When the first case of COVID was announced on March 13, 2020, the events industry came to a standstill. However, the tenacity and perseverance of numerous Kenyans in the events industry did not waver. What actions did the top players in the events sector take in 2020 to succeed? What insights did they gain, and what advice would they offer to other professionals in the field? 

Through the Resilience Series, Kanyi Ohawa will be able to answer the above questions. 

About Kanyi Ohawa

Kanyi Ohawa is the CEO and Founder of All And Sundry Limited and one of Kenya’s top wedding stationery suppliers. The graphics design and branding company was founded in 2003, “kind of by mistake” as Kanyi quotes it. To show her appreciation for their business, she wanted to send personalized thank-you cards to her clients. Yet, each time they did that, they would receive a call asking them to make the same thing for different events, like weddings. Thus, they decided to formalize it and three years after All And Sundry started. And by the way, they are good at it!

When COVID Happened, How Did Kanyi Ohawa Respond?

The spread of Covid across the world including in Kenya prompted many to reason and say, “Okay, we’ll close for three months, then we’ll be back. That’s the plan”. However, as Mike Tyson famously put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” And regrettably, that is what happened.

Things started to fall apart and Kanyi’s company suffered with almost 99% cancellations of their events. Among them were invitations to two weddings that were planned for that week’s end, that had to be postponed or cancelled. It was undoubtedly a period of great confusion, heavily merged with feelings of not being in control.

When Did Kanyi Wake Up After The Fall?

For a while, Kanyi “survived” by adhering to the belief that “If you pretend it’s not there, maybe it will disappear”. However, she soon realized that she needed to come up with a plan. She was forced to ask herself, “Okay, so what’s next? What is happening to my people? I must contact my landlord”, causing her sleepless nights. Even though All And Sundry specializes in branding and graphic design, the events industry accounts for a large portion of its revenue. 

Letting Go

Soon, Kanyi had to make the difficult choice of letting go of her office. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because I’ve been there for 17 years, until last year. It was such a part of my identity… There were a couple of weeks there that I spent at home just Netflixing and chilling because I did not want to deal with a lot of the emotion that I was going through”. The All And Sundry office was at Nanak House in the CBD and the workplace had a beautiful interior that was a fantastic representation of the business. 

She also needed to consider her employees. Despite taking a collective 50% wage cut, things were still not looking up. They would eventually make do with the meager business that came in and divide the money among themselves. She ultimately had to make yet another tough choice and let go of some of her staff. Kanyi is brave! She shared her story on Facebook and she didn’t feel ashamed or considered herself a failure. Even though Kanyi spent many sleepless nights worrying over letting go, particularly of her business possessions, when she finally did it, she was presented with a lot of grace. The support from those going through a similar experience, the amount of love and understanding Kanyi received was astounding. She saw she had made the right decision. After letting go, she was compelled to examine the mistakes she had previously made and correct them so that she could rebuild an outstanding company with an amazing staff following the Covid period.

Endless Possibilities

Even better, Kanyi finds herself in a setting of endless possibilities. She has returned to her passion for fine art and is currently learning how to integrate what she is doing right now into her work. Kanyi’s hand-crafted masterpieces include watercolor paintings, nature cards with flowers, gift cards with love messages, and many more. She feels connected to her mission, which is to empower people and celebrate the beauty of God’s creation through her work. Covid did that for Kanyi by redirecting her through course correction toward her goal. Even though it was a time of uncertainty and suffering, the themes in her work help to demonstrate love and care for everyone, even at a distance. Isn’t that wonderful? 

Top Three Lessons From Kanyi

  1. Connect with your why: Why are you here? Why do you do the thing that you do? Put the bills aside for a moment – why are you driven by what you do?
  2. Be ready to give up stuff: You may have to give up a lot just to be where you need to be. But, the heavy burdens will disappear and you will enjoy what you do as you bring in your full creative self.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: It’s a tough one, but there are a lot of people who have your best interest at heart. 

So, What Next?

“There are endless possibilities. We need to step into our greatness and just find our purpose”. Be open – don’t be attached to the way we’ve done things. Be willing to innovate and create!