- She is a former banker and county executive with a heart for young people and women.
- Her life is characterized by a pursuit of transformational leadership from the grassroots upwards.
- A sought-after speaker who has spoken on local and global platforms.
As a lover of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” she has found purpose in serving humanity.
Edinah Kangwana, MBS, MHC, was born and bred in Marani, Kisii County, studying at St. Patrick’s Secondary School Mosocho in its early days.
Stepping above all challenges and choosing to focus on the woman she wanted to become, she managed to join the University of Nairobi for a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, graduating in 2006.
Ms. Kangwana then pursued a Master’s in MSc Entrepreneurship at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and has done numerous other related short courses.
Currently, she’s pursuing her Ph.D. in Entrepreneurship from JKUAT.
Acknowledging her impact on individuals, communities, and Kenya at large through her passionate service, Scholar Media Africa sought to understand her journey and reverberate it to the world.
Ms. Kangwana started her career with Barclays Bank of Kenya, now Absa, as a direct sales representative in 2007.
This space allowed her to interact with and impact people at the grassroots by helping so many of them open bank accounts and start saving and investing, which changed their lives permanently.
“I usually feel I have been a leader all through, from the time I grew up. Having grown up in a patriarchal setting, I got the urge of voicing and sometimes repelling some of the things I felt were not adding up,” she says.
At the bank
She then joined Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) in 2008 as a teller.
In her 10-year service in KCB she worked in the departments of customer service, credit operations, Micro & business banking, and branch operations.
While carrying out her normal duties, she held leadership roles affirming her grounds in service beyond the call of duty.
“I was a community champion in our branch, going out to mentor the young ones and addressing community emerging issues off what the bank was doing as part of CSR activity,” she explains.
She was also a Sustainability Champion, advocating climate change issues and sustainable use of bank resources.
Ms. Kangwana says KCB gave her the platform that has formed the basis of who she is today.
She remembers attending a KCB Women in Leadership forum as a mentee, where she met great, experienced ladies whose input during their talks changed her perspectives, unearthing in her a sense of wanting to do more for society.
“Through this program, I realized I can start from somewhere with whatever I have. It gave me the wings to move out and bring a change to society, and I became a mentor,” she reminisces.
Ms. Kangwana was attached to a mentor for about two years and later released to conquer the world.
She started visiting schools for knowledge transfer, talking to students and teachers, shedding light on their paths, and guiding schools’ management on leadership, resource management, and otherwise.
Transitioning to public service
In 2017, her community work opened a wider door for her at Kisii County Government.
“When county opportunities came, the people I had touched their lives while at the bank were the ones who were saying I should go and serve in the county, though other qualifications also applied,” she reminisces.
This came at a time when she was pondering changing her career trajectory.
It plunged her into spaces where she could interact with more people at the grassroots and offer solutions to the many setbacks bedeviling Kisii citizens.
In November 2017, she joined Kisii County Government as the County Executive in charge of Trade, Tourism and Industry, perfectly gelling with her previously-earned expertise in banking.
In 2020, following a government reorganization executive order, she moved to the docket of Administration, Corporate Services and Stakeholder Management.
She was the Coordinator of the emergency response and management of Covid-19 pandemic in Kisii County, a delegated role by the Kisii County Emergency Response and Management of Covid-19 Committee.
This was a structural body that steered the pandemic agenda in Kisii, linking up with the national response.
This position allowed her to go to the villages, where she realized a “shadow pandemic” was materializing.
“Mental health issues, Gender-Based Violence, teenage pregnancies, overstretched family resources and other challenges were stepping into families and there was urgency to combat the problem,” Ms. Kangwana narrates.
Substantiating her passion
She formed the Kiinia KE, a Community-Based Organization to address emerging community issues.
Kiinia would link up with health professionals and go to the communities to address family planning issues, suicide, and mental health-related cases, among other concerns.
“Through Kiinia, I could mobilize friends and stakeholders and get sanitary pads to give to girls after talk sessions with them,” she says.
With some challenges like teenage pregnancies being transferred to schools, it ignited a spark in Ms. Kangwana, birthing the Role Modelling Initiative (by Edinah Kangwana) in January 2022.
It aimed at pulling together alumni from different schools, who have since visited their schools and talked to such students to accept their condition and know it isn’t end-world.
They also mentor all other students.
During those times, they destigmatized schools and advocated for the pregnant girls to continue studying.
They would also attend to the boy students’ needs, buying them school uniforms and toiletries to ease their stay in school.
In her view, most of today’s societal issues are fruits of poor leadership.
Transformational leadership, she says, is an issue of minding one’s relationships and power to influence without coercion, coexistence, and going past one’s confinements to change societies.
It must be nurtured from the lower level up and is everyone’s responsibility.
“I believe that transformational leadership is an initiative per person— involving equipping and empowering individuals with the strategic tools and safe spaces needed to change their approaches and attitudes,” she adds.
She opines that we can achieve beyond our expectations if we understand our potential and get inclusive, safe grounds.
Her warrior’s spear in helping young people has been through Role Modelling.
Ms. Kangwana believes through mentorship, “Us who have seen the light and have been advantaged by age, we can be role models to help young people see their future life through our lenses.”
With her team, they have been telling their story to students, impacting them in body, mind and character.
“We link them up with funders, bursaries or even talk to school management to allow them to study, with better fee payment structures,” she explains.
The Role Modelling Initiative primarily uses and needs alumni from different schools to visit their institutions to re-narrate their stories and spark up the young learners to believe life is promising.
The alumni act as role models.
In her engagements as a wellness champion and diversity and inclusion advocate, she has predominantly focused on gender agenda, women, youth and PWDs, who she says are usually the muted and disadvantaged community members.
Though her motivation has largely been intrinsic, seeing and hearing testimonies of people she impacted spurs her on.
Her other initiatives
Beyond Kiinia KE, which is the umbrella of the other initiatives, and the Role Modelling Initiative, which pushes alumni all over the country to return to their alma mater and tell their inspiring stories, Ms. Kangwana also runs other initiatives and a company.
The former banker and immediate former Kisii County Government Executive is also the President of RoundTable Wellness Foundation.
Founded in 2021 as a fruit of a government initiative, she uses it as an outreach wing responding to Kenya’s mental health situation.
Remember, in 2021, she was trained and certified as a Mental Health Champion at Kenya School of Government, with others drawn from across Kenya.
The foundation advocates for mental wellness agenda and comprises people from diverse professional circles.
It gives a safe space for sharing, links those needing professional mental healthcare services with doctors, and sometimes offers financial support to those seeking costly services.
Gusii Women In Leadership Forum (GWILN), founded in 2022, is her youngest space and molds women leaders from around Gusii Region.
“It was formed to talk about women in leadership by drawing attention to where we are now as Gusii Women, and also capacity-builds them. The experienced ones (mentors) talk to younger ones concerning leadership and related matters,” she explains.
Doing resource mobilization for women leaders and pushing political parties to consider incorporating women is their goal.
Ms. Kangwana uses these initiatives, which are currently self-funded, as vehicles to achieve her goals of transforming individuals and communities.
She equally thanks the strategic partners who have been on her side to steer the noble mission, and welcomes more.
Now a leadership and governance practitioner, she is also the Founder and CEO of Arise Circle KE, founded in 2021.
It’s a leadership and organizational development consultancy organization raising authentic leaders and corporates in Kenya, Africa and beyond.
“Together with my team, we capacity-build and help leaders grow in transformative leadership. We also help organizations build sustainable structures in the global world, which equip the entire staff to offer their best,” she says.
Her book culture
In her engagements with communities and individuals, she has been gifting books to whoever she considers a potential transformational leader.
“I think my leadership journey has been shaped by the people I’ve met, but also by the books I read,” she explains.
“As the vision bearer of these initiatives, my focus is achieving societal transformation— locally, nationally and globally,” she says.
Ms. Kangwana adds that access to education, health, and employment for all and engaging the youth in structural changes for their future are all paramount.
Speaking on global podiums
Worth noting is that Ms. Kangwana is a distinguished and articulate public speaker.
She has stood on global podiums and sat on international fora to air her insights on business and entrepreneurship, peacekeeping and nation-building, women leadership, and other topics of national and global significance.
In 2018 and 2019, she spoke in Dar es Salaam during the two International Trade Conferences.
She has spoken at other conferences, summits, and events held in Singapore (2018), Helsinki, Finland (2021), Cairo, Egypt (2021), Kigali, Rwanda (May 2022), and Washington, D.C. (June 2022, of which she has since become an International Visitor Leadership Program alumna.)
Locally, she spoke on women and leadership at different platforms like KNP International Research Conference in 2021, KIM Women in Leadership event, and What Women Want KE 2023, among others.
In May this year, Ms. Kangwana graced the Africa Women Summit 2023 in South Africa, an in-person continental event organized by COWAP Africa. She addressed the evergreen topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion + Belonging among women.
As a wife, a young mother, a professional, and someone needing mental balance, juggling these commitments hasn’t been without challenges.
“I have a “tribe” of my own, which believes in me. Whenever I call them, we are able to fix ourselves,” she explains, clarifying that with each mentor in the team doing their part, they usually do more within a short time.
A vast harvest, few harvesters, has also been a challenge. Ms. Kangwana wishes more people would become transformational leaders and help transform others.
Lack of policy implementation is another snag. She says all responsible bodies should combat this by implementing all constitutional policies.
Scheduling her every visit, especially to schools, has also been a genius stroke towards her time management.
Her husband, Stephen Oriki, has been an ever-present support system for her.
Her journey has been a plethora of lessons, shaping her into the phenomenal woman she is.
“I have learned that everyone is unique and created for a purpose. Life takes you through circles and turns, until you find your purpose. You need to be very keen and never protest against such moments,” she advises.
She says that if you need to grow, you must overcome fear. “Fear but do it anyway,” says Ms. Kangwana.
Service and giving give us meaning in life and are part of our mental wellness is another lesson she has bagged along the way.
“As you grow, grow others; light others’ candles. The world is so dark, and your light alone cannot illuminate it enough,” she unveils the secret of growing and transforming people.
Ms. Kangwana tells us to keep networking, know the right people and be strong enough for them.
“Networks will take you to tables you couldn’t have otherwise reached,” she advises, reminding us that networks don’t mean big names and titles, but anyone along your corridors.
She adds that one should keep learning and staying ready for more opportunities.
Through her leadership, she has also normalized making inclusive decisions.
As a firm believer in the power of mental health, she advises that psychological balance and listening to your body are paramount, and so are family and the need to have a Superior Being to always turn to.
The exceptional woman has been regularly awarded for her transformational leadership models and input in changing the world from grassroots up-ladder.
Some of the accolades under her belt include:
- Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS)— a Presidential award vested on her by the Fourth President of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, for exemplary, transformational, and distinguished leadership.
- ICN Distinguished Leadership award by iChange Nations, a USA-based NGO that identifies and honors people who have excelled in empowering others.
- DEAR Award in recognition of her women development role in Kenya.
- COWAP Africa Award, awarded in Kigali, Rwanda, recognizing her impact in supporting Girl Child Education in Kenya (through her initiatives and other strategies.)
- County Gala Award— best Minister Nyanza Region— recognizing her exemplary work as a County Minister in Kenya.
- Arising Star award by Women on Boards Network Kenya.
- 3 KCB Bank Simba awards.
What it takes
She is always overjoyed to meet a transformational leader.
To become one, “You need to be intentional, understand yourself, but more importantly, understand the inner treasure you carry and give it your best. Transformational leadership is a journey; don’t focus on the monetary gains, but deliver your best and everything else will align,” Ms. Kangwana encourages.
She envisions being a contributor to an equal, fair, inclusive, and sustainable society devoid of systematic barriers, with opportunities for everyone to become.
Connect with Edinah Nyaboke Kangwana MBS, MHC. on LinkedIn today.
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