It’s always great to see our African sisters take on non-traditional fields such as technology and engineering. One such woman who has literally made technology her niche is Kagure Wamunyu.
The 27 year old is the current head of logistics and operations at Uber Kenya. Kagure is changing the way women lead in the tech industry by following her own path and refusing to take no for an answer. She has carved her way into the industry meticulously with not one, not two, but three degrees under her belt.
Kagure quickly returned to her beloved home-town, Nairobi to use her knowledge and expertise in improving the transport and urban planning industries, two things she is very passionate about.
Diana Odero, our SLA contributor had a great chat with Kagure to find out what it is that keeps her motivated to do what she does and why she believes in always paying it forward.
Word on the street is that you were Uber Kenya’s first full-time employee. How did you bag that role coming straight out of uni?
I was recruited to join the organization during my last year as a postgraduate student through LinkedIn. I think what they really liked was the fact that I had picked a particular course and specialized in it throughout my academic career and work experience.
All my research projects were transportation planning based and I mostly focused on Nairobi so I knew the topic and the area very well. Reading up on Nairobi gave me great knowledge on the industry there, which I used during my interviews with them and that resulted into me getting the job.
Your road to Uber has been quite fascinating. An internship at the UN just before joining the company, a Masters degree from UC Berkeley and you also completed two degrees concurrently in college —all funded by scholarships might we add…
How did you manage to study abroad for over five years and what would you advice young girls striving for the same to do?
I was fortunate enough to go and study in the US with the help of Zawadi Africa Education Fund, a program that provides scholarships to bright young girls who show leadership potential. I discovered Zawadi Africa while in high school and I think my taking initiative to actually want to be part of the program got me the scholarship I needed to go for further studies.
Then, I was awarded a scholarship by Meredith College where I studied Mathematics and Civil Engineering. I think figuring out what it is you want to do in life, early in life, is key in helping you achieve your goals. I knew what I wanted to be and I saw that this school in particular would allow me a chance to do a dual degree so I took the opportunity.
Being in school for five years as opposed to the traditional four meant a lot of balancing and multi-tasking on my part but every minute was worth it.
As for my Masters, I applied the same method, I looked for schools that had the course I wanted, looked up scholarship opportunities within those schools and applied. I was never scared or apprehensive about either application, I just saw an opportunity and went for it.
There have been instances when there was public opposition from your taxi drivers about changes within the company such as drastic price cuts.
How did you handle this public conflict?
For me, it’s very important to believe in what I do. It’s very important to believe in the impact the work that I do has in my community, in my city and in my country. It helps that my background is in urban planning so I have a holistic view in terms of what is going on.
When you believe in what you do, most of the time you have to set the misconceptions straight. When people are talking negatively about the work that you are doing or the impact the company has, more often than not, it’s always about misinformation or miscommunication.Kagure Wamunyu: Tell things from your perspective and believe it as you say it. Click To Tweet
I handled this public conflict through telling my story, as it is very important to set the record straight, first and foremost. Tell things from your perspective and believe it as you say it. I always see opposition as an opportunity to grow, it gives me a reason to dig deeper into my work and see what the problem is and explain to them exactly what I meant by my decision.
What tips do you have for those interested in joining the technology/urban planning field?
For those interested in this field, and this is especially to the women; we always feel like technology is all about coding and programming which by the way, I can do neither. There are so many other things you can do in the world of technology and it’s just a matter of taking the leap.
Be good at what you do now, be good at what you have chosen. Be it communications, urban planning, legal studies or engineering. Should you decide you want to be part of the technology sector, know that these companies need all these different functions to work. So if you have perfected your niche, whatever field it may be in, you will be able to find opportunities in the tech world.
At the same time, find out what it is the tech companies look for, research on which direction the field is moving towards and improve and groom yourself for that role.Kagure Wamunyu: If you have perfected your niche, you will be able to find opportunities Click To Tweet
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
In May earlier this year, we announced a partnership with Sidian Bank for USD$100 million in financing for the drivers within Uber. I had been involved from the very beginning of this ground-breaking deal, from concept to crafting and execution to eventually closing said deal.
I’m very proud about it because this vehicle financing goes to the drivers. Drivers are traditionally paid about $200 per month, making it very difficult for them to access a traditional loan. With this deal, they would be able to access a loan of about $13-15,000 with zero down payment and at the market rate they wouldn’t have to pay a premium.
The impact that this is having on people’s lives…I’m very proud of that. It’s gratifying to see the drivers becoming entrepreneurs and small business owners.
You recently organized a luncheon in honour of the women drivers at Uber. Why was it important to you to celebrate them?
The field of transportation for a long time has not been a field for women. This is something that I’m very passionate about changing while I’m working in this industry. Uber does offer safe, reliable transportation so it allows the women to take on the job, when they never thought they could before because they didn’t have a guarantee of safety.
In addition, Uber provides women quite a bit of flexibility in that they can drive whenever they are free to drive instead of being restricted to a fixed schedule. The women at Uber chose to join our unconventional way of doing things because it not only provides them a second income but it allows them to still work their full-time jobs, tend to their families and work with Uber at their convenience.
Women who are looking to build themselves and are doing so by being a part of this group is something exciting to see. I would like to see this all over Kenya, so this is why I chose to celebrate them.
Lastly, what mantra do you live by?
I live by two mantras. One was beautifully said by Ory Okolloh during a speech I attended; “Doing what you love has a formula: To do what you love, you have to be excellent at what you’re doing right now”.
I really believe in that because if you do really well wherever you are right now, it opens up opportunities that you may never even have imagined.
The second is; “Be like a duck, just dive in and kick really hard to stay afloat because sinking is not an option”.Kagure Wamunyu: If you do really well wherever you are right now, it opens up opportunities Click To Tweet
You may be faced with various challenges in your life that make you think; ‘Oh gosh, what did I just get into, this is way above my depth, I don’t think I can do this…’ But you know what you should say instead —‘I’m going to try my hardest, I’ll tap into all the resources I have, use my network and figure out how to handle whatever difficult situation may have been thrown my way.’
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