Heels on wheels

by WIEF Foundation

The lady driver has been the target of more than her fair share of jokes but the fact is, today’s women have taken control of the wheel in many industries previously dominated by men.

Fatma A. Elmaawy is now bringing the female touch to engines. Managing Partner of Auto Village, and a mechanic herself, Fatma runs a successful car repair and service centre nestled in the bustling city of Nairobi, Kenya.

Shattering the clueless-about-cars stereotype, she also educates other women about car maintenance and repairs. The Heels & Wheels Car Clinic teaches participants everything they need to know about owning and driving a car — from oils and lubricants to defensive driving, and even insurance.

“A lot of ladies bring their cars to the workshop and they have no idea what is wrong with their cars,”

said Fatma at the 12th WIEF in Jakarta last year. “They just tell you: ‘It does this. It stops.’”

The clinics have been well-received. In addition to the women who come from all around the country to attend it, men have also requested to participate.

“When I ran the car clinic for ladies, a lot of the guys said, ‘Fatma, you run a car clinic for ladies but when something happens to my wife’s car, she comes to me, and I don’t know.’ So I told them that I would run another car clinic where the ladies could bring their spouses if they wished and we could train them.”

The clinics are one of the ways in which Fatma feels she can contribute to society and the community. “We open the car clinic to any driver. You don’t have to be my client. I will still train you. I am giving back to society. But during the car clinic we also ask them what else they want, and from there I get to know my market needs,” she said. It is this philosophy to “always give” that has set Fatma apart and allowed her to rise above her competitors.

Besides empowering women, the automotive repair company also holds internship programmes that equip graduates with practical skills, confidence building and employment preparations.

Supported by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Auto Village’s partners for the programme include the National Industrial Training Authority and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), which recognise Auto Village’s efforts to reduce youth unemployment and eradicate poverty.

From dinosaur to entrepreneur
So how did this humble woman drive her shop to such success?

“People come to me because they are now able to see what I can do online,” the self-proclaimed IT dinosaur enrolled in the WIEF Regional Online Marketing Workshop, a WIEF Businesswomen Network initiative that helps women harness the power of technology for their business, where she learnt the ropes of e-commerce and with that knowledge started using strategies such as requiring online registration for her car clinics. This built her customer database — even attracting people six to eight hours’ drive away.

Social media was also one of the best ways that created an effective word of mouth campaign for Auto Village. Fatma explained that clients who have gained something from you, be it good service or a good product, will keep coming back. They will be loyal and they will be ambassadors for a business.

Some other success factors include identifying target audiences and markets, logistics and supply lines, and the existence and location of wholesalers OPE and buyers. A particular product might be very suitable for the business, but if the supplier or wholesaler is located far away, the cost of transport will be high and will eat into profit margins. Marketing strategies should be tailored to specific interests to drive traffic to websites, and the use of search engine optimisation, Google analytics, and Google ads can encourage and increase traffic.

It starts with you
“It starts with your mind-set,” Fatma praised the potential of e-commerce and encouraged women to consider the platform as a source of additional income for their households, but she also advised prospective business owners to consider their motivations. “It starts from the inside, not the outside. Why do you want to start this business? Are you starting this business because it’s a hobby? Are you starting it because it’s something nice to tell your friends over coffee or do you actually want to see your business succeed?”

She believes that a woman holds tremendous power as a catalyst of positive development in society, but one must be committed and willing to invest resources and time to grow and expand the business. Fatma’s path to success was paved by these elements as well as a determination to not sit back and accept the traditional perceptions of being a female mechanic. She proved she can be a successful businesswoman.

“We, ladies, are the people who make industries move. When a woman works and does business, that money goes into the household — not to football; not to the pub. It goes home.

It buys furniture and food; it takes children to school. We have this capability and we must use it to the fullest.

According to the Government of Kenya’s report “National Baseline Survey”, women entrepreneurs account for about 48 per cent of all MSMEs. With a female population of over 50 per cent, this makes women entrepreneurs in Kenya a mine of potential.

Since 2000, 85 per cent of all informal jobs created were attributed to women businesses in Kenya, but statistics show women only contributed around 20 per cent to Kenya’s GDP. The report stated, “Despite their potential, women-owned businesses in Kenya are less likely
to grow”, but an online outreach such as the WIEF Online Marketing Workshop believes that can change.


Fatma A. Elmaawy was a participant of the 1st Regional WIEF Online Marketing Workshop in Kenya. Established in 2010, the workshop aims to help women entrepreneurs capitalise on technology and harness its power for their businesses by adopting effective structures online.
Since its inaugural, the five-day Workshop Series has engaged with over 200 Participants on a range of activities, providing them the networking platform for international business collaborations and opportunities to gain in-depth knowledge and training in business management and business practices, as well as promoting cultural exchanges.


Illustrations by @thebeerz.


22 May 2017
Last modified: 22 Jan 2018
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