It is no secret that societies that aim to advance economically and achieve their future goals are making Women leadership the norm and not the exception.
Kenya has a long way to go in normalizing this but there are women leaders, pilots, industrialists, founders, that are signalling to this being temporary and short-lived. Women who refuse to be bound by defined spaces and break through to shine in their talent and skills to make a difference. In fact, the longest existing, credible Business Member Organization Kenya Association of Manufacturers is led by two phenomenal Women!
Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) Chairlady, Ms. Flora Mutahi, an iconic industrialist, is the founder and CEO of Melvin Marsh International – the first ever manufacturer of flavoured tea in Kenya. Not only does her entrepreneurship style scream bold, but it is fresh and innovative quite representative of her dynamic spirit and leadership style.
The mother of three started her career manufacturing free flowing salt. However, this did not bring the desired results. “The lift of tea monopoly was my opportunity. I immediately identified it as an excellent business opportunity. I was young and naïve and didn’t view any competition. I have the ability to turn a blind eye and focus on what I have to do,” said Ms Mutahi.
It is this attitude and her vision for an inclusive industrialized economy that makes her perfect to sit at the helm of the Association. She is passionate about driving growth through investment in SMEs as well as growing and expanding cottage industries run by women. “Women need to take risks. They need to be heard. They need to find the most important things and run with them. It is okay to fail, as women we tend to be unforgiving to ourselves. Being an entrepreneur is the school of the hardest knocks,” she adds.
Flora has managed to steer the KAM team in hosting the first ever Kenya Manufacturing Summit and Expo 2016 quite successfully. Under the theme Growth Opportunities in Kenya Manufacturing Sector’ and over 100 exhibitors and over 1000 participants, the three-day Expo and Summit promoted business partnerships between SMEs and large companies identified binding constraints impeding the sector’s growth.
The event will be an annual event to improve the global competitiveness of locally manufactured products through promotion of SME inclusivity to enhance Kenya’s industrial statistics and increase employment opportunities.
While Flora chairs the Board of KAM, the head of its secretariat, is a young, brilliant and visionary lawyer who has great experience in corporate affairs, policy advocacy, research and corporate governance. KAM Chief Executive, Ms Phyllis Wakiaga, is known for her robust and efficient knowledge in industry and the business environment.
Her expertise and leadership skills have made it possible for organisation to work closely with the government, both at the County and National Level, state agencies among other stakeholders.
She has successfully led the KAM team in advocacy on VAT refunds amongst other corporate tax obligations, the development of the County Revenue Laws in collaboration with Commission of Revenue Allocation (CRA). Under her stewardship, KAM and KMJA have developed a comprehensive Commercial Law Guide Book 2017, to inform the judicial process in addressing commercial disputes.
She also led her team in the launch of KAM’s manufacturing priority Agenda 2017 informing of the manufacturers’ priorities for the year..
“The MPA 2017 is a concise guide on the most burdensome challenges facing Industry. The priority areas will be driven under five key pillars: Policy, Legal and Regulatory Reforms, Level playing field for manufacturing in Kenya, Competitive Local Manufacturing Sector, make Kenya a manufacturing hub for Exports and Securing the future of Industry,” noted Ms. Wakiaga.
The two women have not only proven themselves in their work, but remain the cornerstone of KAM and its members. The two work hand in hand to build the Kenyan economy. “Flora is a trailblazer and a mentor to many, myself included and it is because of women like her that we can dare to break out of the spaces ‘confined for women’ and change this country for the better,” said Wakiaga
As, Kenya’s representative for the UN Global Compact, Phyllis strives to entrench the highest standards and principles in the day to day operation of the Association. She answers to Wangari Maathai’s challenge ‘What is your little thing?’ by playing her part in instituting transparency and accountability in her leadership style.
Her light is definitely shining beyond KAM as she mentors young kids in her spare time, moulding them and daring them to dream.
It is women like these that prove to girls all over the world that the old deprecating tale that women cannot work together is a fallacy; and, that no space is ever too big, too masculine, too much or too unfeminine, to be conquered by women.