Posts

Professionalising family businesses

Four years ago I wrote a column on the intergenerational challenges facing family businesses, admiring the way those who overcame such challenges did so while noting how too often the founder was reluctant to empower subsequent generations.

I want to return to that topic today, thanks to the opportunity I have benefited from over the last few months to meet with a good number of owners of medium-sized family businesses. In some cases the founding father was still very much in control, as his sons (occasionally these days his daughters, too) have been getting to grips with leadership; in others, the elder had withdrawn somewhat, just coming to the office for short periods of time; and in older-established businesses third and fourth generation family members have now risen to prominent positions.

What patterns have I observed? First, irrespective of the age of the company or its leadership, the top person is inevitably ultra-operational, what one might call “transactional”. To the extent that in some of my meetings the phone kept ringing so the boss could progress some immediate transaction, make some micro-decision.

Here, they had just found it too hard to develop a trusted and empowered senior management team to whom to delegate, and the inevitable consequence was that little mindspace was available to allow them to indulge in higher level strategic thinking.

All these micromanaging owner-director-managers were leading successful entities, ones that had survived many ups and downs, including splits from other family members. Their businesses were utterly dependent on their personal talent and experience, their energy and charisma, their motivation to show up to keep the revenues flowing in and to manage costs.

Some are fortunate in having members of subsequent generations who are both fit to contribute to sustaining the business into the future and willing to. But for others succession planning remains an unresolved question.

So busy are they with day-to day issues that it’s just too hard, indeed too inconvenient, to think about the consequences of something adverse happening to them: ill-health, for instance. Some had a notional board, often only including an elder or a spouse – most of whom would not be engaged in the business, while for others it was “me and my brother” or me and my son(s)”.

“Board meetings” might take place around the dining room table at home, or driving together to and from the office, and while a few were considering appointing independent directors none of those I met had done so.

The 2015 Companies Act specifies that four board meetings a year must be held by all registered companies, but most of our SME leaders just aren’t in the habit of complying with this requirement. Their focus, their discipline, is so much more on the day-to-day, and one of the consequences is that formal longer-term strategic plans or mechanisms for managing their implementation rarely exist.

Having said that though, these entrepreneurs are all bold innovators, courageous and optimistic risk-takers, forever on the lookout for new opportunities. They are to be admired, as they operate in this difficult environment.

OTHER VOICES

Some are hiring higher level professional managers, and bringing in consultants and advisers to help them rise. But my perception is that those who would most benefit from fresh and external inputs are the ones least likely to seek such interventions.

It is those who are most exposed to contemporary trends and hence are already ahead of the game who are open to listening to other voices. It is such people too who consider options such as public listing, joint ventures and external investors.

They are the ones with appropriate systems and controls, and robust risk and compliance management procedures.

In Kenya we are so fortunate to have such widespread entrepreneurial energy and talent. What we look forward to seeing is more of our SMEs professionalising in ways that can see them grow to larger scale, employ more people, focus on markets beyond the domestic, and be sustainable for future generations to inherit.

Toastmasters and the art of effective speech delivery

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a Toastmasters event, and perhaps not surprisingly it was on the subject of public speaking. For those not familiar with Toastmasters Clubs — of which there are 16,800 in 142 countries around the world, with around 250,000 members — they develop them as communicators and leaders, and in doing so build their confidence.

Their meetings flow through structured agendas, comprising both prepared and impromptu speeches, with evaluations and feedback along the way.

The Tabletopics Master launched the proceedings by throwing a series of questions for members to answer through making brief unprepared speeches. The first question was “With whom would you like to trade lives for a day?” and the chosen one performed brilliantly, telling us why he’d swap with Lewis Hamilton. (I would have gone for Roger Federer.)

Later, as I opened my presentation I stated that as it was for Bernard Shaw, my inspiration came from the blank piece of paper before me — plus the deadline of this evening. I looked back over my history of public speaking, from my first ever performance during my Barmitzvah confirmation — whose opening line, I recall, was “I was born on the slopes of Mt Carmel”.

It was on entering the computer industry as a graduate trainee with ICL in 1967 that I was taught how to make business presentations. Here I was introduced to producing slides for overhead projectors, where my father too was an expert and from whom I also learned much. My maiden assignment? To generate interest in our spreadsheet software, PROSPER — Profit Rating, Simulation and Evaluation of Risk.

In 1972 I joined ICL’s Senior Executive Programme, where I ran IT strategy workshops, and this is where I learned to be a facilitator rather than a lecturer, posing questions to the “participants” rather than awaiting questions from an “audience”.

I arrived in Kenya in 1977 to take on my first real leadership position, as general manager of ICL’s Kenya subsidiary, and this gave me many chances to speak in public. I joined Rotary soon after, and here too opportunities for public speaking abounded. Many more arose, in other leadership roles.

I next talked about my time with the joint leadership programme between the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications and the Harvard Kennedy School, where I ran sessions on “The Voice of Leadership” — communicating about strategy, sharing visions and values, stimulating innovation, and managing conflicts and crises.

For this I assembled a case study from contributions at a President’s Round Table with Kenya Private Sector Alliance at the State House, highlighting those who performed well and those who did not, and listing the common do’s and don’ts.

I sensed that many of the weak ones had little idea that they were indeed so. Here I quoted Shaw again, saying “the single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that it has taken place”, which led me to recommend good preparation — including rehearsing, with others critiquing and coaching; and seeking as many opportunities as possible to speak in public.

Malcolm Gladwell told us we must invest 10,000 hours before considering ourselves an expert in any field. It’s why I advise aspiring leaders to join organisations like Toastmasters and Rotary, and also professional and business organisations, so they can accelerate the accumulation of such hours.

My desire for the Toastmaster members was that they should look forward to their speaking engagements with excitement rather than anxiety. And yet with sufficient anxiety, to prevent complacency and hence under-preparing. I advocated incorporating storytelling — like I included at the beginning of my talk — and recommended communicating with a light touch, away from the heavy formality that’s all too common here in Kenya.

When delivering a speech, we must not only engage with our script, but also with our audience. Except that in today’s virtual events reading the audience is much harder, never mind if their videos are switched off. So at least we must maintain eye contact with the camera — something that is all too uncommon.

How do you know if you have performed well, made an impact? By seeking feedback. To be asked to return and speak again is a good sign of having left a positive impression, and also to be invited by others who have heard you elsewhere or heard about your speaking.

I concluded by supposing that while some of the listeners had joined Toastmasters so as to go “from good to great”, others would have been among those who would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy. Either way, I said, they should feel good that they were learning by doing, getting better at getting better.

Building your brand for boardroom role

Just before all public events were cancelled earlier this year I was invited by the Women on Boards Network to run a session on building one’s brand as a board member. It was, as I expected it would be, a lively evening with over 50 bright, engaged women in the room.

How fortunate we are in Kenya to have many women who are already competent directors, plus many more board-ready members of that gender. And how fortunate we are to have an organisation dedicated to developing women to become high-contribution board members and to link them up with organisations seeking such people.

My theme for the evening was about making a contribution, about adding value as a board member. And of course just about everything I shared would have been just the same had I been with a group of men.

The process must start by understanding oneself and appreciating what it is that one is offering. Yet too few of us have indulged in the kind of self-exploration that this requires, and here I quoted Benjamin Franklin, who found that “there are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and knowing oneself”.

But it is very doable, and I advised the good ladies to start by listing their achievements and the strengths that explain them, without bragging and without undue humility. That establishes (or rather should establish) a base for self-esteem and hence confidence and boldness.

Then, as they look back over how their lives have evolved, to identify their areas of competence, ones that are needed in the board room. Are they a financial guru, a legal eagle? A strategy wonk, a digital wizard? Is their field marketing, or talent management? Are they change champions? Which sectors do they know inside out? Is their hot spot compliance or sustainability? Have they been through challenging mergers or acquisitions? How will they add value in the post-Covid world?

More questions, now more to do with values, attitudes and behaviour. Are they trustworthy and reliable? Emotionally intelligent? Skilled communicators? Thought leaders? Disruptive innovators? Mediators and consensus-builders? Networkers? What is their risk appetite? Are they short-term problem solvers, long-term sustainability builders? And before all that, will they make the necessary time?

I also introduced the Women on Boards group to personality assessments they would benefit from undertaking, helping them to reveal more about their preferences. What role in a board team would they naturally gravitate towards?

In the language of Meredith Belbin, what “team type” are they? A “People person”, who revels in coordinating; being a team worker; or a resource person? An “Action person”, who is a task-focused pushy character; an implementer; or a perfectionist-completer? Or a “Thought person”, who is a creative; a specialist; or someone whose natural home is monitoring and evaluation? Then, are they more of an extrovert or an introvert? Guarded or open? So many questions to help a person position and further build their brand.

I also helped the group I was with to examine their suitability for being the chairperson of a board. Are they the type who can bring people together around common visions and values; run lively and useful meetings to which participants look forward; build relationships with colleagues, management and other stakeholders… and so earn the respect of all concerned?

Good governance requires boards to list the personalities, skills and exposure mix that’s needed for them to fulfill their role holistically as a team. So those seeking directors’ positions must be aware of the gaps that any board wishes to fill and match these with what they are offering.
That’s what Women on Boards Kenya helps with, and so if you are a woman who believes you are ready to sit around one of those board room tables I encourage you to reach out to them.

The last slide from my presentation to the ladies came from a disturbing study which revealed that there are more men named John running big companies in America than all women. More named David too. But at least there are more women than men named Robert or James.
Good luck, ladies, the women on boards cup isn’t yet full, but here in Kenya it is filling reasonably well.

Basic income, free face masks needed in the slums urgently

As the government continues to work out an adequate and fair response to the huge rise in virus infections and accelerating death rate, out of the box thinking is required. Complete area lockdowns hurt socio-economic development, while clearly helping to reduce Covid-19 infections.

Yet reduced development devastates incomes, especially of the poor who even find it difficult to pay for face-masks. It also leads to deaths from hunger and disease, and raises the risk of crime and violence.

Consequently there must be a carefully targeted response to lockdown, coupled with increased personal responsibility. Banning large get-togethers unless all wear face masks covering both mouth and nose is a must. There is no doubt that wearing face masks properly is key to preventing the spread of the disease. Right now only 30 percent (according to our daily tally in our neighbourhood in Nairobi) wear face masks correctly and these are mainly women. At the coast the figure is far lower, at less than five percent.

Thus it is clear that personal responsibility is lacking to wear face masks, even by those who can afford them. A major campaign is required to alert the public in general and poor people especially. Methods of alert so far via television, radio and the press have unfortunately failed — even in sophisticated countries with higher readership and coverage. A new approach must include more social media and increased controls.

The campaign should feature the link between jobs, prosperity, and even lockdown, for each area where face-mask wearing is low or non-existent. Further, facemasks must be made free in the slums, and users coached on the need to wash them daily with soap and water.

Even in the best case scenario income levels will continue to be down, as external factors such as tourist flows suffer because of the pandemic.

But there is a modest solution. Economic activities, especially with incoming tourists, will increase if it is known how serious the government takes the personal responsibility of all Kenyans — as the President has so clearly been showing. Tourists should be encouraged to adopt mask-wearing as part of their own personal responsibility.

The bargain is therefore you do something for me dear tourist, face-masking and social distancing, and we’ll do something for you through ensuring the personal responsibility of our citizens. The latter includes what we are seeing now, the selective opening of hotels, bars and restaurants, with closure immediately invoked should they ignore their responsibilities.

We know of a case where a restaurant and bar owner on the beach pays for his staff out of his own pocket, ensures adequate table and social distancing, sanitises all touchable surfaces continuously, and only keeps negative-tested staff. The risk of infection is very low or non-existent, as the winds blow around his establishment. But he has closed. His staff are on minimal wages, and tourists have cancelled their stays.

The brave attempts to distribute desperately needed food are misguided. Cash is the key and then the poor can buy what they need. They will buy food and thereby stimulate local markets but they will not necessarily buy face masks, so these must be given free on condition of penalties if they don’t.

We noted before that cash transfers to vulnerable families increased mutual support between beneficiaries; reduced tensions; and improved relationships within the community. Even better news is that each Sh1,000 of cash assistance can generate more than double that, most of which will be spent locally. Then, with cash, people were able to buy what they most needed, whether food, rent or other essentials.

A huge difficulty is that corruption has led to most cash distribution schemes failing. There are too many steps to take, with slow and bureaucratic government mechanisms. As we suggested before, a basic income can be sent only to areas where poor people live, distributed via M-Pesa to those with mobile phones. Of course some will have more than one phone and others none — estimated at a mere three percent in the slums. But the sharing culture there would reduce the hardship of the few without.

As insisted before, our technical contacts at mobile phone companies are confident they can identify most poor people in the vicinity of a transmission mast through a technique known as “geo-fencing”. Yes, some people who don’t need the cash would be included. But if distributed after curfew it would exclude passers-by.

Worse, some who desperately need the cash might also be excluded. However, geo-fencing ensures that it is the people in need who do obtain the cash, while corruption can just about be eliminated.

Meanwhile the quest for perfection breeds paralysis. It is better to start now, since cash is desperately needed by the vulnerable. We therefore once more urge the government to urgently consider distributing a basic income for the poor in the slums of Kenya… coupled with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility.

Hopkins is Professor of CSR and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Eldon is Chairman, The DEPOT and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Munro is a former UN Senior Policy Adviser on Sustainable Development and MYSA Founder Chairman

Let’s return to quest for a new vision

In my last column I wrote about John Ngumi’s quest for a vision of Kenya, one that will help us emerge from our national malaise and offer a national goal and purpose that can excite and focus us.

Mr Ngumi worried that we live in a time of great cynicism and scepticism, with disbelief in the goodness, wisdom or purpose of anything government says or does, and a belief that those who lead us are uniformly selfish, greedy and immoral. This, he worried, has led us to having low expectations about our future, thanks to diminished national self-belief and self-confidence.

Despite these challenges, Mr Ngumi saw much to feel good about – in ICT, manufacturing, infrastructure development and elsewhere – providing an excellent base from which to galvanise our energies, drive and ingenuity. But for us to believe we must have a sense of purpose, a national ambition, he felt, and so – through me – he called for ideas.

What feedback did I receive from my article? What messages were proposed to inspire us, ones that previous vision statements (as laid out by Mr Ngumi in my article) failed to deliver?

Muriu Ngumi castigated the government for its fixation on numbers – ones like GDP growth and kilometres of road built. He called for not just the delivery of prosperity but alongside it for “a life of dignity”, where our children have a decent education that gives them a chance at a future where families can rely on the healthcare system and have adequate housing; a job to support them and their families; a police force and courts that are fair and protect society; and a government that respects our rights.

In his column that appeared the day after mine – in which he referred to Ngumi and my challenge – Dennis Kabaara laid out what he saw as being required for Kenya’s new normal under Covid-19, a more human “whole of society” view of the future, one that Kenyan families want and that keeps us away from the BBI of “Big Baron Interests”.

Mr Kabaara suggested we must develop a sustainable agriculture sector that provides us with all the food we need. He called for a fulfilment of basic rights that comprise education (including skills for life – as in the new Competency Based Curriculum), health, shelter, water and sanitation.

Next, access to assets and income opportunities, with R&D and innovation centres in counties and their regional blocs. Then participatory governance; and finally security and safety at a family level.

Hindpal Jabbal’s input aligned nicely with these contributions, as he reckoned “the one vision that Kenya lacks is self-reliance”. So he proposed this vision statement: “Kuji Jenga”… referring me to his April 2016 Daily Nation article in which he bemoaned our culture of dependency (along with our corrupt ways and our extreme inequality).

Where does Mike Eldon fit into all this? First, building on the earlier point of going beyond measures such as GDP and length of roads, Muriu Ngumi and I ask the question “So what?”. What is the impact of these outputs, the consequential benefits for the people of Kenya?

How do they lead to shared prosperity, as envisaged in our Vision 2030 but which has so far been, to put it mildly, elusive – now exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis?

I applaud the visionaries, while adding the need for managing the actualisation of their visions. For at least as important as crafting a vision is serious “performance management for results” (my preferred term over M&E). This has been sorely lacking, and partly thanks to the fragmentation of such functions between multiple agencies, each operating in its own silo.

We have the Presidential Delivery Unit, now in the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government; the Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate in the Ministry of Finance and Planning; and the Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat, a semi-autonomous government agency. Surely these should be brought together.

Having said that, more and more of our counties are establishing county delivery units, or service delivery units, and these are becoming increasingly effective in achieving precisely what they were set up to do, enhancing the delivery of services to citizens. And in the emerging economic blocs, in particular the Lake Region one, they are coordinating initiatives between counties to achieve synergy among them.

In Kenya as elsewhere, we must build that more inclusive society, one that reverses the trend towards wealth for the few and allows for universal dignity.

This conversation is far from over. Please let’s keep it going.

Why Kenya needs brand new vision

From time to time I am fortunate to be exposed to the highly thoughtful, well-informed and articulate WhatsApps of John Ngumi, and his most recent was one of his best. In it he asked for “an idea, a vision of Kenya, that will help get us out of our national malaise, will give us a national goal and purpose that can excite and focus us all”.

With that he took a step back into history, starting with the immediate pre-Independence period, when the national goal and cry was “Uhuru”, regularly interchanged with “Uhuru na Kenyatta”. These reflected a fervent belief that with Independence, and with Jomo Kenyatta freed from imprisonment and leading his people, all would be well for the future.

In the immediate post-Independence years, Ngumi reminded us, the national focus changed to “Uhuru na Kazi”. There may not have been unanimity as to what this actually entailed, and there were fierce ideological battles on what “Uhuru” meant to various groups of Kenyans, some who had benefited and some who had lost out. But there was a consensus that while we had hard work ahead of us to build a nation, we could do it.

The seventies saw malaise, cynicism and anger start getting into the national body politic, a result partly of the political turmoils of the 1960s, but also because of an inevitable sense of let-down as we grappled with nascent nationhood and its challenges.

There was a short-lived attempt to reignite a sense of national purpose through the Mwai Kibaki-led “The Kenya We Want” initiative, which sought to get us focused on the difficult economic years ahead post the 1973 oil price rise and subsequent global recession, acknowledging that we no longer had easy economic options. This never really caught on.

A brief period of optimism in the late 1970s and early 1980s was then followed by a time about which the less said about national visions, dreams and goals, the better.

The Second Liberation of the late 1980s refocused and galvanised Kenyans, eventually leading to the heady days of 2002-3, when all seemed possible. We didn’t really have a galvanising rallying call thereafter. That was not in the character or style of President Kibaki, but we did have a sense of doing things, with Vision 2030 epitomising the calm, somewhat dry, technocratic approach favoured by his administration.
And today? It struck Ngumi that we have reached a period “in which cynicism and scepticism reign supreme, a widespread and almost automatic disbelief in the goodness, wisdom or purpose of anything government says or does, a belief that what’s-in-it-for-me is the ruling ethos among any who get a sniff at public office and power, that those who lead will grab, steal, manipulate all systems and institutions, in order to amass and retain wealth, power and privileges. Truly a dispiriting moment of low expectations, and even lower national self-belief and self-confidence.”

And yet, Ngumi insists, good, positive things are happening all around us. Innovation in the digital and wider IT space. An emerging rediscovery of MSMEs’ potential. A Covid-induced increasing confidence that we actually can manufacture things that we had always assumed had to be imported.

A tentative start, again Covid-induced, to tackling long standing problems such as cleaning up our towns, using initiatives like Kazi Mtaani. A laying down of infrastructure which, no matter how expensively acquired, is there, can be used. A fierce constitutionalism and sense of rights among the citizenry, who increasingly do not hesitate to assert their rights, including resorting to legal action. A growing willingness and determination to hold leaders to account at all levels.

In short, Ngumi is telling us that “Yes We Can”. But not if we don’t believe it. And for us to believe we can we must have a goal, a sense of purpose, a national ambition around which we can galvanise our energies, drive and ingenuity.

YES WE CAN

He doesn’t think “attaining middle income status by 20…” or suchlike will do it for us.

We’ll just yawn cynically, he believes. He would love for us to have a grand ambition, like leading an African Renaissance.

Thabo Mbeki tried that, to general continental indifference.

Obama beat us to Yes We Can. And yet Ngumi feels we need a spark to release all these fierce energies and drive that we have in great abundance, to turn these positively outward towards national goals.

Ngumi concluded his Whatsapp by asking for ideas, and so – with his permission – that’s how I close… for now. Ideas please, readers!

Going about CSR in the tough time of Covid-19

Last week I was invited by Prof Michael Hopkins to speak at one of his CSR Meetup events, these days inevitably online.

Prof Hopkins has been running these for over ten years, and in different countries around the world. Now they are being co-hosted by Globethics, the Geneva-based global ethics network, and my topic was “Corporations connecting with their communities – now and before Covid”.

I spoke from my experience in Kenya regarding CSR, and started by worrying that the perception of some in government, civil society, academia and elsewhere is that as far as the for-profit private sector is concerned, we are only in business for just that – profit. More so now during the Covid crisis, the assumption is that among the budget line items to be most speedily slashed would be the CSR one, and that other aspects of this “treating all stakeholders responsibly” to which CSR speaks would also fall by the wayside.

It is for such reasons that many outside of the private sector assume it has little to offer during this Covid-19 crisis and would not make suitable partners. This is a great shame as, largely coordinated by the umbrella body, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), lots of its members are contributing in a highly responsible, constructive, generous and coordinated way.

I remembered the troubled times around past elections in Kenya, when Kepsa developed initiatives to support social cohesion through its Mkenya Daima programmes. “They’re just doing it for business continuity,” sneered some from civil society, claiming we were only worried about peace but indifferent to justice… which was quite untrue.

I then drew examples of impactful CSR initiatives from sectors with which I am associated. Like insurance, where the Insurance Regulatory Authority recently got the industry players together to contribute to the Emergency Response Fund for Covid. Like others, we at Occidental Insurance reallocated some of our CSR budget that had been targeting communities directly and applied it into the fund.

Social responsibility is also being seen at KCA University, which has been reaching into nearby slums, both in Nairobi and in Kisumu, to assist vulnerable youth and their parents in multiple ways.

And at water and energy company Davis & Shirtliff, alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals is a no-brainer: SDG 6 seeks universal availability of water, and SDG 7 talks about access for all to clean energy.

The company, through its spread of branches around the region, partners with the surrounding communities and continues to promote these goals in a sustainable way – in fulfilment of its purpose, “To improve people’s lives by providing water and energy solutions across Africa”.

It also partners with its suppliers, and with service organisations such as Rotary, to amplify its CSR impact. Not least in ensuring the sustainability of the water supply by going beyond the mere installation of a borehole to creating a business model with the community that will allow for its maintenance and ongoingness.

Next I spoke more about Rotary, of which I have been a member for many years, turning to an aspect of CSR which although less visible is at least as significant: volunteering. Here we are not talking about the financial inputs to CSR but about all the man and woman hours.

There are around 1,200,000 Rotarians in the world, and a recent survey revealed that in the four-week reference period, between us we volunteered 5.8 million hours, delivering services worth $850 million a year.

CSR initiatives should involve employees of the organisation, whether through in-house projects or external volunteering, including through another dimension of the latter – being active in Professional and Business Member Organisations. Aside from time spent with such bodies benefitting the profession or sector, it inevitably leads to learning and growth on the part of the volunteer, as I have found in all the volunteering to which I have been exposed.

During the discussion time the plight of small-scale farmers and MSMEs was raised, and here I gave credit to large corporates such as Bidco, Coca Cola, Diageo, BAT and others who stimulate the development of bottom-of-the pyramid producers – CSR by another name.

Now more than ever is the time for CSR community engagement, not least for large and medium firms in sectors that have not been pulverised by Covid-19, to be preserved, and with all stakeholders.

Reallocated maybe, but not demolished. The behaviour of those that do so will be remembered favourably long after the crisis has calmed.

The heritage we have built

(this was a presentation I gave on May 21, 2020 at the joint meeting of the Rotary Club of Nairobi with the Rotary Club of Kampala):

It was 1978, and I had been living in Kenya for a year when an IT customer of mine, Bob Chase, invited me to join his Rotary Club of Nairobi. That joining thoroughly integrated me into Kenya; it introduced me to volunteering; it changed my life.

Phil Grammenopoulos, who brought Datsun – now Nissan – to Kenya, was our President (at that time called Chairman, as by then Jomo Kenyatta was the only one allowed to be called President), and my first assignment was to develop careers guidance programmes, which one way or another I have been running ever since.

Also in my earliest years I led a National Business Management Game through our Rotary club. The funds raised by participating teams were offered to the winner of a post-graduate scholarship to the Mediterranean Institute of Management in Cyprus, and the panel of Phil and myself selected Kalonzo Musyoka, then a Rotaracter, as the beneficiary. He later joined our club, before becoming an MP and rising to be the Vice-President of Kenya.

At that time we were THE Rotary Club of Nairobi: a home for the elite of the city, and we were led to believe that Rotarians from other clubs felt quite intimidated by some of us. We were the first club in Sub-Sahara Africa, having been formed in March 1930. It was John Innes, a member of the Rotary Club of Leeds, who was encouraged by Paul Harris to take Rotary to East Africa, and so on Innes’s next visit to Kenya he met with then then Mayor of Nairobi, Charles Udall.

Udall gathered together a dozen prominent citizens at the New Stanley Hotel (where we were still meeting when I joined) and he emerged as the founding President of the soon to be formed Rotary Club of Nairobi. Every club in the region traces its roots to ours, including your Kampala one.

When I joined our club I was by far the youngest member, at 33. If you go to our website, you’ll see a 1974 picture of fourteen Past Presidents of our Club, eight of whom I knew well (and all of whom have now passed away). In the picture, as generally in the club when I joined, are only older white men, almost exclusively white-haired. But by 1978, there were already a few non-whites, and let me tell you a bit about them:

First Manu Chandaria, who had joined Rotary in 1963 in Mombasa, where his elder brother was already a member since the mid-1950s. Manu later moved to Nairobi and joined our club in 1969 – the only Asian alongside the late John Karmali (a pioneer of racial integration in Kenya), Yusuf Kodwavwala (about whom more later) and Omi Nagpal, who in 1965, like Manu, had joined the Rotary Club of Mombasa. Omi was then transferred to Nairobi as the Acting Director of Public Prosecution, and became a member of the Rotary Club of Nairobi in around 1968. It wasn’t till 1990 though that he took on the presidency.

Manu became our Chairman in 1982/3, and it was about then that he headhunted Kalonzo Musyoka to become the legal manager of his company, Comcraft. Meanwhile Manu had already invited Sir Ernest Vasey to become Comcraft’s chairman. Sir Ernest had been Nairobi Mayor in the 1940s, and was President of our Rotary club in 1949/50.

 Another member when I joined was Joe Wanjui, who had been in the club since 1967, the first African, and one of those who paved the way for Joe’s admittance was Sir Derek Erskine (our club’s President in 1939/40). Sir Derek served as a Member of the Kenyan Legislative Council from the 40s, on and off into the 60s. He was a staunch advocate of racial harmony in Kenya, at one time having been removed from a session of the Legislative Council due to his outspoken views demanding racial equality.

So how come Joe became our first African member? Well, at the time he was the Technical Director of East Africa Industries, part of Unilever, one of the rare Africans prominent in the private sector. Joe became our club’s first African President in 1974, at a time when it needed to be seen to be promoting racial inclusiveness.

Other than being the earliest non-whites to join our club, what do Manu, Omi and Joe have in common? They are all still regular active members of our club! Yusuf Kodwavwala, who also joined us in 1967, became our Chairman in 1981 and District Governor in l989/90. He and his wife Marie recently emigrated to the UK to be with their family, and they have wished us well for this meeting… with Yusuf adding that the Kampala Club – which he described as the “ARCH CLUB” – was where he was first introduced to ROTARY.

Let me mention a few others from the time I joined, all of whom became my friends:

  • Vic Browse, the first Jewish member, who opened the Jacaranda School for the Mentally Challenged in his year as President in 1948/9.
  • Mervyn Cowie, our President in 1950/1, who led the formation of the Nairobi Game Park.
  • Jack Block, 1961/2 President, was owner of Block Hotels, including the New Stanley.
  • Norman Jarman, President in 1968/9, was a policeman in Palestine when I was born there in 1945, and founded African Tours & Hotels, a pioneer in Kenya’s tourism industry.
  • Jerry Owuor, our 1984/5 President, I will always remember for officiating at the annual Salvation Army Children’s Home Christmas Party, dressed as Father Christmas.
  • John Savage, who led us in 1985/6 and presided over the club’s first cataract operations, performed – as they are now, 35 years later – by Dr Mukesh Joshi.

I succeeded John as Chairman in 1986, and what I am proudest of is relaunching our Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central, which until today is perhaps the liveliest in the District. I was Chairman in those the good old days, when we weren’t besieged by e-mails or texts, only having to deal with faxes. By the way, a few years later at an RI President’s Conference hosted in Nairobi, I tickled our then Vice President Michael Wamalwa into allowing us to call ourselves “President” again.

  • Hannington Awori followed me. He was introduced by Joe Wanjui, whom he succeeded as Technical Director of EAI. And Hannington’s from the prominent Awori family, a member of which is his Ugandan brother Aggrey.
  • Jonathan Campaigne, our 1995/6 President, led our Young Entrepreneurs Awards. I introduced Jonathan to our club and he was also my Best Man just before taking office.
  • Dudley Stannah’s 1991/2 year was dominated by the war over whether to allow women as members. Rotarians’ wives, known as “Rotary Annes”, many of whom were members of the spouses’ Inner Wheel Club, were as unenthusiastic as many of the male members, but eventually resistance faded and we inducted our first lady member, Evelyn Mungai soon after. (By the way her parents enjoyed strong links to Uganda, with her mother having attended Gayaza High School and her father King’s College Budo – from where Aggrey Awori also graduated.) Evelyn, whom I married in 1995, became our first lady chair in 2001, with her Rotary pin fixed by our 1993/4 President, Arun Devani, and during her year she launched the Rotary Cura Home for AIDS Orphans.
  • In all we have enjoyed leadership from six lady presidents, including our current one, Jessica Kazina. For many years now we have been known as the “Rainbow Club”, given our wonderful racial mix, and there was a time when we deliberately rotated our presidency between African, Asian and White members. Always, we have enjoyed great fellowship and high member participation in service.

Let me now mention some of our flagship projects:

  • In the late 1940s, the Jacaranda School for the Mentally Challenged, which later, with Japanese funding for which Manu was very instrumental, was complemented by the Sheltered Workshop for the Mentally Challenged.
  • This was what greatly influenced the launch of what became the annual Sunshine Rally, where several thousand mentally and physically challenged boys and girls first came together in 1980 for extraordinary enjoyable gatherings (with me in charge of organising the entertainment at that initial one). Due to the Coronavirus crisis, this was the first year since 1980 that it did not take place, although food and other essential items were distributed to the institutions that host the children.
  • As I mentioned, in 1985 Dr Mukesh Joshi worked with our club to conduct the first cataract eye operations, and I remember being at the 1986 event held in Kabarak High School, where I took photographs for the media of him at work with his scalpel. Amazingly, Mukesh, who became an Honorary member of our club, has now restored the sight of 17,000 Kenyans, supported by a team of devoted members of our club – donors including Manu Chandaria, Suli Shah and Arun Devani, and on the ground volunteers.
  • Thanks to great leadership from Darsi Lotai and the late Eric Krystall, our club has been at the centre of Rotary’s struggle to eliminate polio in this part of the world. When overseas support was waning, our Rotarians led the initiative for us to become self-reliant, including through the establishment of a Surveillance Lab that has provided testing for the entire Horn of Africa.
  • These and other Rotarians have also been central to combatting AIDS, with the late Eric Krystall’s “Puppets against AIDS” and our partnership with Rotaract for testing youth.
  • Speaking of Rotaract, and Interact, not to mention the Rotary Community Corps, our club has always been deeply committed to nurturing the next generations, very much including past Rotaractor Gideon Akwaba – who in just over a year will become our club’s president.

There have been so many other projects I could mention, thanks to so many other devoted members: distributing wheelchairs, bed sets, jikos and other basic items; accessing water; hosting health camps; mobilising literacy campaigns… – you can just imagine, in nearly a century of service, how much has been accomplished. As we speak with pride about our heritage I am pleased that enhanced attention is turning to the need to build more sustainability into our initiatives, developing community leaders to take ownership for the ongoingness of our projects.

Our club has benefitted greatly from partnerships with clubs from all over the world, and of course from the Rotary Foundation. But many too would not have seen the light of day had it not been for our Trust Fund, currently chaired by Dinesh Kapila, that was established in 1974 and whose funds have grown to Shs 60million, despite disbursing Shs2-3m each year.

When I joined Rotary there were 18 countries in D9200 – including Zambia and the Indian Ocean Islands. I remember attending District Conferences in Lusaka (where the District Governor was their Zambia’s Chief Justice, granted a sabbatical  by President Kaunda – who, handkerchief in hand, graced the event); and others in Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion. Wherever our conference were held, the Rotarians from Reunion would always bring a big supply of cheese and wine for their Reunion evening. (Including for the one in Nairobi during Yusuf Kodwavala’s year in 1990, by the poolside at the new Stanley. I was the chairman of Yusuf’s Conference Committee, and had to deal with the hotel having forgotten to set the place up for our Indian Ocean island friends.)

Prominent at all our District Conferences was Sam Owori, who so brilliantly led the resuscitation of Rotary in Uganda following the difficult days of Idi Amin. Under his leadership Rotary Clubs sprouted far beyond Kampala, and unlike in Kenya attracted many form the public sector. We in Kenya mourned when Rotary in Uganda expanded to such an extent that you formed your own District, taking Tanzania with you.

My small contribution to the development of Rotary in Uganda was that when I was the District Rotaract Officer in the late eighties I introduced the concept of community-based Rotaract Clubs, as hitherto they had only been institutionally based.

At that time I also brought together Rotaracters from around our then vast District to hold their own conference alongside our Rotary one, and I am pleased to say that this became the new normal – until just now, when Rotaracters have integrated completely into our Rotary Conference – or were due to, till the Coronavirus hit.

It’s good to, so to speak, “be” with you at the Grand Imperial Hotel today, which I remember staying at in the immediate post-Amin days, with bullet holes in my bedroom window and only orange squash or Johnny Walker Red Label to drink.

In so many ways, we’ve come a long way since then. I am immensely impressed that building on our long heritage so many younger Rotarians have joined our club, full of energy and enthusiasm – as has been evidenced by their extraordinary efforts in the last few weeks in distributing food and other essential items to the most vulnerable in Nairobi.

In conclusion, while the Rotary Club of Nairobi is still THE oldest club around, we are no longer THE Rotary Club of Nairobi. But we’re a great multi-generational, multi-ethnic, mixed-gender bunch of characters, enjoying each other’s fellowship and engaged in all kinds of great work for our community.

Social cohesion critical in these perilous times

I’m glad I’m not President Uhuru Kenyatta, nor CSs Mutahi Kagwe and Fred Matiang’i, nor Governor Hassan Joho and others who have the awesome responsibility of communicating with the rest of us in ways that get us to behave responsibly during the Covid-19 crisis. Like leaders everywhere in the world they must act neither too quickly nor too slowly, not too harshly and not too weakly. But what is the right speed? What is the right style?

It would be much easier if our people were as disciplined and well off as those of Singapore or South Korea, Germany or New Zealand. But we are who we are, with over ten million of us packed together in urban slums and living hand to mouth; and with so many others in remote rural and arid areas where there is limited access to the media, never mind the Internet.

The leaders I have mentioned would be doing well in the countries I have listed. But how much harder it is to be effective here, where even the middle class have been finding it hard to do and not do what is being called for.

We must sympathise with the frustrations of our rationally-driven leaders, who see that all they get is pushback and resentment when they tell us to wear masks and stay home and suchlike.

Whether due to intolerably cramped living conditions and poverty, or as a result of cultural norms of community togetherness, much of what we are seeing is a struggle between the stern admonitions of our leaders and the disconnected behaviour of our citizens.

Understandably, the government’s focus has been on organising our under-prepared healthcare system to cater for the sudden onset of the pandemic, while simultaneously worrying about the shattering effects on our economy. The added dilemma is that the greater concern there is for protecting lives, the greater the negative impact on livelihoods.

What we are beginning to see though is that alongside managing these “hard” issues, increased attention must be paid to the complementary “soft” emotional and behavioural ones. So should some leaders be playing “bad cop” while others play “good cop”? Should each leader be skilled enough to combine the two roles into one, knowing when and how to switch?

It is clear that the big stick of assertively managed lockdowns must be wielded, for merely enticing us with the reward of longer term health benefits if we do what we are being told is way beyond the time horizon of most. But if that’s not working, then what?

Surely we need not rely only on top-down tough messages from smart podiums. It is up to many more of us to communicate within our communities, from the family level upwards, each of us finding our own way to make a difference.

Leaders and people of influence from all sectors – religious, private sector, NGOs, academia, trade unions, musicians and other artists, sportspeople and of course the media – must contribute to passing both the tough and the empathetic messages, complementing and reinforcing what we are hearing from the top.

There is as great a need for this kind of “soft” engagement as there is for the distribution of food, Personal Protective Equipment and other essentials to the most vulnerable. Many are already acting with great generosity, in both the hard and the soft areas, and the more the merrier.

Let me briefly draw attention to the Social Cohesion Committee that has recently been formed by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), within whose mandate such an initiative falls naturally.

The NCIC Social Cohesion Committee (of which I am part) is developing new ways, with musicians and others, to pass messages that more people can respond to positively. It is also organising for psychosocial support to be made available to both the most vulnerable – children and others in emotional distress – and to doctors and nurses.

By listening as much as by telling we can begin bringing Kenyans together, so that the poor do not feel this Covid-19 threat merely threatens the urban rich. And it is by complementing the angry headteacher with the empathetic counsellor that we can avoid future social strife.
So please join this movement for social cohesion. Whoever you are, at whatever level.

How poor governance causes projects to fail

I was recently involved in a discussion about an IT project that was facing challenges, where the IT expert from one of the Big Four consulting firms who was with us introduced me to a new term, “project governance.” I liked it, for it places emphasis on the leadership that guides the progress of the project, ensuring that the technical folk involved are able to guide it to a smooth launch, while overcoming the inevitable challenges and setbacks that come their way.

I smiled as I heard about the issues preventing this software system from going live, for it reminded me of all my turbulent years in the IT-vendoring business. I was filled with nostalgia as I contributed to the discussion, where those involved described what ails them and what they’re doing about it. I’ve not been active in that arena for many years, but what struck me was how familiar it all sounded.

Amazing in a way, as so much has changed in the IT world since I left it – never mind since I joined it in 1967. Yet what I saw was that, to translate from the French, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At least the governance aspects.

So what were the issues preventing the new generation system from going live? I am certainly not going to bore or confuse you with the technical ones, but here’s what emerged at the governance level. First, the overseas-based vendor was not sending appropriate technical experts to solve them, and when matters were escalated to their head office they sent another who had to study everything from scratch.

Meanwhile at the user end they kept coming up with changes that interfered with the smooth flow of the process. The longer this went on the more complicated finding solutions became, and so the consultant proposed a comprehensive review of the project by an independent external expert.

Now here’s another example of the need for robust project governance: the digitisation of the courts. It was back in the eighties when the IT company I was leading first introduced word processing into Kenya’s judiciary, an institution that was then – as it is now – very far behind the times in using technology. And that’s putting it mildly.

It was 10 years ago that they had a go at bringing in digital courts, where lawyers and their clients could interact with judges via video link. But the facilities quickly fell into disuse, just as the attempt to have stenographers transcribe court proceedings in real time faded out, leaving the judges to continue with the manual note taking they had been used to. The Court Management Information System introduced in Dr Willy Mutunga’s time as Chief Justice is also not in use.

So with the Coronavirus crisis forcing the closing down of the physical courts, what change management will the judiciary finally put itself through to ensure that it joins the rest of us in the 21st century? What energised project governance will it introduce to make a virtue out of the necessity of the day?

How will the appropriate financial and human resources be made available to ensure that this time what everyone knows should happen does so? In the past, going way back to my awkward 1980s project, the launch of the new IT system faded out when the enthusiastic and competent person leading the initiative left the judiciary, and I understand this has happened since.

This time we must not allow that to happen. There is so much technology expertise in this Silicon Savannah of ours. Let us bring in whomever we need and provide the necessary resources so that better late than never we see this vital arm of government take advantage of what technology can offer to transform its effectiveness and its integrity.

This time we must ensure that the right kind of project governance takes these projects to the point where they become the new normal, leading us to ask why it didn’t happen much sooner. And a final thought. I’m a great fan of the Rapid Results Approach: go for 90-day quick-win objectives, and empower the team to break through all the bureaucracy. Get going, members of the judiciary, and this time make it stick.