As a result of her hard work, she was this year named one of Africa’s 20 most influential women in technology by IT News Africa, a Johannesburg-based technology news website.
After weeks of anticipation, having rescheduled our interview, I finally met her on a Wednesday afternoon at her home.
She is the kind of woman who would step out of the norm to do things her way. She is a true visionary, which is clearly exhibited as we chat.
Betty is the general manager of financial services in the business unit of Safaricom, which oversees M-PESA, the globally acclaimed mobile money transfer service.
Born and brought up in Nyeri, Betty is the middle child of her two siblings — an older brother and a younger sister.
“My siblings and I only came to live in Nairobi once I graduated from school. As a child, I loved the outdoors. We spent most of our holidays working on the farm,” she says.
“Besides the farm, I also loved to tinker, taking apart radios and other electronic devices just to see how they worked. My parents were supportive of my love for math, science and all things technical,” adds Betty.
In school, she describes herself as a go-getter, who would not be cowed because of her gender.
After returning from the UK where she had gone to pursue her MBA at the University of Leicester, Betty joined Wilken telecommunications as a senior manager.
Three years later, she joined SmithKline Beecham International where she worked for five years. She then moved to Afsat Communications Africa as the chief marketing officer charged with developing and managing the distributor network in 26 African countries.
In December 2007, her stint at Safaricom began when she was appointed head of the division charged with managing new products, including M-PESA.
“M-PESA had been launched in March 2007 and I was given the task to transform it into a fully-fledged value-added service,” she says.
In 2008, she was promoted to chief officer, new products division with the additional responsibility for Safaricom’s value added services, which championed product innovation.
In 2011, following what she terms as restructuring of the organisation, Betty was appointed general manager for financial services, a post she holds to date. She handles executive committee roles and reports to the chief executive officer.
So what challenges has she surmounted to come this far?
“I wouldn’t term them challenges as such because as a driven and committed individual, I always found a way to confront even the situations that seemed tough and difficult. To me, they were more of my peculiarity.
I have always found myself in situations or positions that are male-dominated. An engineer, I was one of two women in my class. Even in my leadership, I have found myself in similar situations hence keeping ground, staying focused and striving to become better have propelled me to these great heights,” she says.
With a demanding job that calls for a lot of her attention, Betty’s typical day starts at 5am.
“I use this time to organise my home affairs and plan for the day. I then wake my son up at 6.45am and we have breakfast together. Once I drop him to school, I head to work and carry out the day’s activities, which on some days require long working hours even into the wee hours of the morning. One does not get much sleep, especially when the systems experience challenges,” she says.
Betty says her job also involves a lot of travelling, but she strives to keep the days away from home to the minimum — a maximum of three days.
“My job is very demanding by I am lucky to have a close-knit and supportive family. My husband also travels a lot and my extended family sometimes takes care of my son,” she says.
Betty says she is proud to have overseen the M-PESA journey, which has witnessed a huge growth, including the introduction of subsequent services like M-Shwari.
“I lead a team that must continuously innovate to ensure we offer more services on M-PESA to meet our customer needs and drive the financial inclusion agenda for Kenya,” she says.
Despite these great achievements, Betty has had her fair share of both lowest and best moments.
“I lost my father and my best friend in September last year. Needless to say, the pain is still incomprehensible, but my mother has kept us together. As a family, we stick together and give each other strength. What makes it easy for us is that we are strong believers in God,” she says.
“My best moment happened on the April 30, 2008 at exactly 2pm, when I saw my son for the first time. It was a difficult pregnancy and birth and my late father even named him ‘Karega’, which means the one who refused to come out.”
Betty says she is honoured for the recognition and pleased by the great impact that M-PESA continues to have in the lives of millions of people in Kenya and beyond.
“To women who want to venture into the fields of technology and engineering, have no fear, stay focused on your dreams and they shall come to pass,” she concludes.