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Edward Kirathe: The Man Behind The Multi-Billion Qwetu Student Hostels

Nairobi is home to some of the best and prestigious universities in Kenya. These institutions attract thousands of students who enrol for different courses every year. However with the large number of intakes, not all students are able to secure a room in the university-owned hostels and therein comes a challenge of accommodation. 

In this article, WoK brings you the story of one Edward Kirathe who is determined to solve this problem through his chain of hostels under the brand name ‘Qwetu and Qejani Hostels.’

Edward Kirathe Journey

Edward Kirathe’s career journey began at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) while pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. Kirathe took on his first job at Diners Club – a Nairobi-based credit card company where he worked as a debt collector and in turn was paid peanuts and he had no other option but taking whatever he was paid as salary.

He worked there for months while also taking other part time jobs to be able to raise money to meet his expenses and at least place a meal on the table.

After finally graduating with his architectural degree, Edward Kirathe worked as a Senior Architect for TRIAD Architects from 1997 to 2001 before joining Consolsia Limited as the Managing Director, a position he held for 4 years until December 2007 when he resigned to try his luck in the business world.

The Making of Acorn Holdings Limited

In January 2008, Kirathe founded Acorn Group Limited – an integrated Real Estate firm. The company slowly began investing in the university hostels sector but finances were quite a challenge at the time.

In November 2015, the company received a major boost after entering into a partnership with Helios Investment Partners which in turn saw the company change from Acorn Group Limited to Acorn Holdings Limited.

The company is focused on developing a large-scale affordable rental housing business in Nairobi and is currently addressing purpose-built rental housing for young people, especially university students.

The Success of Acorn Holdings Limited

The Company is behind the most iconic and landmark buildings in East Africa such as the head office of Coca-Cola East and Central Africa (Upper Hill, Nairobi), Deloitte East Africa head office, Equity Center and Nakawa Business Park in Kampala, Uganda.

In October 2019, Acorn issued the first Green Housing Bond in Africa which in January 2020 became the first Kenya Shilling bond to list on the London Stock Exchange.

The company was then recognized at the 5th Annual Climate Bonds Initiative and awarded the Green Bond Pioneer Awards for its genuine contribution to reducing carbon emissions in the country. 

Also Read: The Billionaires Behind Lloyd Masika Limited Kenya

Green bonds are fixed income securities that raise capital for projects that have positive environmental and climate benefits. The bond was able to raise Ksh 4.3 billion to build environmentally-friendly student accommodation in Kenya.

Subsequently, in February 2021, Acorn successfully launched the Acorn Student Accommodation D-REIT and I-REIT which are managed by Acorn Investment Management Limited (AIML), a wholly owned subsidiary of Acorn Holdings Limited.

Qwetu and Qejani Student Hostels

The company is behind a chain of hostels and the brand name Qwetu and Qejani hostels that are quite popular with students studying around Parklands, Jogoo road and Ruaraka. The hostels come with unique features such as Wi-Fi, gyms and gaming rooms which mostly attracts most young people.

On 26th February 2021, Helios committed Ksh 10 billion to Acorn to provide the equity funding necessary to support the substantial development program. The partnership between Acorn and Helios is meant to facilitate the construction of 3,800 university hostel units in Nairobi at a total cost of Ksh 7.4 billion.

The new units will primarily serve students from Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA), Strathmore University and United States International University (USIU). 

On 9th February of 2022, the company announced that it is investing Ksh 2.5 billion in building two new hostels at the University Of Nairobi (UON). The groundbreaking of the project began on Thursday 10th February 2022 and is expected to be complete by the first quarter of next year.

The project which is situated at Chiromo will consist of 1,950 beds under the Qejani hostel brand and 850 beds in the Qwetu hostel bringing the total student accommodation to a capacity of 2,800 beds.

Monthly rent at Qejani hostels range between Ksh 8,500 and Ksh 14,000 while Qwetu hostel residents will pay between Ksh 15,300 and Ksh 34,000. During the groundbreaking press briefing, Kirathe revealed that his company will be partnering in the future with Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT) to provide affordable housing as reported by Business Daily.

Acorn Holdings Limited Leadership and Management

Edward Kirathe is the founder and CEO of the company and is the single-largest individual shareholder with a 30.24 percent stake in the venture.

The executive team consists of Peter Njenga who is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Raghav Gandhi who is the Chief Investment Officer/ Managing Director of AIML, Indresh Saluja who acts as the Chief Operations Officer, Hugo Weijermars who is the Chief Development Officer, Jackie Rozario who is the Customer Experience Director, Steve Wood who is the Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Management Director, Eric Githinji who is the Finance Director, Mathew Maina who acts as the Investor Relations Director, Susan Chege who is the Human Resource Director, Washington Gichuru who is the Head of Information Technology (IT) and Sheila Moraa who is the Head of ESG.