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Carole Kariuki 'Society is structured and oriented to support men'.

Summary: As CEO of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) Carole Kariuki represents and safeguards the interests of thousands of businesses in the country. What can we learn from one of Kenya's most influential businesswomen?

At a high-pro- file round- table meeting hosted by the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta at State House in Nairobi, Carole Kariuki can easily be spotted. The meeting is discussing agriculture and manufacturing sec- tors as important drivers of economic growth, and Carole is conspicuous not only because she is dressed in a brightly coloured suit but because she is one of few women, let alone high- profile women, at this male-dominated gathering.

But that is nothing new in the world of Kariuki, who is the CEO of the Ke- nya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), an umbrella body that brings together players in the country's private sec- tor, with over 500,000 members on its books. KEPSA's key mandate is to create a conducive environment for private sector enterprises and investors to thrive, leading to job opportunities, wealth creation and development for the country. Kariuki has been at KEPSA's helm for seven years, driv- ing change and transforming the once fragmented and uncoordinated organ- isation into one of the country's most powerful voices in the private sector landscape. And in the process, Kariuki has become one of Kenya's most influ- ential women in business.

However, her rise to the top has not been a plain sail. When she was first appointed to this key position, com- ments were made by both men and women about her relative youth and even her petite stature, routinely being called a "small girl". She chose to fo- cus on the work at hand.

"Society is structured and orient- ed to support men," Kariuki asserts. "What saddens me is when women choose to listen to what society is say- ing about them and stop believing in themselves and their skills," she adds, stressing the importance of getting women to think about their larger vi- sion and the difference they would want to make in life.

"You, like most women, may have grown up hearing many negative things about you and women in gen- eral but this should not stop you," she states, emphasizing how she always knew she wanted to make a difference early in her career.

That said, there are things in soci- ety that women must learn to live with, and her advice, particularly to young women is: "Do your part, serve in your area of influence. Let your good work and determination propel you to lead- ership, and when there, don't forget you are a woman, so lead like a wom- an with your soft skills and any other God-given wisdom."

Her greatest pride has been over- seeing KEPSA's development into an influential voice, even more so in times of political uncertainty in Kenya, help- ing to maintain economic stability and growth. Through her vision, KEPSA has created a structured engagement with government and stakeholders at various levels, leading to wealth cre- ation for the country.

Apart from her busy work schedule,Kariuki serves on several boards and taskforces. She is also a recipient of the Moran of the Burning Spear and the Head of State Commendation, presi- dential awards given only to people who have exemplified themselves in their contribution to their country. In 2012 she was voted Extraordinary Personality to Inspire the Future by 80 per cent of the 20,000 students in the Entrepreneurship Clubs of Kenyan Universities.

Kariuki often speaks to young peo- ple at forums, including the former US President Barack Obama-initiated, USAID-funded Young African Lead- ers Initiative (YALI). She tells the next generation of leaders and entrepre- neurs she often interacts with: "Firstly, set and compete with your own goals, avoid looking at others and do your best to get impact. Secondly, use the energy, innovation, passion and time you have, to grow. Thirdly, take chanc- es and make mistakes. Failure is part of leadership and we learn from our failures, too. And importantly, keep learning."

But while a quick glance around her lovely home confirms that this is an accomplished economist, an influ- encer and recipient of many interna- tional awards and accolades, there is also the other side of Kariuki. When she is at home she is Carole, the simple and humble girl-next-door who is hap- py to make and treat her friends to her homemade pancakes. The CEO title is left at the office.

When at home and when not stat- ing the case for private sector invest- ment, Kariuki is happy in the compa- ny of her closeknit family and friends; she has even remained close to her best friend from nursery school.

Kariuki knows that life is a journey where one cannot walk alone. She sur- rounds herself with mentors who keep her grounded and guided, as she in- spires others through her work leading one of Kenya's most high profile busi- ness institutions.

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Publication:New African Woman
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Nov 30, 2018
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