RENEWABLE ENERGY ENGINEER & PROGRAMME DEVELOPMENT MANAGER | HIVOS EAST AFRICA
BOARD MEMBER | KENYA GREEN BUILDING SOCIETY
Wangari Muchiri holds a Bachelor’s in Renewable Energy Engineering from the University of New South Wales in Sydney and a Master’s in Energy Planning and Policy from the University of Technology Sydney. Currently, as programme development manager at Hivos East Africa, Wangari focuses on renewable energy innovation; while at the Kenya Green Building Society, she is a board member and heads up the technical committee.
In 2019, she was named an Obama Leader for Africa and recognised at Africa Science Week for her role in breaking barriers for women in STEM.
WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU THE MOST IN LIFE?
My mother has been the greatest inspiration in my life. She is bold, fearless and a go-getter, all while balancing family and work life.
WHAT’S THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ THIS YEAR AND WHAT WAS YOUR KEY TAKEAWAY?
Becoming by Michelle Obama. This book taught me a valuable lesson about how you can be taken out of your comfort zone and still be able to thrive in unfamiliar territory. In the book, Michelle describes how she was not keen to be involved in politics; however, the success of her husband, and then president, Barrack Obama, in his political career meant she was thrust into the limelight. Nonetheless, she was able to take on her role and make the best of it while inspiring many locally and globally. Her journey as the first lady of the United States (FLOTUS) showed her resilience and adaptability.
WHEN MEETING OTHER LEADERS WHAT DO YOU ASK THEM?
When meeting other leaders, I am curious to learn more about their leadership journey and what inspires them most. I have found that leaders often have a key turning point that inspires them to passionately chase their dreams and fight for their cause. This also helps me understand their key drivers and motivation, which inspires my leadership journey.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE AND WHAT LESSON LEARNED DO YOU CONTINUE TO PRACTISE TODAY?
My first key leadership experience was when I founded the African Students Association at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. It was an interesting journey as there was no organisation of this type when I joined the University in 2009. My passion to share our African culture with fellow students was my driving force in leading this organisation. I learnt a few key lessons on this journey:
Be fearless: Given that this was a new journey for me, I remember having bold ideas to run the association with minimal funding. Starting with the little we had we were able to grow the membership of the organisation and eventually win the award for the best club at the university in 2011.
Team work is key: The African Students Association was largely successful due to the team of passionate students who endeavoured to deliver their best. Having this team dynamic and shared work ethic, we were able to deliver great events and inspire others. This is a lesson that I have carried with me up until today.
IS A LEADER BORN OR MADE?
I think leaders are made as a result of their circumstances. There are a few factors that make a successful leader:
Passion: It is important for a leader to have a strong passion for whichever cause they champion. This passion allows them to inspire others.
Integrity: Integrity is a key quality of a successful leader. It allows others to trust the leader which in turn ensures that a leader is effective in achieving their goals.
Resilience: Resilience is important to ensure a successful leader does not fail or give up before they have achieved their goals. Sometimes, leaders face the toughest challenges which can derail or distract them from their journey; however, a resilient leader will forge on to ensure they are not left behind.
WHAT INDUSTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE POWER AND ENERGY SECTOR ARE YOU LOOKING AT FOR INSPIRATION?
Green building concepts have inspired my thinking in many ways, particularly in local production and manufacturing. For many years our construction methods have evolved to more “modern” ways, using flashy glass facades and unsustainable materials. Green buildings have demonstrated that sourcing locally produced building materials and architectural designs is more sustainable in the long run. For example, passive design strategies, which are usually done at no extra cost to the building, can create major savings in the operational cost of the building. This principle of local ownership and sourcing is one that inspires me. Sometimes the best solution is a locally available solution and so we need to look within to solve key challenges.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?
The biggest risk I have taken was leaving a role in Sydney Australia, a position that I was excelling in, to come back to Kenya in a new role that required a lot of learning. The steep learning curve allowed me to grow in this field and expand my networks. I was required to conduct research in new markets in countries where I did not speak the local language, which was quite challenging.
IF YOU COULD WISH AWAY A CHALLENGE TO YOUR BUSINESS OR THE INDUSTRY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
A key challenge in the energy industry is the lack of gender equality within the sector. According to a report by IRENA, women make up only 33% of the workforce globally in renewable energy with a smaller percentage taking up technical roles. If I could wish away this challenge to ensure the industry was more equitable and balanced, I certainly would take the opportunity.
WHAT TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES DO YOU USE TO KEEP A TEAM MOTIVATED?
I regularly provide recognition to each team member who performs well. By ensuring that each member of the team is recognised for their contribution, I can contribute towards boosting team morale as well as create healthy competition amongst the team.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE YOUR AND YOUR TEAM’S PERFORMANCE?
I measure my team’s performance in different ways. Firstly, the team has annual KPIs that are usually set at the beginning of the year and reviewed twice: in the middle of the year and at the end of the year. These KPIs are linked to the wider company goals in order to ensure we all work to a common goal. During the course of the year, I have regular catchups with various team members to ensure we are aligned.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH UNCERTAINTY AS A LEADER IN A TIME WHERE LEADERSHIP IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER?
It is important that leaders are equipped with the correct facts to make optimum decisions. In order to deal with uncertainty in anything I undertake, I ensure that I look up key information on the topic at hand to make an informed decision.
WHAT ROLE DO YOU SEE YOUR TEAM PLAYING IN THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY OF THE 2020 GLOBAL PANDEMIC?
Our team will provide sustainable energy in order to “build back better”. Energy is an enabler for all industries, including healthcare and manufacturing, which means that we need to look seriously at ensuring it is sustainable in order to have a green economic recovery.
HOW IMPORTANT IS SCENARIO PLANNING WHEN IMPLEMENTING ANNUAL STRATEGIES?
Scenario planning is critical when it comes to annual strategies as it helps create long-term flexible plans.
WHEN WE TALK ABOUT DIGITALISATION, THE COMPLEXITIES AND INTRICACIES, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS AROUND THIS AND HOW IT WILL CHANGE THE SHAPE OF THE POWER AND ENERGY SECTOR AFRICA?
Digitisation is key in disrupting the power and energy sector in Africa and making it more accessible to everyone. New technologies such as blockchain and smart metering will democratise the energy sector as it will make energy easier to access, measure and distribute. Digitisation will also be key in disruption of the legacy systems and reduce large utility costs.
WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR LEGACY TO BE?
My dream is to leave a legacy of innovation within the African energy industry. I would like to make the idea of energy access a reality in communities that would otherwise not have energy, through smart, innovative and robust technologies that are easy to use and implement. I am particularly keen on being an example to young women across the continent; stressing that women are equally important in the energy revolution, changing the energy sector across the continent and building sustainable energy systems that will benefit Africans for years to come.