“It should not have to take climbing a mountain to be able to say been there, done that as many times as I want. All I need to do is cut down the noise and just do it.”
~Sanda Ojiambo, 2016.
Sanda Ojiambo was recently appointed as the first African head of the UN Global Compact agency and is set to assume her role on the 17th June 2020.
Twelve years ago, Sanda began her journey with Safaricom as the Senior Manager for Safaricom Foundation. This marked the beginning of her dalliance with sustainable development matters. Just slightly over a decade later, the involvement has culminated in her recent appointment as CEO and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.
Sanda was still new in her role when she received an email from the then Safaricom Chief Executive Officer, Michael Joseph. The email was forwarded from the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, following up on a report. Safaricom had signed up to the UN agency the year before. Although she was still new in the position, she produced a fantastic report that broke down issues such as carbon footprint and gender breakdown across the business. Sanda credits Safaricom’s achievements in the sustainability journey to strategic partnerships that have enriched its technical knowledge and facilitated joint initiatives.
Prior to this, Sanda had been working for CARE International in Somalia. She also worked for the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P), also in Somalia. In her five years in Somalia, she led programmes in areas including education, safe motherhood, environmental conservation, governance, and landmines demining. She also worked at the Africa Regional Office of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). There, she provided technical advice for “service delivery, accreditation standards, financial management, governance, and advocacy.”
The UN Global Compact agency is a voluntary initiative based on C.E.O commitments to implement universal sustainability principles and to take steps to support UN goals. It was launched in July 2000 during the late Kofi Annan’s regime as U.N Secretary-General. Sanda will be inaugurated at the virtual U.N Global Compact Leaders’ Summit.
They say that a person’s childhood has a large influence in shaping their future. For Sanda, her interest in the community began back when she was a child. Although she grew up in Nairobi, she had been constantly exposed to her rural community in Busia County. Over the school holidays, she went to Busia with her siblings where they were involved in several community initiatives. This shaped her career interests and choices. It was then that she reinforced her passion for working with communities.
Five years ago, Sanda was part of the inauguration of the M-Pesa Foundation Academy, a school that is driven by leadership, entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation, and serves talented but economically disadvantaged students with demonstrable leadership potential. Speaking in an interview with Julie Gichuru, she says that the academy is to shape the thinkers, the doers, and the leaders. It seems her passion for sustainability began way back. In the same interview, she emphasizes the importance of private partnerships in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
We could say that from an early age Sanda showed leadership skills in representing the country. She was an active swimmer all along, and in 1987 she represented Kenya at the All African Games held at the then-new Kasarani Stadium, Nairobi. Aside from this, she is now a fledgeling art collector with a particular interest in East African art.
When it comes to sustainability, Sanda believes that you can do it from a philanthropic point of view, but this is a short term strategy. She says that when you do it from a business perspective, most people who are left out of the power systems are able to engage and participate in economic development. She feels the need to empower small and medium enterprises (S.M.Es) given that they make up for the majority of African economies. She also recognizes the fact that the transformation in social challenges is heavily dependent on businesses. Real transformation comes from businesses that have a business strategy that looks both at the positive externalities and the negative externalities.
Interesting to note, Sanda worked in Somalia for a period of five years. She worked in different parts of the country and got a good sense of Somalia and all of its challenges. She says that she would love to go back there once more.
Back in 2011, the “Kenyans for Kenya” initiative was started by corporate leaders and the Red Cross in response to media reports of famine and deaths from starvation in Turkana County. Through Safaricom Foundation, Sanda Ojiambo was a part of this fundraiser that raised ten million dollars and had tremendous success in re-igniting the spirits of Kenyans as well as focusing on a national issue.
In an Engage Talk which she gave two years back, she tells a fascinating story about her “friend” titled “5 feelings in 5 days at 5000ft.” The story revolves around a journey climbing Mount Kilimanjaro that began with trepidation and ended with self-actualization. In this captivating story, she reveals to us at the very end that the story is in fact about her, and it was an out of body experience until the fifth feeling: self-actualization. She summarizes her lesson in very few thought-provoking words: It should not have to take climbing a mountain to be able to say been there, done that as many times as I want. All I need to do is cut down the noise and just do it.
Sanda assumes the position at UN Global Compact as the organisation marks its 20th anniversary, and at a time when the world is disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to an unprecedented crisis. She serves as a symbol of inspiration to women all over the world, proving that we can indeed reach to greater heights. Read more about her here Sanda Ojiambo: I will advance Kofi Annan’s vision
Found this inspiring? Check out this Interview: Rita Okuthe Talks About Her Journey To The Top And Safaricom’s Investment In Women’s Leadership