From Nairobi, Kenya
What’s on your mind right now?
At this very moment I’m thinking about how excited I am to have mastered making Pad Thai from scratch and that I get to eat the giant bowl of it sitting next to my laptop as I share my story with you.
Describe yourself in one sentence?
What a challenge! I’ll go with something like this: a relentlessly passionate, curious, optimistic, musical engineer/leader/changemaker/dreamer.
How would you describe the glass ceiling you had?
At the age of 25, I was tasked with setting up a regional office for my organization in Nairobi, Kenya that served partners across Sub-Saharan Africa. This involved not only hiring a team and establishing strategic partnerships but also addressing logistical needs like setting up financial and administrative procedures and a physical office space. Though I had experience working on development projects in different parts of the world, I had never been given such a huge responsibility before. I was consistently terrified and often questioned my capabilities and reasoning for how I was chosen. Having gotten my bachelor's degree in the predominantly male field of mechanical engineering, pushing through challenging circumstances was something I had done before. But the challenge this time was much greater than anything external; I was my own glass ceiling.
How did it affect you? How did you feel at the time?
Fear and self-doubt often left me overwhelmed and frozen. Picking up and moving to a new place where I don't know anybody was not something out of the ordinary for me, but this time around was by far the most challenging. Both professionally and personally, there seemed to be a continuous stream of challenges and learning experiences around every corner which forced me more than ever to find the brighter side of things to keep my head up.
How did you realize you had a glass ceiling?
Just a few months after becoming the Regional Director, I was asked to attend a global conference in Stockholm that brought together every big name you could think of in the Water and Sanitation Development Sector. I was so humbled to get to attend but was constantly second-guessing myself. It was only when I happened to run into a respected professional in restroom nervously going through some talking points for a session that I realized everybody is human and just doing their best.
How did you break this glass ceiling?
I stopped stopping myself! I realized that my constant inner-monologue that questioned everything I did had to be tamed, and I was the only one who could tame it. Once I came to terms with the challenge at hand, I mapped out what I did and did not know and proceeded to work through each of the areas I wasn't familiar with to feel more confident. Even though I still came across situations where I didn't know the exact solution, I allowed myself to use my best judgement and knowledge to jump in and the rest just fell into place.
How do you feel about where you are today, after breaking your glass ceiling?
I feel confident and ready to take on more challenges. One thing that's been important to recognize is that the more you learn and see in the world, the more you realize how little you actually know. I remind myself of this often so that I am constantly making the most of opportunities to learn and contribute.
What advice would you give to someone going through this glass ceiling?
It's okay if you don't have all the answers, nobody does. Making mistakes is completely fine as long as you make a point to learn something from each one. Asking questions and seeking support does not make you any less of a leader. Don't think about what's stopping you, focus instead on where you are headed and what drives you. You are exactly where you are meant to be right now.
What are your upcoming projects?
I'll be transitioning out of my current role as Regional Director in about 6 months to make room for a Kenyan professional to lead a fully local team. Preparing the office, our work and structures to be "transition-ready" is a big undertaking at the moment. Aside from that I'm co-founding a startup that's focused on making news actionable by connecting its users to on-the-ground organizations and other endeavors that I'll hopefully work on full-time next year. I'm also working with some producers on my first album as an acoustic singer-songwriter that will release in the next year.
Tell us about something, like a quote that inspires you?
These three are my favorite and are taped around my laptop and bathroom mirror:
- "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead
- "Leap and the net will appear" Zen Saying
- "Do not go where the path my lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson