Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Mwende Ngao. Mwende Ngao is a storyteller telling stories through various mediums. She’s a Producer/Director at Matotoya Films where she oversees various commercial projects. She also runs mwendengao.com, a lifestyle blog. She’s been running the blog since 2012, although she only began to take it seriously as a professional pursuit in 2014. She’s also the founder of KikeTele, a social enterprise that seeks to create a women-centred community to foster change through honest and empowering conversations.
She’s been published in two anthologies: ‘The Power of Words’, a poetry anthology and ‘Fifth Draft’, a poetry and short story anthology. For her writing in Film, she’s written scripts for TV shows such as ‘Sumu La Penzi’, ‘Jane and Abel’, as well as worked in Production in films like ‘Something Necessary’, ‘Veve’ and ‘Tusker Project Fame. She also boasts a Best Audience Award among three others for her short film, ‘Dead Wrong’ at the inaugural 48-hour film challenge.
Mwende Ngao is passionate about online content creation, art and culture and is a proponent of collaboration and experimentation.
Describe your typical day?
This is a hard one because I don’t have a typical day per se. I am thankful to own my time but I wear so many different hats that it’s difficult to have a routine. I try to be up at the same time every day though, usually at 7 am, except when I have an early morning meeting or an event to attend. I spend most days writing posts for my blog, attending events, meeting clients and at video shoots.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was 7, I wanted to be a writer or an actress/musician but this was put on the back banner as I gravitated towards law through primary and high school. It was expected that I would be a lawyer as I was smart, talkative and enjoyed arguments and reading. However, after high school, I rediscovered my love for writing and ended up pursuing journalism and film. Looks like that 7-year-old knew what she wanted after all.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I would seek out a mentor from the word go. I have come to appreciate the importance of having one. I think I would also be less anxious and allow myself the space to experiment and fail. I was so careful when I started because I was afraid of failing but I now realize that the faster you fail, the more you learn and that it’s okay to start before you are 100% sure about something as the actual learning happens while you’re doing it.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Creativity – You’ve got to be able to come up with a ton of ideas every day. The ideas also must be targeted to a specific project and easy to implement, which is a skill that comes with practice – it can be frustrating coming up with great ideas when you have a limited time frame to get everything done.
Attention to detail – Whether it’s writing or producing, the overall quality is determined by the little details and the ability to follow briefs. I watch hours of video edits in a week and I must note any issues as well as track any changes especially if they’ve been requested by a client.
Great planning skills – With teams and research needed for projects, great planning is a must. It’s also important because I have so much going on at a time. I have a diary and use planning apps like Evernote to keep track of everything I need to get done.
I would add a dose of patience and flexibility to the list as well as most of the time things tend to shift due to things that are out of your control like a technical hitch that forces a reshoot among others.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi is a great city. There is so much talent here and the opportunities are immense. The obstacles are more to do with policies in place especially with regards to film and online content. The environment could be more enabling generally in the creative sector.
What motivates you?
I want to leave a legacy behind. There’s so much work to do in creating a vibrant Kenyan creative industry and I want to do my part.
How do you define success?
Success for me is knowing that I did the best I could with what I had. Sure, I want to make enough money to be comfortable but I also want to leave a legacy behind.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
I don’t have just one. I am inspired by different women who’ve gone against the grain including my mother, Warsan Shire and Wangari Maathai. I am lucky to be surrounded by amazing women who have taught me to fiercely love myself, to speak my mind, to go after what I want and to be unapologetic about it.
What is your favourite aspect of your job?
On the day to day, nothing beats seeing something that started off as an idea in my head see the light of day.
What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Belief in yourself – It sounds cliché but you’re not going to get very far without this especially in a creative field. I cannot count the number of people that have told me to quit and look for a ‘real’ job. Things get tough and sometimes I question why I even bother, but then I pull myself together and keep at it.
Goal-oriented focus – Have measurable goals. I tend to have one main goal every month and not more than ten in a year. This makes it easier to have tangible achievements as it can be difficult to cover ground when you have a million things you’re trying to achieve.
Ability to learn and adapt – Things are ever-shifting in the world and it’s important to stay current before you become irrelevant. I read a lot and interact with a diverse group of creatives and entrepreneurs and try new things to figure out what works for me.
Flexibility and teamwork – I have had to learn to be flexible the hard way as I am a perfectionist. When you’re working with people, you should have some leeway for changes and if you learn to handle this well, you can spin those into something positive that makes a project work even better.
Though there’s probably quite a bit of luck in there as well.
What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Experiment a lot and create and put your work out there. Creatives tend to take criticism of their work personally so start to distance yourself to have a healthy relationship with the work.
Collaborate a lot and apply for as many learning opportunities as you can such as workshops, fellowships and seminars.
What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
There have been a few. Winning four awards including Best Audience Film Award at the inaugural 48-hour film challenge, being published in an anthology, ‘Fifth Draft’ and having my work discussed in a literature class at Daystar University among others. I am also happy that my social enterprise, KikeTele, is taking off. I think the biggest one though is the fact that I can earn from film, creative writing and blogging. It’s so satisfying to know I can own my time and still pay my bills.
What makes you happy?
Doing a good job, working on projects I enjoy, good food, music, watching films, reading and sleeping. My family and friends also make me very happy. I am fortunate to have some pretty awesome people in my life.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I socialize quite a bit, cook, read and watch films. I travel but not as much as I’d want but hopefully, that’ll change in the coming years.
Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
Career-wise, having scaled both my companies and working on projects that are borderless – collaborating with other artistes and organizations around the world. I would also love to go back to school and get my Masters in Policy and Governance and perhaps continue to a PhD.
If you would like to interact with Mwende Ngao you can find her on Twitter at @mwendesusu.