Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A few lessons I've picked along the way

In 1998, I packed my bags and left our home in Kitale to pursue a course in acting. I was 18, I thought I'd be back home to wait for university admission after my course. I didn’t return. I found my dream.

I stayed in Nairobi, as an actress in a theatre travelling troupe. Our first play was The Government Inspector, and I played his daughter, Marya. I also had my first stage kiss then. I was 19, and ahem...legal. I stayed with relatives until I was 22, and when I completed my diploma in Broadcast Journalism, I trooped off to KBC to find work. I wasn’t turned away, I knew I wouldn’t be turned away, I had done my groundwork during several internships there, and my work ethic spoke for itself.

Fast forward to today, 12 years later, and I like to think, eons wiser. I've worked in a few places, made and broken friends and relations, grown networks and learnt a few things about what opens doors.

1. Your work ethic will speak for you. I'm a hard worker. Years later and perhaps I now I can manage to step aside and make time to smell the flowers, I put 100% into what I do. I learned to deliver beyond expectations very early on in my career, because that's what makes you exemplary.

2. Build your networks. I learnt that i should not be forgettable, much later on in my career, I wish I knew earlier. There's a big difference between an authority asking who you are, and another who calls out your name. In this business, you need the latter. Carry your business card, read about possible talking points, whether you're off to a cocktail party or lunch with a team from a top financial advisory. I stopped job hunting because I have people that believe me in me.

3. Be Knowledgeble. Read, a lot. Get to know what's happening in the US, in Egypt, In Syria, news of global importance are a great place to open conversations and to make an impression. You never know who'll be paying attention. I have been called to speak at places because someone heard me saying we are getting this ICT euphoria wrong somewhere, we need innovators, but we also need the missing link that is funding, we need to stop creating for fun and fame, and start competing with Silicon Valley made apps.

4. Work towards personal growth If I lost everything today, my job, my house, my car, and my watches, (that’s the one thing that bursts my pockets.) I have a plan. I will start from scratch and will rebuild in not so long a time. I may sell second hand clothes; I may sell cakes, or create leather handbags for sale. I have learned to be confident in my passion for things outside my career that can still hold me up if all else fall apart.

5. Have a mentor. When you're 33 going on 40, have a six year old child, a vision board that looks like Victoria Beckam’s life today, you need someone to push you towards your dreams. It's easy to get lost in the current, but you need to focus on where you want to be tomorrow. Today already happened, look out for tomorrow and do something different.

6. Set your goals. I read somewhere that resolutions don't create success, habit does. I have a long list of goals that I look at least once a day. I have written them down and I have reminders that keep me on toes. I have 2 mentors. (And I forcefully recruited one today).

I keep learning every day, but the most important thing is to keep amazing people around you. People that will challenge you to be better, that will laugh and cry with you, but who know the value of tough love. You cannot win when you are alone. I have learned that I am nothing without my friends and my family and my God.

And this is just the beginning.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

18 minutes for Africa

When I first listened to Chimamanda Adichie's talk 'The danger of a single story' I was a young business journalist working for CNBC Africa, and this new found patriotism for the continent had flooded my mind and all I wanted was a better Africa, in perception, and also in tangible terms.

For 18 minutes I was engrossed in her thoughts of how Africa's perception has been shaped through time. Right then I knew that this is the space I wanted to be in. A place where Africans can passionately speak about their continent,what they are doing to make it a better place, despite the world seeing it as a dark and hopeless continent, as the Economist one called it.

So when I bumped into my friend Suraj Sudhakar of the Acumen fund just a day before Ted Talk held its audition for African Speakers in Nairobi, I knew that I wanted to bed there. To be re-energized by other believers of a successful Africa. TEDtalks are Ideas worth sharing. In their own terms, they say, Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.

The Nairobi auditions were in search for a participant for the TEDtalks 2013. It intends to showcase, The Young, The wise, The Undiscovered. These talks (auditions) however were 6 minutes each, unlike the well 18 minute talk.

For 6 minutes I listened to a talk about vultures, transfixed at a topic I would ordinarily flip past. I soaked in the passionate story telling and after that talk I vowed to buy my daughter a book about vultures.

For 6 minutes, I listened to undercover Journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas tell us about Africa Investigates and his desire to uncover corruption on the Afrivcan continent, he passionately puts his life on the line, for a continent that he believes will change. A number of those he has uncovered through his Television features have been arrested.

For 6 minutes, I listened to Lorna Irungu tell us about the 3 lessons that she learned after being diagnosed with lupus and having undergone a number of kidney transplants.

For 6 minutes, I learned about the bees that make it possible to have chocolate, built for pollination, and how they do it, for those minutes, I laughed and smiled, and took in the passion with which the story was told.

For 6 minutes, I listened to Eric Wainana telling about finding an edge, in life, at work, in whatever it is you put your mind to.

For 6 minutes, and another 6 minutes, and more 6 minutes after that, I regained an even bigger pride for Africa.

If these people, who are not just beaming of great oratory skills have such passion and belief in what they are doing to make a better Africa, then the continent will change.

There's farmers finding Agri-solutions through an online platform called I-cow. There's Maasai herdsmen now happy that Lions will not invade their cattle boma 's because of a flashing light a 12 year old invented.

There's Su Kahumbu who's hoping Agriculture can be packaged in a sexier way so that young people can not only be part of feeding the continent, but also part of the global food chain.

It is these things, that I want to be part of, and for 18 minutes, we may one day change the world's perception of Africa.

I wish all the TEDtalk audition candidates all the very best!