Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Ciku Mbugua. Ciku Mbugua believes in challenging the status quo and more often than not finds herself drawn to paths less travelled. She is passionate about changing behaviours that have held communities in Kenya in cycles of poverty for generations. She is currently an Acumen East Africa Regional Fellow, an opportunity that has introduced her to a cohort of like-minded people who are audacious enough to believe they can change the world!
Ciku’s passion for community development saw her leave a career in Marketing. She is the Education Lead for the Path to Womanhood Foundation. The Foundation works with young girls from the Maasai community in Kenya who have been rescued from early marriages or are at risk of being married off before they are even 12 years old. Path to Womanhood and its partners are privileged to mentor and provide access to education with the intent is that these young change agents will not only influence their families and communities but serve as the proof that will help break the cycle of cultural practices that have kept these communities bound in poverty for generations.
- Describe your typical day.
I’m at a place in my life where no day is typical. Some days I’m up and out really early, on other days I have the luxury of sleeping in. Being a consultant gives me the flexibility to do all sorts of things; spend time thinking through projects I’m involved in, meet people, help with the family business, and read…the one constant is that my day begins with meditation and conversations with God that go on through the day.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be many things! At some point I wanted to lawyer, I think from a tender age I always enjoyed pushing against the status quo and was constantly arguing and trying to understand why things had to be a certain way. Then because of reading so much, thanks to my parents, I began to fantasize about being a writer. Let’s just say, that writing is still something I think about.
- If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Actually…I have had the privilege of starting over. I began my career in marketing and after working for 6 years, I decided I needed to find another place, my place. What did I do differently? I stopped succumbing to fear and took a leap of faith.
A conversation I had with a little girl (7 years or so) in 2008 is what escalated a feeling I had been having…just feeling dissatisfied with where I was and I couldn’t explain why. Anyway, as we were talking I realised how her whole worldview was limited by where she was. It’s a long conversation but basically, it triggered me to think of how fortunate I was and how I needed to begin to live beyond myself. I wanted to give her and other girls like her opportunities that seemed out of their reach…that’s what began my journey.
- What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
I work with people, so for me, love is critical. Is it considered a skill? It’s amazing what you can achieve when you love what you do and love those you work with and for. Love enables you to then have compassion and empathy to understand where every person is at/what every situation needs.
Add to that great communication and critical thinking skills.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I love working and living in Nairobi, being part of a diverse mix of cultures. Nairobi offers opportunities; to access resources, meet and learn from people, to try new things. With regard to what I do, I can now see a willingness for people to come together and begin to think through how to solve societal issues that may not have a direct impact on them per se. We are now beginning to get concerned about the plight of communities and children in different parts of the country that are vulnerable and disadvantaged in different ways. People are even willing to dip into their pockets to help out strangers as well as stand to advocate for change in different sectors and to hold our leaders to account.
Being a part of Acumen has put me in touch with people who think like me. It’s been a lonely journey and I’ve made decisions that few understand just because something in me believes that change is possible. Being with people who share my vision has been a great source of strength. The program itself has taught me so much. How to solve adaptive challenges and think through problems and issues I encounter in my work as I distinguish which ones require adaptive solutions and which ones are technical.
- What motivates you?
An understanding that I was created for a purpose and that in fact my whole life is planned out by God. Understanding that has enabled me to approach life with optimism regardless of the situations I see around me. I see the need, but I also see the possibilities. I see many people devoting themselves to making a difference and having a real impact. That motivates me.
- How do you define success?
My definition of success has changed over the years! When I was younger I thought success was working for the biggest blue chip company, having lots of money and a picture-perfect family (smiles) but now I define success as accomplishing God’s plan for my life with the time He has given me. That has meant really thinking about what I do and why I do it because even if I have everything but I am not in the place where my life makes the most impact I am not successful.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
I have had the privilege of being surrounded by amazing people but I would say my greatest inspiration has been my mum. She is a strong and resilient woman who always sees the best in people. She has this amazing way of putting people’s needs before hers and giving of herself that continues to both inspire and humble me.
- What is your favourite aspect of your job?
I would say interacting with people and building relationships is something that I really enjoy. I thrive around people.
- What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
I think it is vital to understand yourself even before you begin to pursue success. Without self-awareness and understanding more often then not you will end up pursuing all the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Only after understanding yourself can you then know where you fit.
Add to that a resilient spirit and determination. Success will follow.
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Begin with empathy and compassion. The technicalities are not as important as the ability to really identify with people and see where they are.
Listening is critical, lest you come up with solutions that don’t fit the problem you are seeking to address.
Surround yourself with like-minded people. Pooling together creates a bigger impact and if indeed the goal is to help people then the more help you can get, the better.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
Seeing hope rise in people who had long given up on having a better life; seeing young girls, for instance, released from the burden of early childhood marriage to be able to see a world beyond where they are and begin to dream again.
- What makes you happy?
Having a relationship with God and knowing that I am where I am meant to be, it helps me enjoy the process.
Good food and great company.
This year, being part of the Acumen EA Fellowship is making me really happy! I love the family we are becoming, love being surrounded by like-minded people and the hope that I see rising as we interact and hold each other.
Listening to country music! Yes! and, no I’m not old. I had the privilege of seeing Don Williams in concert 2 years ago and you should have seen me singing along to all the songs!
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I like spending time with my friends and family, preferably while travelling! I love to cook and I read a lot. I also enjoy swimming. Right now I’m enjoying the interactions I have with the Acumen fellows as we go through the program and dream together.
- Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
No clue! But I am secure in my completed plan in God so I’m confident that I will still be doing what I love. Where? I don’t know but I’m excited to find out as my life unfolds one day at a time.
You can find Ciku on Twitter at @ciksmbugua.