Today is our Pearls And Heels Segment where we feature women and their careers. Our Pearls And Heels lady today is Ruth Makena Mugaa. Makena Mugaa is the founder of The Gigantomastia Foundation. Gigantomastia is a rare medical condition of the breast connective tissues in that the breast weight exceeds approximately 3% of the total body weight. The Foundation looks for funds for surgeries for women and girls who can’t afford to get the operation. Makena worked as a banker for 2 years and resigned to fulfil her heart’s desire which was to start a foundation and assist women suffering from Gigantomastia as she was diagnosed with the condition and got assistance. Makena felt it was high time she came out of her comfort zone to do what she was actually passionate about.
1. Describe your typical day?
My day begins early. I am normally up at about 6 am. I jog to my nearby gym and have my usual two-hour work out which is the norm four times a day. At 8 am I go back home grab a shower and plan my day’s work, respond to any urgent and important emails, and then settle down for breakfast. I keep myself busy in the Nairobi jam by catching up on the latest news on the radio and listening to the latest gossip on the many FM stations.
By around 9 a.m. I am at the office. My day in the office depends much on whether there are patients to contact, doctors to negotiate surgeries with, and networking for funds. Where there are no pressing emergencies, I focus on building the foundation by working on key strategic documents. My day in the office ends around 6 pm when I either drive home, or I go to meet potential funders and supporters of the Foundation. Once in a while, I spend my evening with my doctors trying to network with health organizations and attend health-related forums.
2. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I had always wanted to be a lawyer. I admired the lawyers’ lifestyles and thought I could make a great lawyer, winning lots of high-profile cases. I always saw myself winning a case. I had a winner mentality as a child given my aggressive nature to get things done and in the right manner.
3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I have sobered up tremendously. I have since realized that the greatest success in life is to be there for other women who need me. If I had to change my career all over again, I would just still form a foundation and be there for other less fortunate women. Many of us live our lives in a rat race; we rarely stop to think of those who aren’t too fast to catch up with the rest. A lot of them – especially women – get trampled underfoot. They too are human beings, they need a helping hand to pick up the pieces and move again.
4. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
In my kind of job, you need skills in strategic thinking and execution.
You need to be patient, tactful and a keen listener.
You need a strong will, to persist when the odds seem huge.
You need to be a skilled negotiator – always thinking of a win-win in every situation.
You need to inspire confidence; you need to have the ability to empathize and inspire a heart of giving and volunteerism in others.
Overall, you need integrity: people need to know that you will keep your word, that you will be consistent and be able to calmly and firmly explain when you can’t meet their expectations.
5. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Working in Nairobi is great, even though this comes with its own challenges. Women’s issues are slowly picking up, as opposed to a few years back when there was a lot of apathy. Many are willing to donate to a good cause. However, widespread corruption means that a lot of people are sceptical of giving freely because they don’t know if whatever they give will reach the intended beneficiaries. Integrity is important to keep a team of loyal supporters to your cause.
6. What motivates you?
What motivates me is when I achieve what I set out to do. Every time a woman goes through a successful surgery to re-size her breast, I feel so rewarded. This gives me the energy to move. I have an inner will that drives me. It keeps me going, no matter the odds.
I am also humbled when I make requests for support especially when I bring a case study to Professor Stanley Khainga who is the gentleman behind all my success. His guidance and willingness to assist in performing the surgeries on these ladies humbles me over and above all the people and organizations who go out of their way to help. It reminds me that there are people out there who still believe in and cherish humanity. Whenever people or organizations give to our cause, I am motivated to work harder, to aim higher.
7. How do you define success?
For me, success is winning with others. It is marshalling enough people to beat the odds and restore hope. When I succeed with others, I am happy. When it seems that I will bask in all the glory that feels less satisfactory to me.
8. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My father. He believes in me. He supports my cause. He has a keen interest in what I do.
I also admire Wangari Mathai. She bit every odd pushed against her: because she believed that what she was doing was right for humanity. Time eventually proved her right
9. What is your favourite aspect of your job?
Networking and mobilizing others to support. Support is never guaranteed; it takes a lot of time planning how to approach a person or organization, and how to present the request for help. It takes patience to get the support through. But when it comes, it is so reassuring.
The other aspect is the coordination of the surgeries. The details must be planned carefully. Then comes the anxiety of whether it will go well. Once it is done, I feel fresh and relieved.
10. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Focus, determination, careful planning and attention to detail in executing a plan.
11. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Success does not come easy. Be focused. Refuse to give up. Prepare yourself for sudden turns – disappointments, discouragement, long waits. Just be persistent and focused.
12. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of your career?
The number of surgeries we have managed in a such short time. The fact is that many are beginning to see Gigantomastia as a medical condition. The willingness of others to support our cause.
13. What makes you happy?
The smile on the faces of the women who go through a successful surgery.
14. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
My hobbies are reading, listening to music, socializing and more so babysitting my nephews and nieces whenever am called upon.
15. Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
Heading a successful foundation known for its reputation for helping women in need. Belonging to several networks of social philanthropists. Moving into other less well-known medical conditions and lessening the suffering of the less fortunate from these.
You can find out more about the Gigantomastia-Foundation you can go to their Facebook Page.