Pearls And Heels: Catherine Ndungu


Our Pearls And Heels for today is Catherine Ndungu. Catherine Ndungu is the Communications Manager for Jhpiego, an international health NGO affiliated to the John Hopkins University. Jhpiego envisions a world where women and their children live a healthy and fruitful life. So they work to bring low cost health innovations to communities that are completely disadvantaged. Catherine manages and leads internal and external communications for the Kenya country office. She is passionate about empowering communities and enabling them to contribute to their own development. She strongly believes that you must become the change you want to see.

Catherine has two beautiful children and is married to a wonderful, funny intelligent guy whom she has known for 13 years. She loves fashion, music, cooking and mostly traveling. Catherine lives by one rule; try and see the positive in everything and if you can’t find it create it!


  1. Describe your typical day?

I don’t really have a typical day and that really makes my days interesting. The nature of my job means that whatever you have planned can be turned upside by having to react to an inquiry or responding to a crisis.  But as the guardian of the company’s image, regular tasks include putting together communications strategies for our different projects, creating the right messages for our different audience – in print, online, through film or at community events, responding to media inquiries and writing speeches for the directorate office.

I get home at about 7pm, bond with my kids before putting them to bed.

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

I started out wanting to be a lawyer, then I was obsessed with being a fashion designer (I still want to be a fashion designer), later a musician.

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

I think everything happens as it should be. However, I wish I volunteered more.

  1. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?

Communications skills,Diplomacy; Creativity and a sense of humor, that’s four!

Communications skills. It’s not just about just talking and presentation but also active listening; You need to be able to deduce what your client is saying to you without him or her actually spelling it out. Good communications enables you to anticipate needs and respond to them.

Diplomacy because there are many times when you will differ on how to present concepts and how to communicate about issues. Therefore, diplomacy is critical, especially during negotiation and when attempting to be persuasive or assertive.  Being diplomatic can lead to improved relationships with other people. It is a way to build and develop mutual respect, which in turn can lead to more successful outcomes and less difficult or stressful communications.

Creativity – In order to persuade you need to think outside the box and for that you need to be creative.

A sense of humour – You will not always get it right but that is okay so take a moment to laugh and enjoy the process.

  1. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?

I completed my bachelor’s degree in communications 11 years ago (feeling very old right now) and at that time there was not a single job advertisement for communications. So I settled for marketing and sales. Today there are so many opportunities for people in communications. You can choose to even start blogging! So I think we are doing well.

In my current job there can be a lot of pressure especially due to tight deadlines and that can be very stressful. Also right now there is a lot of travel required, and that takes me away from my kids which is really hard.

  1. What motivates you?

My children and my country. I have two children. My first born, Kito is 3.5 years and my daughter Nayana is 9 months old. I want to see a better future for them and I want them to live in a country which inspires them. I am motivated to be the best version of myself because of them. I also want to contribute to making Kenya a great country.

  1. How do you define success?

I think success is a state of mind, it means different things for different people. For me, it means getting out of your comfort zone, it means standing up after you fall, it means remembering to have fun along the way. You are responsible for your life and therefore you are the only one who can chart a way to get where you want to get. Farrah Gray said you need to build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs. So define your success and find a way of getting there!

  1. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My parents – for their hard work, their sacrifices, their integrity and love for their children.

My husband – he is my number one fan and my greatest cheerleader.

  1. What is your favorite aspect of your job?

My team, these guys are creative, fun and challenge me to think beyond the box. With this team there is no box.  Also seeing a publication come to life is always amazing.

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

A person determines their own success. The only barrier is in your mind.

So define what success means to you and work towards it. You do not have to subscribe to what others define as successful and don’t peg your success on others.
Always remember to celebrate when you get to your set goal.

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

First appreciate that communications has come a long way and there are a lot of opportunities! So think outside the box, if you don’t have a job, develop your writing skills, start contributing to journals or start a blog.

Look for places where you can volunteer your skills.

A big mistake most people make early on in their career is focus on money (I have made that mistake so I know), instead focus on building your craft, learn, perfect it and re-invent it the money will follow. 

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

I have every day great moments when I do a job and I exceed the client’s expectations.

Another great moment is when I try something I have never done and it exceeds my expectations.

In my job, great moments are when I get a project team to develop a communications strategy and budget for communications.

On a personal level- getting my masters and getting to a managerial level was pretty awesome!

  1. What makes you happy?

My children, my husband, my family, travel and food. I love good food.

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

Cooking, I love good food and so trying out new recipes is something I love.

  1. Where you see yourself in around 10 years?

Working with young minds to make this country and the African continent be the best it can be. I want to use communications to empower and provoke action so that we can change the African story. How I will do that, I still don’t know.

If you would like to interact with Catherine you can find her on twitter – @njericate. You can also find her on LinkedIn.

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