“CEO training for free!” That is how my mentor described the role of club president in a Rotary club. I had been selected to be the president of the Rotary Club of Nairobi-East when I was only 29 years old, and I was the youngest president ever to be elected in that club. I naturally had performance anxiety as my parents had input into me a desire for excellence, even though I went through life doubting my abilities. As club president I led the board, and the youngest board member was only 54 years old, which made me feel overwhelmed and intimidated. When I went to the President Elects Training Seminar, if found that the elected presidents of the other clubs in Kenya were mature and experienced Rotarians, and I had only been a Rotarian for less than 3 years.
My mentor, Mike Eldon, who as also my principle proposer for membership in the Rotary club, was very encouraging and I eventually became confident that I could lead this club with a pragmatic and inclusive style and have a successful year. Looking back, when I handed over the leadership to the next club president a year later, I was full of humility and pride because I had done my best and I was aware that my members were happy with the result too. The club had grown in numbers, we were involved in many local and international community projects, the members were engaged and active, and we had maintained our status as a top performing club, which has been sustained unto today.
My Rotary journey started when I was recruited into the DEPOT team building centre as a team building and leadership coach. We had just completed a training program with the Rotaract Club of Milimani (Rotaract is the younger part of the Rotary club), and we were sitting around the camp fire having a chat with the group. Being intrigued by their networking and community service, I asked to be invited to a meeting and I went to their meeting the following week, at 680 hotel, where they met on one of the weekday evenings. I walked into the room full of people, most of whom I had never met before, and I was asked to introduce myself, before the gathering. I had quite a bit of fun and I enjoyed the company of the club members and I was very interested in joining a Rotaract club. At the end of the meeting, however, one of the members said to me that she thought I looked more like a Rotarian than a Rotaractor and it then crossed my mind that I could join Rotary instead.
I went to my mentor, Mike Eldon, who is a prominent Rotarian and business man, and who had invited me on occasion to join him at his Rotary club’s lunch meeting. His club was the oldest club in East and Central Africa having been formed in 1930, and I have to say most of the members I met at those lunches looked like they were founder members of the club! It really appeared to me that the membership qualifications included having grey hair or a bald patch, and being of very mature age. Knowing that I would be overawed by this crowd, Mike proceeded to introduce me to the Rotary Club of Nairobi-East, who even though they were not necessarily young, were young at heart and had a good set of community service projects and activities that would appeal to me. I walked into a room full of people I have never met before, I was introduced before the gathering, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As club president I interacted with most inspiring people in this world. Father Daniel, for example, left his home in Italy to come and live in Korogosho, one of the the slums in Kenya, to bring education and exposure to the needy children, and the results were phenomenal. I learned that it is possible to have a passion for humanity and follow that through with hard work, grit and sacrifice. I will never forget him and I pray that the Lord will inspire me and other as He inspired Father Daniel. I also learned that a sound administrative process was critical to back up creative and motivational leadership and that the quality of the conversation and communication that you have with others will affect the quality of the work that you do together.
These lessons have been instrumental in my career and growth as an individual, and it really was CEO training for free! David Wilson, who seconded my proposal for membership into the Rotary club, played a practical joke on me. He told me that a requirement for membership was that if I was asked to do a task on behalf of the club I couldn’t refuse to do it; I had to accept the task. I therefore went through a large part of my Rotary life saying yes to requests for my assistance and time, and I can only see the upside to that behaviour; I have grown in knowledge, character, will and ability, and for that I have been given great responsibility over time, leadership roles of which I am honoured and humbled to serve in.
When I was asked to serve as the Rotary Public Image Coordinator for Africa by the then Rotary International President Ray Klinginsmith, I traveled across the world to meet with people I have never met before in a very unfamiliar environment. Meeting new people in new places has become a running theme in my life mainly due to Rotary, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I met a future boss while I was president of my Rotary club, when he came as a speaker to talk about his company. Months later he called me up and offered me a job, which I stayed in for 9 years.
When I was asked by RI President Ron Burton to represent him at a district conference in Nigeria, I travelled to West Africa to participate in a conference with more than 1,000 people whom I have now formed very strong bonds with. These are just a few examples of interactions I have had that have been beneficial in shaping my character, and giving me a firm belief that there really is good in this world and that I can influence outcomes and create a better future through hard work, dedication and belief.
My first trip to Nigeria was at the request of then District Governor (DG) of District 9140 in Nigeria, Yinka Babalola. Yinka was the youngest ever DG of the district and he came to lead the district amid doubts and opposition from an older set of Rotary leaders and others. At the end of his tenure he was awarded as the second highest performing DG globally, and the only one from Africa, and he was honoured by the Rotary International President Sakuji Tanaka at the 2012 international convention in Thailand. Yinka taught us that you can stand before the greatest odds against you, and through your God given talents, peserverance, teamwork and focus, you can throw your lot in with the greatest, beat the odds, succeed grandly and inspire a generation of young leaders.
Over the years I have developed a four part philosophy which guide my thoughts, actions and character.Â Everything I do must have a vision, because it provides a framework for short and long term planning, determining the day to day activities, and without vision we are like rudderless boats floating in the sea. Thereafter I look for progress, the measurement of what we are doing and ensuring that we are moving towards our overall goal, daily, monthly, yearly; if we are not moving towards our goal, we may want to change our actions, reset our expectations, or abandon that goal altogether.
Thirdly I like to learn something from every activity because I believe that there is something new to learn in every activity, and if there isn’t anything to learn then perhaps it is not worth our time. It is also clear to me that the major lessons in life are learned during the most difficult and uncomfortable experiences. Finally whatever I embark on has to be fun! Without enthusiasm, activities becomes drudgery and because of that they become unsustainable. We need to find the fun, enjoyment and passion in the important aspects of our lives because this is what drives us.
I am in Rotary because I find a clear vision, we are making great progress and achieving big goals, I am learning something new at least every week and I have become a better person because of it, and we are having a good time doing good things. I feel very blessed to be part of Rotary and I am proud of the work we have been able to do to serve our community, and should I be called to do more, I will say what I have always said… Yes!