
His mentor in the Netherlands created ANDE, and Bikundo was allowed to use the model in Kenya. He met a colleague to incorporate into his business. “I loved people, not business and management. My colleague loved the business end.” They engaged major corporations, starting with Toyota, then banks like Citibank and AON. They worked well together until 2011. A business disagreement erupted since there was no unity of purpose. Eventually, they parted ways. Having built a brand for himself, Bikundo worked for some of his former clients. However, it took him 2-3 years to get back on his feet.
He kept pursuing his passion of SE and developed his “3 Ps: Profit, Planet, and People.” He began to work in Uganda, developing human capacity skills between Kenya and Uganda. He taught SE at the university in Kenya. He consulted with his students for one year on the 3P model, and they learned to work from that perspective. Then they went back to their businesses. He employed the concept of “self-fulfillment and use of their own talent” for success. Then, the 2017 elections hit Kenya, and everything stood still. Nothing moves during elections. “There is tension, violence, bribery, no work or production,” Bikundo explained. “I went home.” He reflected on his career of the last ten years and realized he still was not fulfilling his life’s purpose. He then created LifePreneur, which embodied his passion for SE.
He tested his Life Preneur for a year and ended up working for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Foundation – an American foundation whose mission is fighting to end pediatric AIDs for good. The company felt the kids needed to take care of themselves, beyond health. Bikundo did whole days of training in Zimbabwe on Purpose, Skills, and Values. Initially, the director of the program was pessimistic. “Then, (through the program), she discovered she did not have a good relationship with her daughter, a revelation.” Presently, Bikundo does training in life preneurship and continues to seek more streams for revenue. He has also created manuals.
Bikundo’s spiritual practices have been an integral part of his work. “I started with a global practice in World Peace that taught meditation,” says Bikundo. “There was a fellowship borrowed from South Africa called, Amandala. They had fellowship in Malawi, and I was asked to do training between meditation sessions.” He helped to gather more participants in Kenya. “My philosophy is spiritual business – business that brings out the best in people.” His spiritual practice of meditation provides him with the awareness needed to fulfill the needs of his clients.
Bikundo also notices the beauty of Kenya. He grew up in the ‘city,’ not in the country where traditional practices and ceremonies take place. He is aware of the beauty of Nairobi. “It is the rainy season…beautiful from April – June, the planting season,” Onyari notes. “Maize is the major food – big ears of corn – used to make Ugali, a favorite dish, grounded into flour to make it solid,” and eaten with meat or vegetables. They also love Nyama Choma (meat, roasted), a favorite dish. Of course, Bikundo admits he cannot cook either dish. While he sees the beauty of his own country, Bikundo has traveled to the Netherlands and Mexico. He notes that the West has imprinted Kenya and that his daughter, 7, is a TV fan. While we hope he will find his way to the US, Bikundo is pursuing his passion for helping others in Kenya.
– Bikundo Onyari