Carol Kariuki, 36, is the CEO of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa). In spite of her small frame, she is steering Kepsa to make an impact in the economy and is intent on leaving a lasting legacy. She spoke to NJOKI CHEGE

It is a blessing to be where I am. All I can say is that God’s grace has been sufficient and it is the secret. 

I have no apologies for being a committed Christian and I know I’m where God would want me to be because there is a job to be done.

Carol Kariuki

I am thankful I grew up at Egerton University because it piqued my academic interest. Right from primary school, we were exposed to the science laboratories and other university facilities such as the library.

After my first degree, I worked at Barclays Bank for a short while, until I realised that banking was not for me — at least the kind of work I was doing. I wanted to be involved in economic development in a different way. I felt I would contribute to Kenya’s development better, that way.

In preparation for that stage of life, I enrolled in a leadership programme at the Nairobi Chapel, my church. This gave me the opportunity to develop my leadership and fund-raising skills. 

Two years on, I felt the urge to further my education to allow me contribute to the development of Kenya and Africa through influencing public policy and development of partnerships.

I was privileged to be awarded a full scholarship for a Masters in Public Administration and International Affairs at the Bowling Green State University in Ohio, US. Later, I was awarded another full scholarship for a PhD in Policy History, which I had to put on hold after a semester.

I stayed in the US for a year working with the Indianapolis based Sagamore Institute for Public Policy and Applied Research. I worked to foster a relationship between the Rotary Club of Indianapolis and other organisations interested in HIV and Aids in Kenya, for which I developed a link to the largest HIV and Aids programme in Sub-Saharan Africa, AMPATH, based in Eldoret.

Sagamore Institute was also interested in a partnership with the business community in Kenya and so on my return, I sought to link them to the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), then just about two years old.

During this time, an opportunity arose in the Kepsa advocacy department. From the end of 2005, I was in charge of advocacy, to ensure the business community had an enabling environment.

In 2008, I took a break to do some consultancy privately and also rest after a very fast two and a half years. I travelled a lot to different parts of the country looking at development priorities of constituencies. I also took part in organising the youth exchange programme between the Ministry of Youth Affairs and UNDP. The programme helps foster peace and understanding between different communities, especially after the post-election violence.

In 2009, I got the opportunity to go back to Kepsa to work as the Programmes Manager for eight months. I was acting CEO of Kepsa from August 2009 when the then CEO left. I was confirmed last year in January, becoming a CEO at 35.

Being a CEO has been a learning and eye-opening experience for me. I have realised that it is not so much who you are or what you want, but what you leave behind — a lasting legacy.

In my capacity, I am tasked with the duty of pursuing an enabling environment for the private sector through creating partnerships and programmes with the Government, development partners and other business organisations regionally and internationally.

Every day, I find myself mingling with decision-makers at different levels of government and other key stakeholders. This is in an effort to negotiate and deliberate on issues affecting the operating environment for the private sector and how to grow it to contribute more in wealth and job creation.

Well, with my small frame and young age, I get the curious looks — some might think I am too young or even too small for the task.

I can’t quite say I get bullied around because the people I work with respect me and what I bring to the table. I watch with amusement the reaction that people have the first time they step into my office only to see a small -framed woman, contrary to their expectations.  For instance, there was this time when I walked into a meeting with some reputable international organisation and the chairman looked at me and said, “We are still waiting for Carole,” and I said “I am Carole”... You could see the shock on their faces.

I think the secret lies in how you present yourself as an individual, more so as a woman. If you feel inferior, it will definitely show and people will treat you likewise.

I am thankful that I have a board that supports me and believes in my ability to get the job done. I am also privileged to work with a great team at Kepsa — they know what is expected of them and they do exactly that.

Kepsa has come a long way and we still have a long journey ahead. When you look at Kenya’s GDP, 70 per cent is contributed by the private sector… that’s how important we are to Kenya.

The private sector also significantly contributes to the wealth and job creation, since the government only employs a small fraction of the population. That is why my utmost dream for Kepsa would be to ensure that we create as much impact as is necessary to ensure we have a friendly business environment. I also want to see Kenya become the most competitive economy in Africa and beyond. My hope is that it remains stable and sustains itself and consequently the entire private sector.

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economy Kenya Private Sector Alliance Kepsa