Born on August 15, 1972, in Kenya, Peter Ongera attended the rural ordinary school system through university to study philosophy, public relations, and sociology. During school holidays and sports days in primary school, he sold sweets and snacks to get pocket money. Peter was always top of his class. He was a prefect. He loved debating and role-playing radio broadcasts.
He attended Egerton University, a public university in Njoro, Kenya, for his undergraduate studies. He did commercial photography, freelance journalism, and peer counseling doing his university days.
At age 22, and while still attending university, Peter started a pro-poor tourism and homestay business concept called African Homestay and Safaris following his youth exchange program with a Japanese family in their home. His business was established on August 15, 1994.
Today, Peter is an experienced business trainer, coach, and mentor. He has completed several projects with the Dutch Business In Development (BID) Network, Mentor Capital Network of the US, Unreasonable East Africa (SHONA), Rowad of Bahrain, OnFrontiers, and WECREATE Kenya.
The journalist-turned-social entrepreneur believes that Africa can eradicate poverty through sustainable social investment in education, skills transfer (particularly in information technology), and partnerships with companies and communities. He is convinced that Africa has all the natural, human tolls and resources to overcome poverty.
Today, we welcome Peter to The After Six Club’s Ambitious Tribe. In this feature, he shares how a trip to Japan started his business by accident and sparked his ambition.
It was in March 1994, after a trip I made to Kitakyushu, Japan during the Ship for World Youth Exchange program that I got into my business by accident.
In Japan, I lived with a Japanese family (the Sakamotos) in their home and I picked the homestay business concept. Following my own positive homestay experience, I founded my business and called it African Homestay and Safaris.
Through this time in Japan, coupled with time spent in the US and Canada (also through a homestay business concept), I gained an appreciation for the scope of cultural learning this concept provides students.
I began to develop a business around the concept of homestay, realizing its potential to not only provide a living for myself and my family but to also extend the benefits and opportunities associated with foreign visitors to my neighbors and to other communities across Kenya and Africa.
African Homestay and Safaris is an African cultural tourism agency that connects tourists who want to Live (homestay), study (cultural and educational), and work (internship and volunteer) in Africa with local hosts in rural villages and towns. We also offer educational and cultural excursions and safaris. So far, it is the first of its kind and it makes me feel like a pioneer in this type of business concept.
Currently, we have a home-based office. We operate from my homes in Kitengela and Kisii in Kenya. We also offer co-working spaces in Nairobi City.
What do you believe makes your business stand out?
My business is basically a public interest initiative to market Africa as a tourist-friendly destination with an unspoiled environment, climate, wildlife, natural landscape, and a rich cultural and historical heritage. I encourage tourists to visit Africa as their contribution to poverty reduction, especially at the local level wherein Africans directly benefits from tourism.
Tourism is one of the leading “ready” exports and foreign exchange earners for most African countries. But almost 85% of tourism earnings go back to foreign investors or countries of origin of the tourists. Why? Because most hotels, travel agencies, airlines, lodges, ranches, villas, and more are foreign-owned.
Tourism revenue for Africa is far bigger than foreign aid for Africa. It’s a pity that most governments and tourism institutions do not grasp this concept of locals benefitting from tourism. They are only interested in job creation, investment, and tax payment while the communities along the tourist circuits live in abject poverty!
Tourism must benefit the tourist and the locals together. That is why I pioneer and champion homestay tourism, cultural immersion, and voluntary work concepts to help the communities earn through homestay fees (paid to hosts), cross-cultural learning, and other community-led projects where guests volunteer.
Just think, how much of one’s culture or heritage can a tourist learn in a hotel compared with staying with a local family?
Is it always necessary to be passionate about what your business is about in order for it to succeed?
Yes. Passion is the energy for enthusiasm and excitement that comes when you are being your authentic self and doing what comes naturally to you.
How did you obtain capital? Were there investors?
I had no investors. I started the business using my lecturer’s home and the little commission I got helped me with stationery and marketing. I rarely use my home for hosting and therefore rely on other people’s homes. Integrity, safety, and security play key roles in people believing in my business.
How did you build your customer base? What form of marketing has been most effective for you so far?
Social media coupled with word of mouth and referral marketing strategies have always worked for me. Customer satisfaction is the secret and the customer is always right.
What kind of company culture are you implementing? What are your core values?
I believe in social enterprise and would like to promote that culture, integrity, and inclusivity are my core values.
How do you deal with major mishaps? What would you say is one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
I consult and research widely. My biggest mistake was not involving big corporates in my ventures for fear of being swallowed.
What skills do you believe are necessary in handling a business?
The ability to communicate. Nothing succeeds without communication, advertising, and marketing.
What would you say are some dos and don’ts in starting one?
Do what you like. Don’t rush.
Was there ever a time you felt afraid that this might not work? How did you manage this fear?
Yes. There was a time I had more willing hosts than willing clients and guests. I was afraid that people might lose confidence in the business but I pushed on with training my hosts in alternative ways of benefiting from tourism.
What is your greatest fear?
What sacrifices have you had to make to get here?
I have put my personal and family savings at risk.
What can you consider is your greatest success?
I have done consulting for the United Nations and USAID funded capacity building projects in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, Nigeria, and Ghana.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being a business trainer, coach, mentor, and role model.
What motivates you? Who has been your greatest inspiration?
As a Christian, the story of Joseph in the Bible inspires me as I see it as an illustration of the need to keep trying and persevere. Joseph shows that the worst conditions possible may not be final. We never know when the next step will lead to success. Several times, the story of Joseph seems to be at an end. Yet somehow, a way out appears.
Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
Being ten times better than now.
Do you consider yourself an ambitious person? Explain why.
Yes, ambition is the driving force of any sustainable venture. Ambition is a positive attribute. It is the desire and determination to achieve business success.
Edits: Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla | Image Credit: Peter Ongera
Peter has several received national and international recognition since his university days. In 2005, Peter was recognized as a National Hero by Parents Magazine and a Business Achiever by Capital Radio in 2006. He is the founder of African Homestay and Safaris.