Each of my visits to Kenya gets closer to the vision I have for WSWI – to make connections between women leaders in the US and Africa. This year, my eighth, the groundwork is laid for a 2017 summit here in the Bay Area and a 2018 conference in Nairobi. I hope that those of you who have expressed the desire to join our work while experiencing Kenya start wrapping your minds around that intention.
A recurring theme throughout this 2016 visit was the reaction to the election of Trump. Kenyans can’t believe it happened and see it as the beginning of an unraveling of the accomplishments of their native son. Most interestingly, they apparently see (as I do) the parallels of corruption, a growing wealth gap, a broken education system, and politically disengaged youth. In both countries, money governs, the poor and marginalized are kept where they are, and too many young people believe their vote won’t make a difference. I had the opportunity to hear Angela Davis speak on December 9 after my return and received her new book. I haven’t read it yet, but I like the title: Freedom is a Constant Struggle. Wake up everybody.
OK, off my soapbox.
I spent the Thanksgiving holiday and the first five days of December in Nairobi and Nyeri. The first five days, Jesse and I stayed in the middle of the bustle of downtown Nairobi. Traffic is was bad, coming back to the SF-Walnut Creek commute was gratifying. While I had my meetings and workshops, Jesse hung around the Hilton and engaged with everyone he encountered, as he usually does.
My engagements in Nairobi began with a meeting with partner, Wamuyu Mahinda, and Peris Wakesho, Regional Director for Ashoka East Africa. Wamuyu , an Ashoka Fellow, is linking her doctoral study with Ashoka’s Empathy Initiative. Those of you familiar with my recent work in diversity and inclusion know that I see empathy and EQ as a remedy for many of our social, socioeconomic challenges. Wamuyu and I continued to discuss her ideas about the relationship between the empathy and values of social entrepreneurs into the next week. Peris made the e-introduction to Linda Welsh, Ashoka Global Vice President, based in Washington, DC. I look forward to connecting with her about possibilities later this month.
The next day, Jesse and I met with Robert Cullens, owner of Paws and Classic Safaris tour operations and member of the Karen Rotary. My friend, Kathy Gailey, President of the San Ramon Rotary, made the connection because she’s encouraging WSWI to apply for a Rotary global grant to expand our work in Kenya. Robert hosted us at the beautiful Karen Country Club. When I’m able to swing my clubs again next year, that’s where I’m teeing off! Robert introduced me to Mburu Ngugi, Director, and Leonard Ithau, President, of the Karen Rotary. We met for lunch a few days later, I shared the work of WSWI to date, and their interest is leadership development. Yes!!
The next Nairobi meeting was with Kenya member of the Global Women’s Leadership Network. I’ve heard wonderful things about GWLN for several years. Recently I connected with Bonita Banducci and Kelly Mizner through my membership in PWIC, who were persistent in their urging of me to connect with its Kenyan members on my next trip. Kelly and Tess Ojiambo made it happen. On November 26, I met with four incredibly inspirational women – Lindy Watula, Grace Mose O’Kongo, Trish Sewe, and Rose Muya. The topic of conversation was simply “possibilities”. I have a strong desire to bring a group of women leaders from the US to Kenya to connect with powerful and empowered counterparts. We mostly got to know about each others’ passions, but these will be a few of the women leaders you can meet in 2018.
Lindy – Founder of the Women’s Academy that trains women in nontraditional trades (and several other ventures) and making a run for election as her county’s Women’s Representative. (She was urged by her Kenyan sisters to taking a bigger step and run for Member of Parliament!)
Grace –Professor at Kenyatta University and CEO, Hope Foundation for African Women, empowering rural Kenya women (and men) to make better decisions about change.
Trish – Founder of Mimi Ni Change (MNC) Solutions. Trish is galvanizing Kenya youth to bring an end to tribalism.
Rose – Director of Timeless Tours & Travel couldn’t stay long, but we learned that she’s passionate about protecting Kenya’s game parks and was the adamant about Lindy running for MP!
My day with The Youth Banner began with new CEO, Jame Mungai. We discussed TYB’s refocused strategic plan and how we will continue to work together to support. TYB has exciting things ahead, including an increased strategic focus on leadership development and plans to create a savings and credit corporation in support of its entrepreneurship programs. I spent the afternoon with Charity, TYB’s training manager, and six microbusiness owners who attended previous WSWI workshops. It was a fun group coaching session with a focus on marketing (their choice of topic).
We left Nairobi for 5 days in Nyeri, as guests of Wamuyu and Jeff Mahinda. Wamuyu and I had one day to continue our discussion about the Ashoka project and then I got busy! We met with Margaret Gachagua, the First Lady of Nyeri County (wife of the governor), to finalize plans for Saturday’s Women Leaders Summit. Wamuyu and Margaret are member of the Daughters of Nyeri Association, one of WSWI’s new partners. I was recruited to join Wamuyu and Margaret on Friday at the first meeting of a new club at Kimathi University, Empowered Me, for women students with children. It was a very inspiring and moving meeting where we all shared personal stories about the decision women students who find themselves pregnant must make, and live with, to persevere. While at Kimathi U, I also met Dr. Matthew Theuri, Dean of the School of Business, and Prof. Ndirangu Kioni, Vice Chancellor. There may be guest lecturer opportunities!!!
This visit’s highlight was the Women Leaders Summit. First Lady Margaret planned an empowering meeting with a central question of leading in a culture where the gender roles are so opposed. The participants were from diverse backgrounds, many in management in county services, such as health care, business owners, other county officials, young interns, student leaders, and staff from the First Lady’s Office. My talk and discussion was on Being a Leader and a Woman. It was a wonderful experience. It was well-received and we all grew in wisdom.
I was encouraged when most of the participants requested the presentation to share with others. I was honored when, at the end of the summit, they stood as a group and quickly agreed on my Kenyan name. I’m Nyawera. It means “woman who works hard.” I’m so transparent! What a way to wrap up this work I love!
That left one day to just visit with our gracious hosts, Jeff and Wamuyu. I’m growing very fond of Nyeri, which lies in the foothills of Mt. Kenya. It’s a rich in resources, with fertile soil where it seems everything grows – when there’s rain. It rained just about every afternoon we were there. And it was beautiful!
…as I wish for you and yours this holiday season!