A Rising Star in African Entrepreneurship

August 5, 2015
Kasey Cheydleur
Sophie Umazi Mvurya
Photo credit: Sophie Umazi Mvurya

Fourth-year Sophie Umazi Mvurya, a politics and law and society major and minor in economics, has earned a spot in the prestigious Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship Program. The program pays for the tuition and associated fees (approximately $140,000) for citizens of African countries with financial need who wish to attain an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business. After receiving their degrees, participants in the program must return to Africa to work for at least two years in a professional role that contributes to the continent’s development.

Mvurya applied to the Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship program because of the reputation of the school and its focus on entrepreneurship. “As an entrepreneur and business woman myself, I saw the school to be a perfect fit for my current and future endeavors. When it came to the African fellowship, it is one of the most coveted fellowships on the continent with a network of very successful Africans.” She says she has always planned to return to Kenya and Africa after graduation. “I see the need and I am very passionate about coming back and playing my part in the development of this place I call home.”

Mvurya has been making headlines for her work in her native Kenya for years. In order to avoid a repeat of the violence she witnessed after the disputed 2007 presidential election, Mvurya started the I AM KENYAN campaign to promote peaceful patriotism during the 2013 presidential elections. Mvurya made her Facebook profile picture a photo of herself with the phrase I AM KENYAN and then called for others to do the same. Within weeks, the idea had gone viral and has since collected more than 21,000 photos. The 2013 presidential election was peaceful, and Mvurya was named one of BBC’s Top Ten Teens Who Changed the World in 2014 alongside other honorees including Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Mvurya’s entrepreneurial spirit started when she was very young. “I have always been very business-oriented. When I was younger I was very involved in my community and always looked for ways to make money. At some point I used to make slippers using cardboard and sold them around to make money to buy sweets as my mother wouldn't give me the money. As I grew up this spirit did not die, but actually became more vibrant.”

After the success of I AM KENYAN, Mvurya began another venture when she came to Oberlin, this time in the world of fitness and public health. After struggling to find time to balance a busy college schedule and going to the gym, Mvurya and Sunceray Tabler ’15 created Suzifit, a service that provides affordable, personalized nutritional and fitness advice to its clients around the globe.

Mvurya’s latest venture is in the world of fashion. She launched her own fashion line, Umazi, and in partnership with another Kenyan fashion designer Brigit Wasike, started a fashion house named House of Tahzi. House of Tahzi opened earlier this year and modernizes pre-colonial Kenyan fashion for the wider Kenyan population. In just its first five months House of Tahzi has been featured at both the Nairobi and East African fashion weeks, as well as in Couture Africa magazine, and has been nominated for the Women’s Designer of the Year award by the Kenya Glamour Awards.

She says her mentor at Oberlin is Adenike Sharpley, artist in residence for Africana studies and director of Essence and Dance Diaspora. Mvurya says Sharpley is her “rock and her spirit mother.” “It is difficult enough being 10,000 miles away from home, now add a rigorous Oberlin education to that. Ms. Sharpley has helped me navigate the system in ways that I could not have imagined.”

In addition to her entrepreneurial ventures, Mvurya also works as the resident assistant of Afrikan Heritage House, dances with Dance Diaspora, and is a member of the African Students Association.

Looking to the future, she plans to return to Kenya and build business empires. “I will build a fashion empire that will influence the African trends and focus on infrastructure development projects with my investment firm.” She says, smiling, she may venture into real estate as well, “but that is a decision for another day.”

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