Kelly Hoppen in her more usual glamorous looks

Kelly Hoppen in her more usual glamorous looks

Interior designer and ‘Dragon’ from the hit TV show, Kelly Hoppen has just returned from a trip to Africa with Sport Relief. She visited one of the world’s biggest slums called Kibera in Nairobi to meet women who, against all odds, are succeeding in business.

Why did you want to visit young women entrepreneurs helped by Sport Relief funding in Africa?

I’m a great advocate for helping women, which is why I mentor female businesswomen in Britain. I have never been on a trip like this before but I’ve always wanted to. I can honestly say, it’s been one of the most incredible things I have ever done. It has proved to me that it’s not a matter of where you live, or what you have; every woman has the ability to be an entrepreneur. Meeting these woman shows you can start with nothing and still succeed. It’s about the support, structure and mentoring, as these things elements give you the belief to strive for a better life and a career. You don’t need money to start a business. It’s the support that’s crucial.

What did you find are the main challenges women in Kenya face when setting up businesses?

They need to be educated enough to know how to put together a business plan. But if they don’t have an education it’s difficult to do this and it’s impossible to get an affordable loan to start a business if you are a woman living in a slum community. School and education give people the ability and the confidence to discover what they want to do and articulate it. I think that’s the biggest problem that women here face in terms of business.

Who inspired you most during your visit and why?

All the girls at Boxgirls, which uses Sport Relief money to empower girls through boxing, were brilliant.  Their confidence, communication skills and smiles were extraordinary. You can see with the help of Boxgirls, they will go far, as the project also builds their business and IT skills. Susan was the person who stood out for me at the Kenyan Youth Business Trust (KYBT), a project which helps women set up their own business through training, mentoring and access to loans. She is a mother and what she has achieved by opening her own nursery school business is staggering. She had a difficult life but against the odds she started her business last year and is already looking at building a bigger and better school. She helps so many children and enables mothers to go to work. The knock-in effect is incredible. There’s no doubt in her mind Susan will succeed.

What could British women who want to become entrepreneurs learn from the women you met?

They can learn that everybody is capable of starting a business with nothing. That anything is achievable. We live in a society where we never really have the problems that the women in Kibera slum have. But these Kenyan women show that you can make anything happen. They are very resourceful and courageous. Women have this incredible ability to multi-task – we give birth, run a home and work. In Kibera these woman have no option but to get on with life, so they can put food in their children’s mouths. There is no room for negativity. In the UK, people often complain about being tired and stressed but we should box that up and throw it away. You rarely hear these entrepreneurs complain about work. Not one person said they had a terrible life. They only talk about the positives. There’s an enormous amount of pride in these women.

Clearly there is severe need in Kenya – do you think the support they are receiving will really significantly change people’s lives?

There’s no question that the support the women and girls are receiving from the two Sport Relief projects I visited is significantly changing their lives, their families and the wider community. It has this incredible ripple effect. I have seen for myself that the help they are getting and the work the projects are doing is invaluable. But there needs to be more and ongoing help. We mustn’t think that because they have been given some money that the issues facing these people will stop. It has to be constant. It’s not right that people don’t have sanitation, clean water, health care and education. We need to continue helping them to help themselves.

Did you give them any key tips re how to get ahead in business?

These women are already being mentored which is the key to getting along in business, so we talked about how important it is to get advice and support from other people running similar businesses. At KYBT I met a woman called Millicent who wants to open a second jewellery shop in Mombasa, so she has sent her sister-in-law to do some investigating, which is great. News travels fast and KYBT has a file with hundreds of names of women who have seen their friends set up successful businesses and they want to follow in their footsteps.

This week we celebrate International Women’s Day. How important is it for fellow women to support one another on a global scale?

It’s really important. I met 26 year old Caroline who runs an embroidery business, employing three other women, thanks to KYBT. She’s clearly an impressive young woman but she was quite shy when we started chatting until I discovered her true passion. She brought out a book of her embroidery designs and told me how she becomes inspired when she travels to other places in Kenya and Uganda and makes sketches of the environment around her. She traces these on to her embroidery work and as a result she’s created some really beautiful and unique designs for use on table clothes and cushion covers. I love getting inspired my surroundings too. So even though our lives are a million miles apart, we found a common denominator and that always helps.

Is there anything that struck you about the entrepreneurs you met?

Yes. The women I met in Kibera slum are creating an incredibly well structured community and are inspiring other women to do the same. They also want to help other young women to do the same. Deborah from KYBT set up a hairdressers last year, and really shocked me when she said she wants to open an academy of hair, so she can teach other young women in the slum. Back home the emphasis is on making money and having better clothes. Here it’s about long term futures and helping many more people than yourself.

How important is it for women to join forces and support each other?

Essential. You learn so much from talking to other women. Women are happy to share their business experiences – good and bad because we want to help each other. I remember attending a business talk by Dame Mary Perkins the owner of Specsavers with my daughter Natasha, who is an entrepreneur.  She (Natasha) turned to me and said, ‘mum that happens to me too!’ No matter what age you are, every women goes through some problems and anxieties running their business. The more you share, the more it takes away the feeling that you are not on your own. I love hearing women talk about their businesses. They’re really amusing and inspiring speakers and nine times out of 10 they say, ‘I never thought I could do it, but I have’.

What advice would you give to women who are interested in business and have their sights set on creating an enterprise?

Don’t worry about doing a massive business plan. Just put something down on a piece of paper. Make sure you do your research - check out the competition and sustainability of your business idea. The most crucial aspects are being passionate about what you’re doing and putting the time in. Also, you need to understand what you can achieve and don’t be despondent if you have a few knocks. Everyone has them. I have had so many! You need them because you learn from them. Always look at the positives. If you can visualise your future you can make it happen.

Sport Relief creates lasting change for people in the UK and across the world. Find out how you can get involved at