Every Monday we interview a career woman in our career segment Pearls and Heels. Although most of the women are from Nairobi, we also interview women who are doing great things outside Nairobi. Our Pearls And Pearls lady is Wawira Njiru. Wawira is the Founder and Executive Director of Food for Education an organization that works with vulnerable children in Kenyan public schools to improve their lives through a feeding and mentorship program and the provision of basic amenities such as sanitary towels. Having been raised in Kenya, she moved to Australia in 2010 to study for a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition and Food Sciences. She founded Food for Education in 2012 while doing her degree to address the inequality in education in her community of Ruiru, Kenya due to inequality in food access.
You may have seen the campaign #40foraplate on Twitter. #40foraplate is a campaign aiming to feed school kids in Ruira who cannot afford regular meals with just 40 shillings. Wawira is interested in development issues, especially how access to food influences education outcomes. She has been recognized as a Spark* International Change Maker 2012, Transform Nutrition ‘Nutrition champion’ 2013 and an Ibua Africa Changemaker 2015. She has also been selected as a participant in the Leading in Public Life Programme by the University of Cape Town. She’s currently undertaking a Master’s in Public Health at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
1. Describe your typical day?
I wake up at 6 am, meditate and get ready for work. I get to the office at around 8 am. I get to work and have meetings till about midday, go to our feeding program and then go to the office for the rest of the day. I go to bed at around 10 pm. I like to read, catch up on global news before bed and always have a cup of black tea before bed.
2. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A doctor. Both my parents worked in the health sector. I am very interested in health and well-being. This is why I’m doing my Masters in Public Health because I am passionate about access to both preventive and curative care, especially for marginalized populations.
3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t. I enjoy where I am at the moment and the opportunities I have to make a difference. I started working on Food for Education when I was 20 and maybe if I was to start again, I would start earlier but definitely follow the same path I have so far.
4. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Passion – This enables me to stay focused and be able to focus on creating more impact.
Perseverance– to overcome the challenges that come with the job. My deepest desire is to create more impact and that doesn’t happen at once. You have to push through numerous barriers to do more.
The ability to delegate – This was difficult for me at the beginning because I am a bit of a perfectionist but I am learning.
5. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I currently work in Kiambu county but am looking to expand to other counties in the future. There is definitely a lot of potential to scale to other counties in Kenya and we are looking at how we can develop a model that is 100% sustainable to scale.
6. What motivates you?
Working to create more opportunities for those around me. It motivates me to invest in the kids we work with and ensure that they have better futures. It’s encouraging to see kids who wouldn’t have stayed in school because they didn’t have food have the opportunity to learn, excel in school and get into high school.
7. How do you define success?
Impacting people through what you do and their lives becoming better for it. You can only measure success by the lives you have impacted for the better.
8. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My parents. They inspire me to continue doing what I do and do everything with love. They have worked in the community for years and impacted many lives. I hope I can leave nearly as big an impact as they have in my lifetime.
9. What is your favourite aspect of your job?
Meeting to discuss strategies on how to impact young people and implementing projects that benefit people and create opportunities for them. I also love working with like-minded people on my team and watching them implement our programs and projects with so much passion.
10. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
You can’t substitute hard work with anything, you have to be smart and work hard. You also have to get people to keep you accountable.
11. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
This is a social enterprise; you must ensure you have a passion for it. Without passion, you can’t achieve much and can’t keep going when things are tough.
12. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of your career?
When a young man who was in our program come to visit and he managed to get into high school because he was able to stay in class and learn while in primary school because he wasn’t hungry. This enabled him to do well in KCPE and get into high school.
13. What makes you happy?
When I see the smiles of the kids in our program and hear about their dreams and aspirations. We work to create opportunities for them to stay in school, for them to learn so they can work and achieve their dreams.
14. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Reading inspirational poems and books, I follow global politics, I love to travel, and I also teach Sunday school.
15. Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
With a couple of kids, a family, surrounded by people I love and who love me and are happy. Food for Education has a target of feeding 1 million kids in the next 10 years and I’d like to be a part of making that happen.
If you would like to interact with Wawira you can find her on Twitter at @wawiranjiru.