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Women as game changers

Game Changers are visionary persons with extraordinary zeal for what they believe in. They take risks, question status quo and remain focused in their quest to achieve their vision.


A first glance at Prof. Margaret Kobia, Cabinet Secretary (CS), Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs, won’t convince you that she is high up in the echelons of the country’s leadership. She is not walking with a battery of bodyguards and a handful of other people to announce her presence. She is polite, calm and walks in confidence.

When she is ushered into the hall, where the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) 6th Annual Women in Leadership conference is taking place, she walks in with an ear-to-ear smile and takes her seat next to the podium. She is the guest speaker of the day and her brief is simple; give a speech and officially open the conference.

The room is packed with ladies from various organisations both private and public sector. They are eager to be challenged, inspired and motivated. “I commend KIM and all of you here today for being part of Kenya’s national quest for women empowerment. This conference is an impactful platform for sharing knowledge and experiences regarding leadership. It is in such platforms that we learn best practices from those who have succeeded before us,” says Prof. Kobia when she takes the podium to speak.

Focused and risk takers

This year’s conference is dedicated to the topic ‘Women as Game Changers’ and the CS says it is a timely topic, coming at a time when the world is in dire need of transformative leadership. “But who is a game changer?” she asks and goes on to answer. “Game Changers are visionary persons with extraordinary zeal for what they believe in. They take risks, question status quo and remain focused in their quest to achieve their vision. They pursue courses that have extraordinary impact on society, and stand up for their course no matter the cost.”

Prof. Kobia observes that governments and institutions across the world are taking decisive steps to increase the participation of women in leadership. She notes that all the international development frameworks have pronounced themselves strongly on the need for women’s participation.  “The SDGs have one goal, SDG-5, that is dedicated to gender equality, while all the other 17 SDGs have a component on women empowerment. The UN has numerous instruments on gender equality and women empowerment,” she says.

Nationally, Kenya’s Constitution emphasises the place of women in decision-making as it advocates for equal rights to all without discrimination. The two-third-gender provision has been viewed as a radical move towards equality and a real game changer in women empowerment.

Ordinary women achievers

The CS says the story of women as game changers is not new.  The world has many stories of ordinary women who have transformed their families and their communities through tenacity, resilience, hard work and sacrifice. She mentions Mother Teresa, Indra Gadhi of India, Benazil Bhutto of Pakistan, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain, Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State in the US to name but a few.

“Nationally, we have had our own share of game changers. From women who participated in the struggle for independence like Muthoni wa Kirima the Mau Mau Field Marshal and Wambui Otieno Mbugua, also a freedom fighter. Post-independence game changers include Wangari Mathai, Grace Onyango, the First woman member of parliament, Phoebe Asiyo, Mary Okello of Makini Schools, Effie Owuor, Muthoni Likimani, Dr. Jeniffer Riria, Late Margaret Wambui Kenyatta, who served as Nairobi mayor 1970 – 76 before becoming Kenyas permanet representative to the UN, and many others,” she says.

The CS notes that it is the struggles of these women that have made it possible for ladies to make in-roads into boards of companies, parliament, public service and private corporations. She says available statistics show that women in public service boards stand at 21 per cent, chairpersons of Boards seven per cent, parliament at 23 per cent, cabinet at 27 per cent and three governors in Kenya.

Globally, data from World Bank Enterprise Surveys shows that women head 20 per cent of global corporates with the most notable being Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and several others who are heads of state and governments.

Long and tedious journey 

“The journey towards women empowerment is long, tedious and challenging and even for those perceived to have made it, I submit they have had to fight for their rightful place at the table. Therefore, as we go forward, we need to continually build capacity and capability to be game changes and to stand against discrimination in all spheres of life,” urges Prof. Kobia.

She acknowledges that the ‘Women as Game Changers Model’ focuses on the personal competencies that women leaders need to acquire, cultivate, project and sustain over and above the traditional management skills.

Sammi Nderitu is the Editor and Photographer, Management Magazine. Email: 

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