Pearls And Heels: Phyllis Wakiaga


Today on Pearls and Heels we have Phyllis Wakiaga, the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM). Phyllis Wakiaga has also been the UN Global Compact Kenya Representative since 2015. Kenya Association of Manufacturers is a Business Membership Organization that represents manufacturing value-add industries in Kenya.  KAM exists to advocate for a conducive business environment in which local industries can competitively operate in, in order to create wealth and employment benefits for the citizens of this country.

As a leader of the secretariat, Phyllis’s role is to ensure that their policy advocacy is in line with the vision for the prosperity of our country. Additionally, she strives to make sure the voices of their members are heard by all the relevant stakeholders so that KAM are consulted and their proposals are considered in every decision made at both county and national levels. Phyllis is also keen to see that the secretariat has all that it needs in order to effectively and efficiently represent the members of KAM.

Phyllis Wakiaga

  1. Describe your typical day?

On a normal day I arrive at the office between 6:30 to 7:00am. Before doing much else I start by doing some devotion. A writer once said that mornings are about starting the difficult task of ‘beating back’ the past. My devotion helps me in doing exactly that – I read my bible and then look through my sources of inspiration for something to take me through the day.

After that I look through my emails, and respond to as much as I can before I have to begin meetings (both internal and external) and other engagements.

  1. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Funny thing, I have always imagined that I would be a lawyer and then a CEO.  I had a road map in my head that I followed diligently backed by my faith in God and support from my family. I also imagined that I would already have had my own family, which is the case – so I am truly blessed.

  1. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I have no regrets to be sincere. Every mistake made along the way taught me very valuable lessons and I paid attention which is why I have achieved some of my most important goals. If I could do it all over again I would still be me and I would still make those mistakes, learn my lessons, celebrate my small wins and never look back.

  1. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
  • People skills
  • A deep understanding of the market economics (both global and local).
  • A sensitivity to geopolitics
  • One must be able to think on their feet
  1. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?

For an industrialist and a lawyer that is a complex question. Yes and no. Nairobi is open to our vision – of industrializing to attain vision 2030 and become a middle income country. However sometimes the regulatory framework could be a deterrent to achieving this as it increases the cost of doing business therefore reducing the level of investment for industry. However, this is something that we are constantly engaging relevant stakeholders to resolve.

  1. What motivates you?

I am a change agent. I believe in changing things always for the better and that motivates me in every aspect of my life. With my job especially I love that I can change things that affect the entire country. I am motivated by the fact that what I do now contributes towards a sustainable future for Kenya.

  1. How do you define success?

For me success is waking up one day knowing that you have achieved all that you set out to do, positively impacting other people’s lives in the process and leaving a legacy for future generations. Once you have that, you are successful.

  1. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My Mother. She is a successful woman in her own right and has always been a career woman all my life. She has been very supportive of my career in many ways including giving me guidance, moral support and the education to propel me to where I am.

She made me realize I can have it all.

  1. What is your favorite aspect of your job?

The great thing about this job is knowing that you have a direct impact on people’s lives. I receive emails from people who read our articles or interviews and they ask questions and want to engage in a conversation.  There those who are inspired by the difference the Association is making, and they call me to their forums to give talks, to share my journey and encourage them. This makes all the hurdles and long processes worth the while

  1. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?

My faith in God is the top most thing that comes to mind. He always let me know that all things are possible and I see great value and fulfilment in trusting God with everything that I have. This has in turn shaped my values – I am dedicated and I do my part to the best of my ability. I don’t limit myself, so I am never complacent or satisfied with average I always strive for more.

Life is not a rehearsal and since we only live it once then we need to live it as the very best versions of ourselves.

  1. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?

The only thing limiting you is your fear. Go big and dream big and never be afraid to start the journey toward your destiny. Your belief in yourself is the only armor you will ever need to fight the challenges that will come your way. Write down these dreams, even if it feels silly because one day, you will look back at them and remember where you started and this will only motivate you to keep going.

Also, never underestimate the doors that education will open up for you. Look for opportunities to educate yourself, to know more and sharpen your skills, so that no opportunity that is meant for you passes you by. Education gives you an edge that no one can take away from you.

Lastly, relationships. Build strong networks in your life because you never know what life brings your way. They have the power to transform you and give you a boost to fulfilling your dreams. When you build lasting relationships you realize that every one, no matter whom, has something to teach you and a potential to change your life.

  1. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?

The most fulfilling thing about my job is that I am able to influence high level decisions on policies and regulations for business. From day to day I have diverse engagements with many stakeholders, all which have long term consequences on the future on this country.

Influencing and advocacy is a hard job, it is a long winded process with no immediate results and requires constant push and patience. However when a process does come to fruition it is always well worth it. Some good examples are the projects we are doing to fight illegal trade and counterfeit products in the market, has earned us support from major key stakeholders including the Judiciary with whom we are now driving this agenda.

  1. What makes you happy?

Definitely my family. My husband James is my rock and inspiration even when things seem impossible. We have three children; one girl and two boys, aged 10, 6 and 4 in that order.  I also live with my nephew who is 12 and so dear to me; whom I love as my own.

I put God at the center of everything and He becomes the glue that keeps my family together and a guide on how to keep the love growing stronger. I also prioritize, my family is the one thing in my life that I treasure most and I remember that above all else. Roles come and go but family is a constant so I make sure that there is a healthy balance.

  1. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

I have many interests! Where to start?! I love kids so any chance I get I teach them bible study. I also teach the children’s choir in church, read to them, spend time with them.

Another thing I love, is taking long drives –somewhere, anywhere just to clear my mind and take in our beautiful scenic country. So any opportunity to drive far out, I embrace it wholly.

My other interests include, cooking, reading and listening to some good music. Sometimes doing all at the same time!

  1. Where you see yourself in around 10 years?

I see myself increasing my current mandate in terms of advocacy and influencing important policies and decisions. This is my passion and I love my country – and so I see myself in this same space making a difference that will outlive my roles and have a lasting positive impact on the lives of all Kenyans.

If you would like to interact with Phyllis Wakiaga you can find her on twitter  @wakiaga_phyllis.

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Managing editor and blogger at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories. Find me at [email protected]