Once in a while, I get to be on the hot seat answering questions, instead of asking them. I got the privilege of doing an interview with Sauti Blog (www.sauti.co.ke), founded by two Engineering students from the University of Nairobi.
Their mission? To inspire their fellow classmates by getting interviews with successful entrepreneurs and corporate leaders across Kenya. Well, I don’t exactly fit this bill just yet, hence my use of the word ‘privilege’ above. Here’s what I gladly shared with them.
This first appeared on Sauti blog.
NOTE: This interview was done when was I was still a founder at cv.co.ke.
How would you describe yourself?
I would say Fiona Akumu is a curious person, a self confessed info junkie, a webpreneur, an aspiring techie, a traveller, a leader, someone who is proud to be African. That’s me in a nutshell.
Tell us a little about how you grew up and the schools you went to?
I grew up in Nairobi; All over Nairobi actually: But mainly eastlands.
Family of 6, I am the fifth born, I had half-sisters, half-brothers, lots of cousins, aunts and uncles. There were a lot of people around me as I grew up. I loved it.
I had lots of freedom to do to what I could, thanks to my mother.
I started with Marion Preparatory school, I then went to Moi Educational Center. High school, I was in Precious Blood…yes Riruta- not any other! (Pointing her finger)
The initial idea was to study actuarial science in University, but I realized I am more of a words person than anything else so I chose to go with Communication and Philosophy, Double Major at the University of Nairobi.
You were deeply involved in AIESEC, so what is AIESEC and how did you get into it?
That’s a huge question; I mean, most people call it ISAAC or ISEC and hardy understand it. AIESEC does a lot. It is an organization that gives comprehensive leadership experiences to young people in universities across the world.
At a young age, they get to a lot of responsibility in their hands: they get to organize stakeholder events, large conferences, train and/or mentor other members, interact with a large virtual network of like-minded people across the world and best of all….have a chance to go on a cultural or professional exchange program. There is a lot that that an AIESECer learns way before they need to at their age. This makes them stand out in the job market, especially in Kenya.
I got into AIESEC, thanks to my classmates who told me about it, just as I got into University. It was amazing to find a group of ambitious young people who believed in ‘impacting the world’ as much as I did. I was hooked.
Tell us exactly what you did. What was your role in AIESEC?
When I got in, I jumped into a project on HIV/AIDS, we were working with 5 different slums in Nairobi and we took some girls through a leadership development program and trained them about sexuality and issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.
After that, I moved on to be in charge of the incoming exchange experiences done by AIESEC at the University. I was in charge of bringing in volunteer interns from other parts of the world to come and work in Kenya on various social projects. I later moved on to the national AIESEC office where I handled outgoing exchange; This meant that I was overseeing all efforts to send out Kenyan students on different AIESEC international exchanges around the world.
I went on to run for National President of AIESEC in Kenya and I was elected for two terms. With that position came the responsibility of handling corporate partners, alumni and around 400-500 members across the 11 universities at the time. It was a very interesting journey.
There must have been many challenges that you went through?
In general AIESEC was challenging because we were using a lot of resources, but there’s no salary per se. More like a stipend, if any. The ‘salary’ we got came in form of the skills we were gaining, and the contacts we were making. Balancing school and AIESEC was also quite the challenge.
Who are the people who inspire you?
First of all my mother, I know that’s cliché, but my mother is very hard working and a go-getter; she is also independent and intelligent. Her achievements are a tough act to follow hence the inspiration.
Various alumni of AIESEC, both locally and internationally, also inspire me; Many of them have successful careers and a good number have started their own companies or organizations. They made use of AIESEC connections and the skills they gained to somehow make an impact in the society. I still have a good number of them as my mentors.
What were your greatest moments in AIESEC?
Quite a number….but to choose some:
The first project I got involved in as project manager to impact young girls from the slums of Nairobi; that feeling of having somehow given them knowledge and hope to make a name for themselves, despite their circumstances.
Being voted in as President of AIESEC Kenya: Knowing that the membership had faith in my leadership and that I would have to better myself for their sake. It was both very exhilarating and daunting at the same time.
My best moment was when the AIESEC International Congress happened in Kenya: So many young people from around the world coming to Kenya and seeing AIESEC Kenya pull off the biggest AIESEC conference in 2011.
So what was next after 5 years of AIESEC?
I did what I had wanted to do for a long time: actually go on a cultural exchange program through AIESEC; and especially because I had spent five years trying to help other people experience that.
So I went to Prague, Czech Republic for one and half months. I was working on an entrepreneurship project. It was great because it sharpened my entrepreneurial skills and fueled my passion to start a business and also to help people start businesses.
When I came back to Kenya, I was privileged to work for a company that handles branding & marketing for non-profits, Goode Africa.
Then early last year (2012), I took the plunge and went to Nigeria for a year and worked with a technology company (SaaS provider). My passion for information technology had started back when I was in AIESEC. I realized it was exactly where I wanted to focus my career on.
Now, I am back in Nairobi, co-founding a web startup called cv.co.ke.
What is cv.co.ke about?
We are quite new, we are not even done with the market research yet. Though we plan to launch first quarter 2014.
Cv.co.ke is an online platform that will showcase people/cvs in order for them to be easily found by employers.
Where do you see the site in the next five years?
I am not going to divulge too much. We are hoping to be the number one place for anyone looking for great talent or any great talent looking to be found.
Do you think the youth, particularly in Kenya are prepared for leadership roles?
Yes and No.
Yes, because preparation is a matter of will; If they really want to, they can work on themselves and earn leadership roles.
No, because most youth don’t think they can. They grew up thinking this way; our educational and social systems do not seem to make us hardwired to be confident, proactive and outspoken leaders. I do not think we are adequately trained towards the path of leadership…it is more like we are trained to follow. Most of us are not pro-active in taking leadership roles, either because we don’t believe in ourselves, or we think it is someone else’s job.
That’s why AIESEC and other youth leadership organizations are so relevant in Kenya. They transform so many students who would otherwise still be shy and unsure of themselves. These people get to realize that they can make a difference in society. We need millions of such stories if our youth are to become the leaders that Kenya needs and will need in a few years.
What do you want to achieve in life?
I want to be remembered as someone who inspired people around me to reach for more; to achieve their full potential. Period. Anything I do or achieve is irrelevant if this doesn’t hold true constantly.
Take all the opportunities you can get. Don’t Flinch!
Be confident in yourself. If you are not, fake it till you make it.
Speak up, speak out and be heard. Everyone else is scared. Don’t be.
INSPIRE PEOPLE AND/OR GET INSPIRED! Nothing less.