Two things stand out about Babara Omwayi. First is the fact that three-quarters of her team are Gen-Z. In her own words, she claims, they keep her on her toes.
“They are not only liberal, but are also about creating experiences, and leading them requires one to keep up with their energies,” Babara, the CEO of Spark Communications and patron of Spark Empower, says.
Secondly, growing up, the Lwak Girls alumni wanted to be a pathologist. But that dream never saw the light of day, and the trained journalist veered off to become one of the youngest CEOs to watch in the marketing field in East Africa.
Despite being in the market for less than 10 years, Spark Communications, an innovative marketing firm aimed at top-quality and fine marketing solutions, gave her a nod for the top job.
“I was hired as the GM for Kenya, but was able to open up the market in Uganda and Rwanda,” she said in a past interview with KTN’s Everyday Woman, adding that, she grew the workforce from three employees in Kenya to 300 in East Africa.
A few years later, Barbara joined the thin list of women in C-Suites in Kenya, starting her own company and navigating through murky waters including the Covid-19 pandemic.
A survey by IBM (NYSE: IBM) Institute for Business Value (IBV) and Chief Study indicates that in Kenya, the number of women at the C-suite level is at 11 per cent and board level at 10 per cent.
These numbers got Babara worried, particularly judging from the calibre of young women who show up for interviews at Spark Communications.
“I noticed there was a lapse. Many fresh graduates were struggling to fit into the job market. Some even had a Master’s degrees, but could not express themselves,” she says, adding that this reality birthed an idea: Spark Empower, a mentorship programme for youth.
Open to mentorship
Apart from formal mentorship sessions, the establishment organises informal gatherings, team-building exercises, and one-on-one interactions between mentees and mentors.
These activities help foster a sense of community among participants, creating a supportive environment where mentees can share, learn, and grow together.
Contrary to popular belief, Babara believes young people are open to mentorship.
“They yearn for guidance and support to navigate the complex transition from academia to the professional world yet, society often fails to recognise and celebrate their achievements,” she says.
As an employer of Gen-Zs, she advocates for mutual understanding.
Babara acknowledges the fact that the youth face significant challenges. Unemployment remains a pressing issue, leading to despair and, in some tragic cases, even suicide. The burden of academic fees and limited opportunities add to their struggles.
Moreover, mental health issues, particularly depression, are becoming increasingly common among young people. Societal and parental pressures, as well as the constant barrage of social media and peer pressure, contribute to their emotional distress.
Additionally, drug addiction is a harsh reality that many youths grapple with. To address these challenges, Babara emphasises the need for a multi-faceted approach. She believes that mentorship, while vital, is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Young people must be encouraged to focus on their goals and potential,” she says, and to succeed, “The youth must identify their aspirations, begin the journey to self-discovery, be disciplined, and work hard.”
Babara, a beneficiary of mentorship, recalls learning hard work and entrepreneurship from her late mother, who was a banker and a farmer. Born and raised in Kisumu, the ‘farm girl’ never went on holiday as they would toil and moil on the farm during holidays. Her business acumen, she says is inspired by her mother.
Other people who have walked the journey with Babara include Dr Patricia Murugami Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Breakthrough Leadership Transformation, Phil Knight of Nike through his book: Shoe Dog, Founder of PassionProfit, and Frida Owinga.
Besides the actual mentorship, she has equipped herself with skills that are necessary for women in C-Suites. These include people management skills, how to lead with impact, how to lead when serving, and how to leave a legacy. Other skills include being an intentional leader who focuses on people as well as profits.
To excel as a woman CEO, Babara took up classes in Breakthrough Mastery Circle, in order to work on her skills as a woman. She also enrolled in the Women in Leadership Course from the Strathmore Business School.
“Mentors have opened doors, created opportunities, given free advice, and corrected as well as reprimanded me,” she says. “When you walk with people, you go far. I walk with people who have gone ahead of me.”
She has benefited from numerous mentors, each contributing to her personal and professional growth. Her mentors have provided her with direction, clarity, and valuable insights, underscoring the importance of mentorship in one’s journey to success.
Her vision embodies the spirit of collective effort and mentorship, ultimately shaping the future of Kenya’s youth.