Growing up in a big polygamous family, with my mom being the fourth wife had a big impact on how we were raised and who I became.
She was a fishmonger bringing fish from Uganda and selling it in Kenya. She would wake up at 3am to get it from across the border. She never tired out, and worked hard to get school fees. Having been married off at 16 years of age and with no education, she was still able to achieve so much.
Every time I see limitations ahead of me, I think of my mum’s and mine just pale. Despite all her challenges, she took my brothers and myself to national schools on her own. Sometimes I take a step back and remind myself of my mum’s struggle to educate us. That gives me energy to keep going. When I told her that I won the award for IT woman of the year back in 2015 the first thing she said was, “If I had gone to school, I would have won it too”. I believe that her vision and approach to life could inspire many. To make that happen me and my brother started a foundation in her name that supports kids in their studies and helps them build their own legacy.
For me, being the only girl in the family, I got a lot of protection from my brothers. I’m the shortest, I’m actually 5’11. My brothers are all giant of 6 foot and above. I remember when I was starting out, I kept saying I like everything big; big job, big house and a big man. I was the first one in my family to go to university among 16 kids and the first to study abroad. I studied computer science as one of few girls. Being a pioneer in our family gives me motivation to do more and inspire others to take their future in their own hands.
My mum taught me not to sit and wait, but to make a plan and follow through. You know, at some point early in my career I really wanted to work for Vodafone in London. I gathered my courage and e-mailed the CEO. I basically promised him to take M-Pesa wherever he wanted to take it and to my surprise I got the job. When me and my husband moved back home to Kenya, things really took off. I started running the Mobile Money team at Airtel and innovated the Airtel Money Pesa Card. A reporter once wrote ‘Now she’s at Airtel Money shaking things up and winning awards.’ I’ve always found it surreal to read that about myself, but I’ve learned to embrace it. As a woman walking into boardrooms full of men on a daily basis, you have to be strong and believe in your capabilities.
If you ask me what made the difference for me personally, I’d say it is a combination of things, but definitely educational qualifications, hard work, faith and strong mentors. I really believe in lifting others up to tap into their potential to become the best version of themselves. In that spirit I recently decided to launch my own start-up, Prosper Innovations. It’s an app-based service that connects people who seek advice to experienced professionals for mentorship. I want everyone to have access to the same valuable advice that lifted me from the sugarcane plantations of Mumias to where I stand today.”