Today on Man Around Nairobi we feature Alex Owiti. Alex Owiti is an Account Director at Ogilvy Public Relations. He has previously worked for Gina Din Group where he began his PR career. He is also a former journalist and he has worked for the tech magazine CIO East Africa as well as Kenya Times Newspaper. He loves chapati and chicken, and drinking some Moet Hennessy or some wine. Apart from that, he loves travelling, and reading biographies and revolutionary books.
- Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I was not born and bred in Nairobi but I have been a resident of Nairobi for more than 10 years now. Nairobi epitomizes the good life that every graduate or hustler envisages after school. As they say in Nairobi Swahili slang,”mji wa mahustler”. Nairobi is for the aggressive. People who are street-smart but also with great intellectual capacity to wave through its challenges.
I was born in Machakos town. But after the demise of my dad when I was 6 years old, we relocated to Awasi in Kisumu County. I also grow up partly in Siaya County under the hospitality of my Aunt Margaret who saw me through high school.
I was an Altar boy from class 4 to form 3, and it instilled humility in me. Serving masses with Catholic Priests and Bishop made me understand the need to love humanity and cherish human dignity. This mentorship made me who I am today because I grew up around wise people.
Growing up in the village we had some interesting escapades. We used to go fishing and hunting. We would use catapults to hunt birds as well as train our dogs to hunt wild animals such as antelopes and hares. This provided great delicacies, especially on a day when we did not want to eat vegetables.
Looking back, I miss climbing trees that had various fruits such as guavas. Many of these trees have been cut down and many species of trees have become extinct. That is why it is important to take care of our environment. I miss riding the black mamba bicycle. I used to do more than 30 kilometres of riding bikes from my home to my relatives or friends. We were fit. Also, swimming in the rivers was an adventure as we went fishing with my friends and cousins. There was no shallow or deep end as nowadays we experience it in modern swimming pools. That was fun.
When I first came to Nairobi I used to stay in Tena Estate. Getting a matatu to and from work was such a tedious task. We would queue for 2 hours at Gill House on Tom Mboya Street for us to catch up the next bus from Double M services. Then when it rained, we would be doomed because if we had used part of our fare, we would have to walk to the city stadium to catch up with the cheap matatus.
2. What do you love about Nairobi?
Nairobi is full of opportunities and it is very competitive. If you slumber, you will find yourself under the bed with nothing to write home about your achievement or success.
I like the cosmopolitan nature of Nairobi. Its richness in diversity provides a unique perception and glamour of the culture it is endowed with.
Nairobi has the best weather in Africa. They used to call it the “green city in the sun” after it lost its glory of the beautiful forest cover it used to have. However, I’m happy that the Nairobi consciousness woke up and began to restore the nature that was fast fading away because of expansion and infrastructural developments.
Nairobi gives me the right business connections and relations to enable me to do my job effectively. Nairobi is full of experts in different fields and a great pool of brilliant minds that if you tap into in the right way, you will be heading in the right direction. Not to mention, Nairobi is also the headquarters of many major corporates in Africa.
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
Nairobi needs its glory of “the green city under the sun in Africa. We need to restore the forest cover and make Nairobi green again. A lot continues to be done but I would love it if each Nairobian took the initiative of making sure wherever they live, they have planted trees. Nurturing our environment protects us from the adverse effects of global warming and harsh climatic conditions. Global warming is real and you saw that scientists noted that 2016 was the warmest in the history of humankind. This is because of retrogressive human activities that now pose a danger to even the wildlife that earns us foreign exchange.
We need to introduce a mentorship program in order to bridge the gap between academia and the industry. There is a need for those graduating from University to understand the overall objective of Public Relations. Most people still think Public relations is about events management. Public relations is a management function that involves counselling clients and ensuring their stakeholders have a better understanding of their products and services.
4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
It is challenging and you must be on top of your game. Working as a professional in Nairobi requires you to be aggressive, and street-smart as well as invest in social capital. In our trade, we are the business of enhancing relations and building brands. Therefore, having the right relationship with your clients and the media is critical.
The good thing with our work is that you get to network and build even better contacts that sometimes are necessary for career progression.
PR is a fast-growing profession and therefore it is important to grow this discipline in our various institutions in order to bridge the gap between industry and academia.
In the US, a survey was done about the most difficult jobs in the world, and Public Relations was ranked second after the military job. Public Relations is intellect intensive since it involves the development and management of content. This content requires a proper thought process and understanding of the various industry disciplines that we manage. You are therefore required to have market intelligence at all times and that requires in-depth reading and research. This work, therefore, calls for stamina to sustain the pressure that comes with it.
I would talk about one major opportunity and that is the millennials. The millennial market is growing very fast and especially on digital platforms. Any business/brand that wants to disrupt itself and remain relevant must/should take this demographic seriously.
5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
First, we are the only city in the world with a wildlife nature park that is 10 minutes away from the city.
The city has warm, welcoming people. We do not discriminate against people because of the cultural diversity that binds us together.
We have decent food to sample from. Nairobi Restaurants have excellent cuisines that meet your needs as a foreigner visiting for the first time.
You can find him on Twitter at @alexowiti or on LinkedIn at Alex Owiti.