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Women on Top in Tech – Judith Owigar, Co-Founder at Akirachix Association and Founder/CEO at JuaKali Workforce Limited.

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Judith Owigar, Co-Founder at Akirachix Association and Founder/CEO at JuaKali Workforce Limited. She believes that exposure, education and use of technology can increase the quality of life and as such change the world. As a Social Entrepreneur, she uses technology as a catalyst for positive change. This is what led her to Co-found AkiraChix an organization whose vision is to nurture generations of women who use technology to develop innovations and solutions for Africa. Her passion for increasing female social capital in the African Tech ecosystem has helped propel the entry of many young women, girls and now children, into careers in Science Technology Engineering and Math.


What makes you do what you do?

The hope that tomorrow can be better than today and the belief that I have the power to make it so. I hold this thought in any initiative I am a part of or any job that I carry out. While founding AkiraChix, my inspiration was seeing more women represented in the field of technology. My scope later expanded to include women’s representation careers in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). By offering young women from low-income areas a chance to build careers in these sectors, we were essentially giving them the opportunity earn a good living that they previously did not have access to. For my current initiative- Juakali.co.ke, I believe that we can improve the livelihoods of young people in the informal sector using technology. Kenya’s youth constitute 75% of the country’s population, a win for the youth is a win for the country.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

Hard work, networking and visibility. The first task is to work hard and smart in the field of your choosing. This required me to do some tasks that were not enjoyable yet were necessary to the success of my respective initiative. I had to learn the basics of accounts, budgeting and legal which was not very enjoyable for me but was necessary to the survival of the organization.

In order for my start up to be visible in the industry, I had to network with different players and in diverse events in the industry. Through networking, I met funders, partners, supporters and collaborators.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

I decided to start this Juakali Workforce since I saw there was a need for people to get reliable workers to do basic jobs like plumbing, carpentry, cleaning etc and I felt I could be a part of the solution. I initially did not think I was the best person to do the job, but I have done many things well for which I did not think I was the best person suited for the job. While carrying out a task I am not familiar with I am always willing to learn and I am confident in my ability to be a quick study. Another thing I do is strive to understand my strengths and weaknesses so that I can leverage on my strengths and get people to help in the areas I am weak. For many leadership positions in disruptive spaces, you get experience by being a leader in the disruptive space. There is no school for this other than doing it.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I do not have a dedicated mentor but I do have access to people who I can reach out to in case I need to advise on an issue. I also read and listen to podcasts based on the experiences of successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

I have worked with life/career coaches especially when I needed someone to help me work through an issue in life or career. I reached out to my respective coaches through references and recommendations.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

The first step is to understand yourself as a person, your strengths and your weaknesses. Hire people who have strengths in areas where you are weak and those who can also help you to build on your strengths. Also hire people who buy into your vision, who are seeking to learn and who can challenge your decisions.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

I consciously decide to build and work in diverse teams. I am aware that some of my insights and decisions are biased based on my upbringing, or location, or my education. One of the effective ways to deal with this is to surround myself with people who have different views than I do, but with whom we can work together.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

A leader is defined by the principles and values they stand for. This shapes their point of view and the decisions they make. The ability to hold on to the vision as you go through the mundane and often insignificant steps in the journey is also important for a leader.

Advice for others?

I think the essence of leadership is about service, service to family, team, company or nation. I believe this is further emphasized by these words on Martin Luther King Jr. “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street-sweeper who did his job well.” – Martin Luther King Jr.


To learn more about Akirachix Association, please see http://akirachix.com/.

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

This article was co-written with Joy Oballum.
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joy-oballum-51041168/

Joy is a social entrepreneur, an educationist, and an independent researcher with interest primarily in Education but as well in Poverty Reduction, Governance and Policy Reforms having obtained degrees in Statistics and Information Technology.
She is very passionate about Education (especially with regards to using IT to improve learning outcomes); Women, Children and their Early Childhood Care & Development; Poverty Reduction Initiatives and Research. She is a Technology Driven Quality Education Advocate with emphasis on Girls participation and being committed to SDG4, she’s consumed with passion for reducing to the barest minimum the phenomena of Out-of-School Children in Africa and is currently innovating strategies for same.

Callum Connects

Denise Morris Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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