Kangai Mwiti is the founder of Better by Monday, Africa’s remote work resource. She’s based in Kenya, but has already lived and worked in close to 30 countries. As part of our Voices of Diversity series, she shares her experience as black African woman creating a remote career, becoming a digital nomad and building her own business.
It was about 6pm, and I was rushing to catch the sunset on Lycabettus Hill. Apparently it has the best views of Athens at twilight.
My hostel was situated in a residential area about half a kilometre away, so I decided to hike my way by following Google Maps’ directions.
I heard his footsteps but the warnings I’d received the week prior didn’t register. So when I saw two arms swiftly pounce towards my phone I didn’t think. I just reacted.
You see it had been a really really hard few years interspersed with some amazingly beautiful experiences, all of which I’d captured on my iPhone. I’d be damned if anyone (least of all some overzealous youth) tried to take them away.
So I fought with all the strength contained in my 5’3 frame. I screamed and grunted, each punch punctuated with a litany of creative expletives, both in English and Swahili.
Women streamed out of their apartments, gesturing wildly and hollering in Greek. The men were generally undecided, and it was only afterward that they explained that they thought I was doing a good job on my own.
He got away with scratches, bruises and tender nethers, and I retreated with my phone along with various blows and scrapes of my own.
So much for me wanting to be a digital nomad.
My first plane ride was on a family holiday to Zimbabwe. I can barely remember most of the trip, but what I do remember was wondering what it would feel like to fly across the world. Fast forward a few decades and I’ve managed to make that dream come true. I’ve visited, lived or worked in close to 30 countries. Even though I’ve been an unwilling participant in one or two less-than-savoury events, working remotely around the world has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It took me decades to get the courage to establish remote working as my modus operandi especially due to the fact that I was born and brought up in Africa. I grew up in a conservative Christian household where the concept of remote work was improbable. Everyone went to school, got a job, married, bought property, commuted to work every day for 40+ years and then retired.
My story is slightly different.
I went to school, changed my major four times, dropped out to work on my businesses, got back into college, graduated 6 years late, got a job with an incredible multinational, quit after 18 months to run my other businesses, grew them to where I could work from anywhere, sold or gave away everything, packed my bags and traveled solo for six months out of every year while continuing to work remotely.
As a single woman of Kenyan heritage in my 30s, my life’s trajectory is a nightmare to African parents everywhere. Right now my biggest priority should be deciding which pre-school my third-born will be attending in a year. Instead, it’s which country has the best wi-fi connections for Zoom calls with my team spread out across the world. Don’t get me wrong- choosing a lifestyle that’s approved by society is one way to go, but not for me at the present moment.
As an African, working remotely does have its challenges.
The assumption by those in the West is that our education is of lower quality or our English is indecipherable.
We have to deal with the stereotypes about our living circumstances and the ignorance we face in trying to explain the strides our continent continues to make. And when it comes to diversity and inclusion, we are all but excluded from most of the global conversations on remote work opportunities. Living and working from home in Africa is not a walk in the park.
What many around the world find surprising is that Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest internet speeds, even rivaling major Western nations such as Australia, France and Italy. Africa also boasts some of the world’s best and youngest talent. Many are experts in technology, ideating and implementing digital innovations. Others are experts in solving societal challenges, launching entrepreneurial endeavours that support their local economies. We’re innovative, eager, energetic, globally aware, highly educated and experienced, full of grit and apparently always happy.
I personally have had to overcome numerous obstacles on the road towards remote work.
From objections by family members to rebuffs by numerous hiring managers across the world, continuing to work remotely has been difficult. However, the strategy that has led to my success thus far has been to ignore the voices that say that I don’t belong. Instead, I’ve focused on being completely passionate about one thing, right to the point that I can’t help but begin working somehow within that field on my own. And then magically, opportunities within that field begin to appear à la the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
I’ve seen this curiosity play out in different ways throughout my career, particularly when I took a 180° turn in what I was currently doing as I pursued something I was starstruck about at the time. As a result, I’ve worked in various industries such as beauty, insurance, travel, IT, retail, construction, luxury fashion, legal and banking, to name a few. I’ve also visited, lived or worked in some amazing countries such as Australia, Hungary, Cuba, Greece, Singapore and Ethiopia.
In essence, I have refused to be ignored or my talents brushed aside.
My current passion is in building Africa’s leading remote work resource- Better By Monday. I’m leveraging all that I have learned working remotely to initially help 1000 African professionals find remote work online, be it as full-time employees, freelancers or business owners. We polish their resumés, optimise their digital profiles, provide guidance in branding and digitally launching their business ideas, and share resources on finding and landing online freelancing opportunities.
Why? The answer is simple. Apart from the fact that we’ve got some amazingly talented people, Africa’s societies are generally based on community. Our social systems such as births, initiations, courtships, marriages, planting and reaping, child-rearing and deaths are done together- in community.
With globalisation, however, the traditional concept of work (in-office, long commutes, the hustle, etc.) and the elevation of the nuclear family has all but dissolved Africa’s social connections.
I believe that remote work is a step towards reinstating and strengthening what I believe we have lost.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that these norms that have been forgotten by many need to be reinstated. That humanity as a whole is comprised of social creatures who crave connection.
And so working from home is an idea whose time is nigh. It presents numerous benefits; the strongest of which encourages us to reevaluate, reinstate and strengthen social connections. Specifically, those that have been our foundations, be it with family, friends or loved ones.
Additionally, Better By Monday exists to elevate the idea of well-paying remote work on the continent.
I believe that Africa’s professionals are poorly compensated in comparison with global standards.
Yes, there’s a lot of economics at play here, but remote jobs and freelance opportunities do exist within organizations and platforms based in stronger economies. And presently, this is where our expertise can be appreciated, both in globally-competitive remuneration and career growth opportunities.
From the inception of Better By Monday till now, my belief that we hold some of the world’s most talented professionals has been reinforced. In this day and age where borders have been obliterated by the internet, there’s no excuse for companies hiring remotely to dismiss the talent that Africa offers.
I’m here to ensure that our voices are heard, our expertise is promoted and our talent acknowledged.
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