Hey beautiful people, its female empowerment month and this time around we have a special leading lady on our hot seat! We present to you Wanjira Mathai, Director of wPOWER, here to empower us from our Westland’s office space. This month we finally got a hold of this wonderful lady, and she shared with us her journey from Kenya, to America and back home to her Kenyan roots where she nurtured her love and commitment to serve people.
Meeting Wanjira, wasn’t any less of an achievement for us, one could surely place that on their resume. After all we were set to meet one of Africa’s leading advocates for women’s leadership in clean energy entrepreneurship and in addressing climate change. She’s a success in her own right but her gene pool does not hurt – she’s the daughter and mentee of an African icon, Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, the first African woman to ever receive this, the world’s most prestigious award. Wangari Maathai no doubt put Kenya in the dictionary of distinguished nations for her revolutionary thinking around environment, democracy and peace.
It was a wonderful morning and we were all set to meet Wanjira at our office space lounge, luckily the traffic on Waiyaki way cleared up in time for us to get there. It was God’s calling, he knew today was our day to finally meet Wanjira Mathai. Asante Wanjira, for giving us the opportunity to serve you and your team at the garage, and for finding a few minutes of your precious time.
So there I was making a sprint to our campus, to get to Wanjira on time. I grabbed my laptop and surged to the lounge. Literally, it was my “Usain Bolt moment,” trying to make it to the finish line. There she was, this gorgeous African woman, basking under the warm sun and patiently waiting for me. My day was getting better, sharing a good dialogue with this inspiring woman, what could be better than that for a young working girl? Upon greeting her, we got right into the muscle of the matter, and I started drawing substance from her own journey, she said “I was born in Kenya, and after completing high school I left to attend college in the United States of America. I completed my undergraduate studies in New York, at William Smith College, where I studied biology. I heard about the field of public health and fell in love with it. I was fascinated by the idea of being an investigator looking into disease epidemics, stopping them and saving lives. After graduating from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, I immediately started working at the Carter Presidential Center, focused on disease eradication. There I learned about diseases in my part of the world that I had never encountered – draunculiasis, onchocerciasis, lymphatic filiariasis and others. While working on behavior change and epidemiology as the Sr. Program Officer, it occurred to me that we needed to communicate more effectively to convey the messages we needed to deliver. I enrolled at the Goizueta School of Business at Emory University to sharpen my marketing skills. Soon after that, I felt a pull to come back home. Everyone I told about it wondered why I was thinking of returning to Kenya. But I knew I had to come back. So I did.”
Back home, before her mother won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, Wanjira challenged herself and equipped herself with all sorts of skills, including web design. After 2 years in Kenya and just as she thought it was time for another move, her mother won the Nobel Prize, “I knew I had to stay and support her. I did and my life changed forever and for the better. I spent the subsequent 7 years working with my mother every day, traveling and meeting some of the most inspiring people in the world. My cup was overflowing! In 2011, my mother received a negative cancer diagnosis. Our worlds changed but I was deeply grateful for decision I made to come back home and spend those 7 years with her, ” Wanjira reflected.
Today, keeping her mother’s legacy alive is one of the greatest joys of Wanjira’s life. All the work she does, including as the lead advocate at wPOWER, reminds her of the great work we all have to do to bring dignity to those who struggle without basic needs. Providing strategic leadership to wPOWER and seeing the prominence and visibility of the critical link between women and eliminating energy poverty gives us all a sense of great satisfaction.
Wanjira drew her spirit to serve from her role model, her mother, who has served the human society with diligence. wPOWER, similarly is creating an ecosystem to support women’s entrepreneurship in renewable energy and in addressing climate change. The core message is that women are a strategic imperative in any initiative to address household energy needs and climate change.
Wanjira described wPOWER’s business model as one with a central focus to empower women, “We are here to focus on the issue of cleaning cooking and lighting. We want to innovate and create an ecosystem that fosters greater access to household energy technologies at cheaper prices than we see today. Today clean cookstoves cost upwards of Ksh 5,000. We want to see a market where there is a Ksh 500 clean cookstove.”
Women, particularly in rural areas, spend half their day collecting wood for cooking. Moreover the air they breathe from wood-fuels is also hazardous to their health and that of their families. Women control the energy resources in the home, while men often provide financial support. Therefore women can be potent agents of change and we have to equip them (with skills and tools) to transform their communities.
Wanjira’s commitment to the wPOWER mission and to her mother’s legacy is inspiring. But like many of us, finding the balance between work and family is her greatest challenge : “As a mother and Director of wPOWER, I am constantly juggling priorities. I’ve decided that the many other things I’d love to do in my career will have to wait. I work part-time to try and keep that balance – but it’s still hard!” Wanjira states.
wPOWER’s focus is on consolidating and building evidence that supports the strategic involvement of women in clean energy entrepreneurship, spotlighting and scaling of best practices in clean energy entrepreneurship, advocating for women’s leadership in clean energy entrepreneurship & in addressing climate change, and building a global partnership of stakeholders involved in the sector.
On a final note, Wanjira left us her best tip on empowering women: “Trust in your instincts. If you have an idea: be patient, persistent and committed”; “Believe in your ideas and commit to the process. And don’t rely, only, on what other people think you should do. Try something else. Be the best you can, and do the best you can. Nursing, cursing or rehearsing your failures is a waste of time. Keep your head up.”
Here you have it; an empowering piece to keep you all motivated and reminding us of our duty to serve, be it through business, health and technology. The overall objective of every successful business plan is great service! Nothing will give you more satisfaction and service to others. Think about it, and go out there and saidiya your mwanainchis, be it through soup kitchens or simply smiling There is no greater glory in this world than giving more than you take. Learn more here about inspirational businesses setting up at our campus to lead the world with revolutionary ideas!