Tapping into youth buzz, creativity

Saturday September 8 2018

Navalayo Osembo-Ombati

Navalayo Osembo-Ombati at the Colloseum in Rome. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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Navalayo Osembo-Ombati, a graduate of the London School of Economics is a lawyer with a head for business.

Partnering with Weldon Kennedy, a social-change campaigner, they are producing Kenya’s first running shoe, Enda.


What is your off-duty passion?

I like to mentor other people when I can, usually by sharing my experience or information I come across that could be helpful to other people. I started a Facebook group called Kusaidiana ni KuGrow a while back as a platform for people in Kenya, and Africa, to share opportunities.

I have not been as active on it as I would like to be nowadays, but at least the platform still exists for people who have the same passion.

I am a beneficiary of mentorship and I try to pass along the lessons that I have learnt to others. I currently mentor some students and entrepreneurs, hoping that they can be better at their craft or lives with additional knowledge of how to avoid some things or be better in other pursuits.

What career would you have taken if you had not taken up mentorship?

A writer. I enjoy reading and writing and I have written a few stories that I will publish one day. When I was younger, I focused on academic pursuits and I wish I had more insight into how I could have started a career in writing.

What is your personal style?

Comfort and durability. I did try once having multiple pairs of the same trousers and shirts to reduce decision making in the morning but that did not work out well as I discovered I like diversity. But what currently works for me best is anything that is comfortable and lasts, so I do not have to keep shopping.

How do you manage your wardrobe?

My wardrobe is simple. I have clothes that I wear all the time and those that I wear occasionally. I usually store away the latter and retrieve them on a need basis.

For day to day wear, I simply put them on hangars and follow the sequence of the days of the week. That way, there is no stress in the morning deciding what to wear because it is all laid out in advance.

While in East Africa, where are you most likely to spend your Saturday?

The Nairobi Arboretum. I used to go there a lot with my church group when I was younger. It was also a big part of my campus life. I got married there and in the park is a tree at the Tree Centre that my husband and I planted on our wedding day. It is a very special place and I am thankful that it is available to people from all walks of life.

Dream destination in East Africa?

Mbudya Island in Dar es Salaam. I have not been there yet because something always came up whenever I was in Dar and wanted to travel there. Hopefully I will visit the island before the year ends, and see for myself if it lives up to its allure.

Do you have a bucket list?

No, I have a must-do list instead. Travel is great, both for relaxation and changing mindsets, but I feel that there is more value in doing things that you have set out to do with your life. Travelling can be one of them. That said, I would like to visit Cuba, because it is so different from the rest of the world, and Thailand.

Which is East Africa’s greatest strength?

Our youth have vibrant ideas but they lack opportunity. Our population is young and creative, so we must think of ways of tapping into that buzz, be it from a market or production perspective, and give young people a chance to forge their future.

It is for this reason the inaugural Enda Community Foundation invested in community projects led by youth, women and persons with disability. We started in Nairobi, and hope to expand to other counties. The idea is to be at the forefront of providing opportunities and telling stories of the amazing projects that our youth are doing.

Navalayo Osembo-Ombati

Navalayo Osembo-Ombati in London with the Big Ben in the background, (left) prepares to go skydiving. PHOTOS | COURTESY

What is your best collection?

I collect items that mean something to me at different stages in life — a book from a friend, my high school Bible that had so many thoughts, quotes and dreams, dried flower petals from places in nature that I have been to and enjoyed, pictures, books that I want to read over and over, journals I kept and stones from a beach. It is a wild mix.

If an experience makes me extremely happy or sad, I keep little bits of it to remember the moment and also as a mark of gratitude because they show me how far I have come.

What is the most thoughtful gift you have received?

The Ksh200 ($2) that I received from my parents a long time ago for a school trip that was to last a week! I was angry because I could not understand why they could not give me more money when everyone else had so much of it.

I spoke about it with my mother later and only then did I realise that it was all they had at the time. Yes, I wish I was more understanding then, but it remains to me an example of how much they sacrificed for us.

Which big book have you read recently?

I am reading Crushing It! How great entrepreneurs build their business and influence — and how you can, too, by Gary Vaynerchuk. A friend recommended it and I am glad I found it. I have been asking a lot of questions on brand and influence and I am finding answers as I continue reading it.

Which film has impacted you the most?

Sarafina. Growing up, I watched it countless times. I loved the story, the energy and the songs. Its many messages are still relevant today, e.g., the importance of the contents of a nation’s education curriculum, the resilience of communities facing hardship and, most important, the concept of freedom.

Which is your favourite website?

None comes to mind.

What does not miss in your fridge?

Milk. I love it in all its forms.