Three distinguished Kenyan women picked for top honours at Fortune’s most powerful women’s summit

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Three distinguished Kenyan women picked for top honours at Fortune’s most powerful women’s summit

Three distinguished Kenyan women picked for top honours at Fortune’s most powerful women’s summitCatherine Nyambala can barely contain her excitement as she prepares to travel to the US to receive the Fortune Goldman Sachs Global women leaders’ award. She is one of three distinguished ladies worldwide, who have been picked for top honours at Fortune’s most powerful women’s summit — an invite-only event that hosts big names in the corporate and entrepreneurship world.

The forum, through the awards, seeks to empower 10,000 women to take up leadership positions in their communities.

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“We are going to share the award but each one of us has to submit a proposal,” says Catherine, 39.

Each award winner will receive $50,000 to finance the proposals that are picked on the basis of their potential benefit to women.

Catherine booked herself the big ticket through her business, STEMAfrica – a science, engineering and mathematics project that seeks to grow the number of students pursuing careers in sciences.

Catherine, who has appeared more than once on the Business Daily’s annual list of Kenya’s women to watch (The Top 40 Under 40), is among the few women professionals who have been mentored by high-flying business executives that are currently running some of the world’s top corporations.

The list of Kenya’s high profile mentees are Eva Muraya, the founder and managing director of Brand Strategy and Design, and Phyllis Mwangi of Edge Consult.

Innovation

Catherine’s excitement with career mentorship programmes touched a new peak last month when her mentor, Merissa Mayer, was appointed the chief executive of technology giant Yahoo!

Merissa, then vice president at Google, hosted Catherine in her Silicon Valley residence for a one month mentorship programme in 2010.

Catherine had landed in the world’s centre of technological innovation on the advice of a woman she met in Nairobi during one of the mentorship sessions that the US State Department had hosted in Kenya.

“She advised me to go for the Fortune Goldman Sachs Global women’s programme and I immediately sent an application,” says Catherine. “I could not believe it when the two line mail came in, saying I had been matched with Marissa Mayer.”

For the entire month Marissa not only lived with Catherine but also worked with her daily – showing her how to tap her full potential in the arena of work and entrepreneurship.

When it was all done Catherine came back to Nairobi and registered STEMAfrica as an NGO. She has since used the organisation to host monthly mentorship programmes for women students aimed at helping them make informed career choices in science, mathematics and engineering.

Early this year, two years after the mentorship programme, Catherine submitted a proposal on what she has achieved since her stay in Silicon Valley and the judges appear to have been impressed – picking her as one of the women to be honoured with the prestigious award next month.

“I am pretty excited about it. Going to the Fortune most powerful woman conference is a big deal and I look forward to reconnecting with my now powerful mentor, Merissa.”

Eva and Phyllis, who have won the prestigious award and have been mentored by Fortune 500 women leaders, speak of the experience with nostalgia. The duo was in the inaugural 2006 programme and also shared the monetary reward.

Eva’s one month mentorship was in New York with Ann Moore, the chairman of Time Warner Inc.

“It was actually a Cinderella experience that took me to glamorous parties,” says Eva with a wide grin on her face.

“Ann was more than a mentor. She actually became a friend with a commitment to ensuring that I succeeded in life by virtue of my interaction with her,” she said in her Nairobi office.

“My learning was that although we operate in very different business environments from the reality of New York, there are some intrinsic values that you take away from it,” said Eva.

“For example, one does not need to be different because of the accolades he or she has collected through their career.”

Eva says Ann Moore ably demonstrated to her that one can be an extremely successful professional woman, a wife and a mother and succeed at it.

“I saw that she would never allow her family to be compromised by her job…to see a leader like Ann Moore carry that value was very refreshing,” she says.

The lessons Eva learned were evident at the start of our interview on a Monday morning when she suddenly burst into a moment of disquiet.

“Oh no! I promised to call my daughter. Poor child she must have waited.” She quickly picked her phone called her 19 year-old daughter, gave a few instructions before settling down to share her mentorship experience.

Kathleen Vaughan, the Executive Vice-president of Wells Fargo Bank, is the lady in whose hands Phyllis fell when her turn for mentorship came.

“We spent one week in Washington DC meeting women in Public office, three weeks at her work station and two extra weeks at a customer service workshop for Wells Fargo’s top management team of 250,”says Phyllis.

Values

For the five weeks the Kenyan mentee says she got an opportunity to stay with Kathleen, eat at the same table and sleep under one roof giving all the time she needed to observe and internalise the values of Fortune 500 corporate leaders.

The last born in a family of four, Phyllis says she was not always motivated and did not feel obliged to make an impact in life.

“It was like life would forgive me if I did nothing great.” This is not the case today, as the founder of Edge Consult is currently in a position to influence her surroundings.

Phyllis founded Edge Consult upon her return from the US and has used the organisation to work with companies, women and youth to make a difference in many spheres of life.

Through Edge Consult, Phyllis acquired a training franchise from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) known as Business Edge (B.E).

“We have developed a programme that prepare SMEs to create systems, processes and structures that are aligned with the opportunities that are bound to emerge during the execution of Vision 2030.”

These high profile mentorships have not only benefitted the careers of these women but has refined their focus to sharing their experiences with others.

From Catherine’s mentorship programme at STEMAfrica, Phyllis’ work with women in Nairobi’s Kawangware and Dagoretti areas and Eva’s work with USIU students, Zawadi Africa Education Program and the Greenhorn Mentorship Project of University of Nairobi School of Business, the benefits of the one month programme are spreading far and wide.

Phyllis says her dream is to have more women attend similar programmes to help speed up the rate at which the positive influence is reaching Kenyan women.

“I am sure that if we have more women attending the program, Kenya will definitely feel the impact nationally. One more woman attending means a better Kenya so it gives me great pleasure to support them.”

Business Daily Africa

 

Three distinguished Kenyan women picked for top honours at Fortune’s most powerful women’s summit

 

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