What you need to know:
Mary Ng’endo Njuguna left Kenya for Thailand to work as an English teacher. Today, she runs an M-Pesa and loan business besides promoting Thai and Kenyan trade exchanges
Six years ago Mary Ng’endo Njuguna moved to Thailand to pursue a job opportunity as an English teacher. Today, the 27-year-old is not only tutoring in the country but also running a business that markets Kenya's products, disbursing loans to customers in Thailand as well as acting as an agent facilitating financial services to their loved ones back at home.
In 2017, Mary boarded a flight headed to Bangkok as the Southeast Asian country sought for professionals with English proficiency to tutor its citizens on the language.
“Thailand’s official language is Thai and the government has been pushing to have its citizens learn English which is a medium of communication by a large part of the world’s populace. I took the chance and applied for the post of an English teacher,” she says.
Prior to departing to the Asian country, Mary thought that her English mastery was ticket enough for employment. However, before she could embark on any work she was forced to first attend a college in Thailand graduating with a diploma certificate.
As she settled, she saw business opportunities and registered a business entity going by the name of MNN Services. The business offers M-Pesa, flight and hotel booking services. Mary is also a diaspora trade representative, a position she has held for two years currently, and markets Kenya products.
“I have always done business even before coming to Thailand. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs and it is from them that I learned how to identify gaps or unmet customer needs in the market,” Mary says.
The Mpesa business idea, she says, came to her when she encountered challenges while trying to send emergency money to Kenya.
“The available option was Western Union and it took too long (4-6 hours) which was not convenient in case of an emergency. I discovered I wasn’t the only one facing such an issue so I decided to find a way to speed up this process,” Mary says.
From the Mpesa business, she was also able to expand to a loan-giving service. “Most of my clients wanted to remit money back home but unfortunately didn’t have enough cash. So I thought to myself, why not lend them and they will repay it with interest later?” she says.
With time the business was growing and doing quite well.
“One of my closest friends, Ashley, saw how well the business was doing and asked if she could invest. Thanks to her I have also been able to bring in other investors who invest and then get interest from the amount invested,” Mary says.
In the financial business, customers deposit the amount they wish to transfer in the local currency to her account, and then she sends the equivalent in Kenya shilling to their loved ones back home.
As a Diaspora Trade Representative, her main duty is to advise Kenyans in the diaspora on business opportunities. “Some need advice on how to go about setting up businesses and marketing their products. I have also introduced Thai companies that wish to penetrate the Kenyan market such as Amazie World Thailand, an e-commerce company, where Kenyans can buy goods in bulk at wholesale prices and can sell them back home,” Mary explains.
A jack of all trades, Mary also sells Kenyan products such as maize flour, beef flavour cubes popularly known as Royco, and hair braids, among other local brands, which aren’t easily found in Thailand. Mary markets her products largely through social media and word of mouth, with her clientele being Kenyans, East Africans and other African countries.
Mary admits that working in a foreign country has its challenges. “At first I faced a language barrier. Thai isn’t an easy language to learn since its alphabet is not the same as the English one. Adapting to the weather was also an issue since I grew up around Nairobi. It is hot and humid throughout most of the year here,” she says.
On the business side, Mary faces challenges like loan defaults and scamming. “Recently, I had my accounts blocked after receiving money from somebody who was scammed online. Thank God the Kenyan embassy was able to vouch for me and the police unfroze my account,” Mary says.
Apart from being a teacher, and a businesswoman Mary is a mother and has to juggle work, family, and her business. “It is not easy,” she says.
If there are business lessons she has learned along the process, it is that the market is wide and has different niches for anyone who can identify an unmet need.
“The only thing one needs is consistency, transparency, and good friends who will support you in the business journey,” she says.