The Conversations with #AfricaWomenSeries has featured two women, so far sharing their amazing stories and i have throughly enjoyed this process of meeting with these amazing women in a relaxed virtual space. I'm learning from their experiences, pumped by the achievements, and i'm honored to be chatting with them all.
This week, we will be leaving West Africa, and going over to East Africa, chatting with Kagure Wamunyu. I love how Kagure describes herself (more below), and she is a soul sister from Kenya. We have worked together before so we have met, and from her story you can tell how driven and focused she is. Her aura is gentle, but strong and certain. It translates very clearly in her journey. In this chat she shares herself in a genuine way that i connect with, and she shares her story. There is a lot to learn, so find a comfortable spot, grab a cup of tea, and hear her story!
Maria Ro: Kagure! Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview and its great to have you on GlossyWhitePumps. Tell us who you are. Who is Kagure?
Kagure: I like to describe myself as a Steel Magnolia. A magnolia is a sweet tender flower and I combine both, a tenderness and a strength and resilience. I'm an African woman who loves building and scaling solutions, who enjoys nothing more than spending time hanging out with her close family and friends, cooking, taking walks and traveling.
Maria Ro: I love that description and the seeming contradiction, but i relate to that! Kagure, how did your journey get to you scaling two global technology startups. What led you here?
Kagure: My journey began from my love of transport. I have been passionate about transport since high school due to the frustration of traffic jams in Nairobi, something I always felt needed to be solved. I chose to focus on transport in my undergrad as a civil engineer and grad school as an urban planner. I brought this passion and knowledge to the world of technology when tech startups began focusing on transport.
When I entered the tech world I discovered that while one may have a tech product, one has got to figure out strategies to scale the product. It turned out I enjoyed and was good at scaling products and teams and have been doing so since.
Maria Ro: So cool that your career came from a place of passion for you.You’ve led and are leading transport technology businesses like Uber and Kobo360 respectively. You are also studying for a Phd at the University of Oxford. How have you thought about charting your career, and what fuels your drive?
Kagure: I believe in doing my best wherever I am. This pushes me to give my best at work. I am driven by the vision of an equitable Africa, and I see creating income opportunities as extremely important for the continent and a way of decreasing poverty. I always choose to be part of companies that in one way or other do this. Tech has been one such way.
Maria Ro: People! look at how deliberate that is? I find a common theme amongst all these amazing women as we speak, is this higher vision that guides and motivates them. I love yours. Tell us Kagure, what does an average day for you look like as a leader, perhaps in your role as Chief Strategy Officer at Kobo360?
Kagure: Juggling between school and work means my day starts early. I usually allocate the first hours of the day to my school work and once it is 8am, I switch to work. I begin by going through my email and Whatsapp and identifying priority work that needs to be handled
or responded to.
At around 11am, I begin doing my first calls with different team leaders I work with and my own team depending on projects that need to be handled. After 2pm, I handle any interviews I need to do and also work on any projects I have at hand.
I dedicate the early part of my evening to social activities such as walking my dog, going to grab a coffee or margarita at a coffee shop called Lava Latte which I run with my friends. In mid to late evening, I either binge watch movies as I doze off, and once in a while work on anything super urgent.
Maria Ro: You've partly answered a question i was going to ask. How you rest, and chill. I like that you make time daily for rest, walking your dog, grabbing a coffee and hanging out at your coffee shop. It's pretty cool that you have a coffee shop. Kagure, what does leadership mean to you?
Kagure: Leadership means leading by example and for me that means being execution focused; it means supporting the team to succeed and creating an environment for success This means directly brainstorming and working with the team on solutions to problems, giving direction on projects, ensuring the team has the right resources to do their work and that I come in and solve challenges they may have. It also means creating opportunity for others.
Maria Ro: Thanks for answering that. Trivia time. If you had a two way ticket in a time machine to go back to the beginning of your leadership journey. What would you tell yourself?
Kagure: There is always something you don’t know and it is okay to not know everything. Reach out for help, or teach yourself, whichever works in that situation. Also find what you are good at and you enjoy and work to get better at it.
If I had known this I would have taken up more opportunities and would have less fear.
Maria Ro: That's powerful. I think this is something many of us need to learn. It removes the burden of being perfect, which leaves so much room to do many amazing things. Thanks for sharing that. You're accomplished at what you do, and speak to a lot of leaders across businesses, governments etc. How do you handle other people’s biases on you, as a woman in authority? What is your go-to response to those awkward situations when people might downplay your authority or competency just because you’re a woman?
Kagure: I try to be prepared for all meetings I go to, which sometimes can mean long over preparation or just taking two minutes to think about what I am going to do or say especially for the initial meeting as I know that first impressions matter.
Initially when people downplayed my authority or competency, it would offend me and even distract me. Now, I choose to focus on the task at hand and find ways to lead which is by giving my best.
Maria Ro: Being amazing at what you do is clearly important. But building expertise is hard. How does one go from novice to expert. How have you done it, and what is your advice to anyone looking to build skills in an area of passion, while they are still beginners?
Kagure: I initially picked something I was passionate and had knowledge about, transport, as my entry point and then I learnt on the job how to scale and grow tech and made it my thing. Identifying something one enjoys and is good at is key then choose to grow this. Always seek to improve yourself.
Maria Ro: Kagure, for that African Woman on her leadership journey, who is ambitious and hungry for impact, but struggles with believing that these big goals are possible, what do you say to her?
First of all, it is doable and to quote Lupita Nyong’o, your dreams are valid. Secondly, even those you look up to started somewhere, Thirdly that we have the same fears as you. Finally, Do your best where you are and have the hunger to improve yourself and learn.
Maria Ro: Being a leader can be very difficult, I'm certain you have faced challenges. There are times where it might have seemed so rough, quitting was tempting. Can you share one of such experiences with us, and how you tackled the rough lows in your leadership journey?
Kagure: Hmm. I once had a manager who was not involved in my hire and from day one set out to prove I was inexperienced, especially pointing out my age in every interaction as evidence that there is no way I have the experience to lead my team.
This created doubts of me by my team. I knew that only my actions would prove otherwise. I worked so hard in the first three months and would put extra effort in what I did. I also sought help from another of my managers on ways to manage this other manager.
Additionally I applied what I learned in terms of managing people by giving the team an opportunity to build. All this worked and I managed to win the team over and at least make the doubtful manager be more accepting.
Maria Ro: Happy that worked out! You've just spotlighted that being a leader can be tough and support systems and coping mechanisms are important to stay centered. What is your go to activity of rest, and chill? How do you de-stress?
Kagure: There are times I have felt overwhelmed with the amount of work in front of me or that a responsibility is too much for me and feel like I can’t do it. Whenever I have felt that, I take a break whether it is taking a day off, an evening or a weekend off from work. Instead of work I do things that give me joy. I will host family or friends at my house, go for coffee or take a weekend trip. Usually a long phone call with my family talking about anything and everything makes me feel grounded and at peace. I must admit I do love spas.
Maria Ro: Me too! But with Rona set up right now. Hmm. Tough. Kagure, what is one leadership mistake/pitfall you see is very common from your experience, and how can one avoid it?
Kagure: Not building a strong team I must say. You are as strong as your team, empower them and grow them and they will usually be a key factor to success.
Maria Ro: We are close to the end of this, but before we leave, what is your parting word for us? A favorite quote or something you find profound?
Kagure: Find the little trick that makes you feel confident. On a light but factual note, mine is just knowing I have lipstick on. Whenever I am having a bad day, I pull out my lipstick, wear it and I am like okay let’s do this
Maria Ro: Guys! Yes - i agree 100% with this. My battle paint is a brand by BossyBeauty. The Rouge is a fav!
Kagure: As for a quote, My favorite quote is a Swahili Proverb “ Ukiona vyaelea, jua vimeundwa” which loosely translates to that when you see something floating, just know a lot has gone into crafting it. This means that when you see something and admire it, it has taken hard work.
when you see something floating, just know a lot has gone into crafting it
Maria Ro: That is really a strong quote. Thanks for sharing that with us, and thank you for talking with us today Kagure, it was great to have you! You can connect with Kagure on on Linkedin.
Kagure: It's my pleasure.
Maria: Stay updated for the next post on June 15th at 11:00am WAT!
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See you next week, same time!
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