Many entrepreneurs take a personal passion and turn it into a business. In the case of Mireille Karera, she had a passion to see people grow and progress in their lives in practical ways, and that led her to set up her company, KORA Associates, that encourages, coaches and advises individuals, businesses and communities in achieving their goals, visions and dreams.
LoA spoke to Mireille Karera this month to learn more about her business journey that took her from her early childhood in Rwanda, to setting up a business network spanning the Middle East and Africa.
What does your company do?
KORA Associates is a Consulting and Coaching company headquartered in Dubai, U.A.E, with operations in Africa. Our latest subsidiary recently opened in Rwanda, East Africa. We provide bespoke consulting and coaching services to clients around the globe. We specialize in three core areas Consulting, Coaching and Community. Our solutions focus on: Personal Development: (Life Coaching, Mentoring, Leadership, Motivation, Executive Coaching, Talent Management); Business Development: (Growth Strategies, Sales & Marketing, Customer Services and Relationship Management, Negotiation Skills); and Community Advisory: (Rural Community Advisory, Economic Empowerment for Women).
Our solutions are delivered in multiple ways, depending on our clients' preferred methods. We can deliver training and coaching sessions to individuals, in the classroom environment or in public workshop formats.
"My whole life’s journey has set me up to teach, encourage and coach others to translate their dreams into reality."
What inspired you to start your company?
I am Rwandan by origin and was born in Burundi. I did a good part of my school years in the Republic of Congo. I later studied in Germany and partly in the UK. As life happens, I found myself working for major global companies in London and later in Dubai and Johannesburg. My international background has contributed greatly to my personal growth and exposure to a global lifestyle. Though I enjoyed the privilege of living and working in major cities and financial hubs, I have always had a nudge to help people back home. As a student, I remember thinking that I wanted to dedicate my time to helping people in Africa. Whilst I am passionate about people, I could never reconcile in my head how I could leave a high paying job and head to Africa to help people in need. It had been a personal struggle inside of me between the years of 1997 and 2013. In my young days, I thought that "helping" only meant helping financially or giving to a charity. I followed that path, which led me to co-founding a charity that helps orphans and vulnerable children in Rwanda and Burundi. As years passed, my network of friends expanded and I found myself led to a circle of like-minded people with a passion to see people grow and progress in their lives in practical ways. I surrounded myself with Social Entrepreneurs and Coaches who encouraged me to look into setting up a company that is aligned with my passion, talent and dreams. This in turn led me to gain additional qualifications as a certified professional coach. I discovered that one can capitalize on ones' gifts and passion, while making a difference in people's lives. I find fulfilment in encouraging, coaching and advising individuals, businesses and communities in achieving their goals, visions and dreams. This in a summary is how I got inspired to set up KORA Associates.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
We selected 6 core areas that address and solve specific needs in personal and business development. Whether you are an individual or part of a corporation or a community, there is a need to be trained and mentored. Our carefully selected range of coaching and mentoring tools address the following aspects:
- Personal Development: knowing your strengths, improve relationships with others and grab hold the invaluable and unique place each individual has in this world.
- Business Development: Growth Strategies which incorporate elements of Know Your Clients (KYC), customer services and improving sales while seizing new revenue streams.
- Community Advisory: with our philanthropic background, we have grown to advise communities in creating social enterprises and become self-reliant and sustainable.
Our passion to see women thrive has opened up partnerships with other organizations around the world. We collaborate with many associations and agencies that empower women and promote gender parity. Our motto and value that drives us is "Your Personal Growth Leads to Organizational Growth And transforms Your Community".
"Eventually, I had the guts to take the lead and start out small with a vision that is uniquely designed and driven by my passion and mission in life."
Tell us a little about your team
We are a team of shareholders and partners with complementing competencies and skills. We operate on an "Associates" basis by partnering with people and businesses with similar goals. Our headquarters are led by a Group Managing Director overseeing operations in the Middle East & Africa. Our African team has Directors in South Africa and Rwanda, where we are expanding and recruiting for our new offices.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My entrepreneurial journey has been quite an emotional roller-coaster ride. I hope that my story will, one day, inspire others to persevere in life. When my family moved from Africa to Germany, I was 18 years old. While we had assistance through our extended members of the family, I quickly saw myself needing to work. I had a number of student jobs which helped me finance my studies by myself. While pursuing a graduate degree in Translation Studies, I had to juggle between work and study time. On the one hand, I envied those students who had grants or studies financed by their parents. On the other hand, I was happy that I could do it and take charge of my own choices at such an early age. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything in the world. Having to be financially independent so early in my life has taught me most amazing life skills. Fast forward, I managed to graduate and serve as an employee for prestigious international organizations in financial services for 13 years. My dream had always been to stop working for an organization by the time I reached 40… I am thankful to God that this dream has become a reality much sooner than that! It wasn't easy to get there. Initially, I didn't feel confident or competent enough to lead a company, as a result, making wrong choices by trying to partner with people that seemed to be more experienced I was. I faced a number of disappointments, and had hope crushed while trusting people on one or two business ventures. Eventually, I had the guts to take the lead and start out small with a vision that is uniquely designed and driven by my passion and mission in life. You would think that knowing why you are alive and your contribution to this planet should be easy to discover and live out, wouldn’t you? As I discovered who I truly am and my purpose in this particular point of the century, I realized that I cannot fail by being me and "doing me". My whole life’s journey has set me up to teach, encourage and coach others to translate their dreams into reality. I sometimes think that God has a great sense of humour... I had to pursue a university degree as a "Translator" in languages to later on discover that my actual purpose is to "translate people's dreams into reality" through coaching. That is the funny side of my entrepreneurial journey. Letting go of a comfortable lifestyle of a well-paid expatriate in Dubai has also been a testing time. When your time to birth your dream has come, you cannot go around it. I carefully planned my "exit strategy" by ensuring that the transition from employee to entrepreneur would go smoothly. It was partly a success and partly a challenge. I read somewhere that the first 2 years of a start-up are the make or break time. It appears that 80% of new start-ups tend to go belly up and fail in the initial 2 years. I can certainly confirm that the first 2 years have been the most challenging times of my life. Not only have I struggled with business deals that either got delayed or didn't materialize, I also had to cope with an emotional situation which was a major setback. Being a coach, I was aware of my emotional reactions, insecurities and struggles to go through that phase. No matter your knowledge in psychology or human behaviour, when you face personal or emotional challenges, they are not fun to live out! In hindsight, I wonder how on earth I made it through that period… But as a coach and motivator, I couldn’t be more grateful for those testing times! I can now put myself in the shoes of those who find it difficult to cope with tough decisions and challenges. As they say “you cannot lead someone where you haven't been”. I trust that my Start-up story will serve as an example to many people. My initial journey, has inspired me to develop a coaching model called "The D.R.E.A.M Stream" which helps individuals to pursue their dreams until they have materialized.
"My entrepreneurial journey has been quite an emotional roller-coaster ride. I hope that my story will, one day, inspire others to persevere in life."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
My plans for the future are to carry on partnering with organizations that aspire to create positive transformation and make a difference in people's lives. We plan to expand our business into a Coaching & Mentoring Academy and Leadership Institute. I am a dreamer by nature, so I allow myself to dream about having a private island somewhere in a tropical country. The private island will welcome people for quality retreats. We aspire to expand our facilities by combining our passion for personal/ business development into developing high-end retreat centres to cater for unique holistic learning experiences and journeys.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
What gives me the most satisfaction as an entrepreneur is the fact that I get to see people's lives transformed through our services. Nothing beats the sense of fulfilment that I get when I coach or advise an individual, then I see a positive shift as a result of our coaching session. Not even the best warm chocolate cake can give me that level of satisfaction! I feel alive when I am in a coaching environment. Ever had that moment when you actually “feel alive”? When I see the encouragement people get through the input and value we ad, I feel humbled to serve others and help them to achieve their highest potential in life. That is an ongoing process and journey, you and I are on. The goal is to not quit. One of my favorite coaches always says "If you don't quit, you win". Your victory is already won, when you choose to keep going on your entrepreneurial journey.
"Your victory is already won, when you choose to keep going on your entrepreneurial journey."
- Mireille Karera, founder @Kora_Associates
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
My advice to women starting up is to follow that insisting inner voice that has already been nudging you to follow the dream inside of you. It is the hidden treasure that only you can find.
You may come from a tough background or a privileged one, no matter how you started, if you persevere and stay true to YOUR own desires and dreams, you will eventually turn your dreams into reality. You may not have the most supportive environment around you, but there is always an individual person or a group of people you can connect with. Surround yourself with people who you lift you up, instead of those who bring you down or dismiss your dreams and vision. Be careful who you share your dreams with, before they take shape. You might be discouraged to even start something by sharing your business vision and goal with the wrong people. I can’t help but end this story without encouraging every reader to know what that one unique thing is that they would do to make a difference in this world. The answer is a clue to a solution and start-up venture. Resist the urge to go after many opportunities. Focus on that one thing that you know you are gifted in and no one else can do better than you. It’s as simple as that. The rest is just logistics.
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Why LoA loves it….
There is always something powerful about women entrepreneurs who follow their dreams and turn them into reality, particularly when those dreams are focused on making a positive difference in other people’s lives, helping them to fulfil their own aspirations in life. Mireille Karera is one such entrepreneur, who is now making it her life’s mission to empower, encourage and coach other people who have big dreams and who need help to make them come to life. She is an inspiration to so many others, having had to overcome many challenges and hurdles along the way to realising her own dreams. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa