CEO, architect and mum who dedicates her time to Little Einsteins

Saturday April 14 2018

Mugure Njendu swimming with a dolphin in Jamaica. PHOTO | COURTESY

Mugure Njendu swimming with a dolphin in Jamaica. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By SUSAN MUUMBI
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Mugure Njendu, a registered architect and urban planner, was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya.

Her mother was a teacher and instilled in her a love for reading to the point of being called a geek. She still considers reading as one of the best ways to unwind, and is a member of a book club.

She attended the Kenya High School, and went to the US for higher education at the Wentworth Institute of Technology, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree, and a Masters of Architecture degree in Urban Planning from the University of Miami.

She started her career in Boston, Massachusetts, and then moved to Miami, Florida before returning to Kenya to earn her registration as an accredited architect in Kenya.

In 2006, Njendu joined Gitutho Architects and Planners, a Mombasa-based company started by her father 30 years ago, and in 2011 became the managing director. They have offices in Nairobi, and take on projects as far as Juba, South Sudan.

She was ranked among Top 40 Under 40 women in Kenya in 2014.

She has 12 years professional experience and is currently a member of the Board of Architects and Quantity Surveyors of Kenya, and also Women in Real Estate. She serves as the honorary secretary at the Architectural Association of Kenya, and has chaired the Board of Practice and Ethics in the East Africa Institute of Architects.

In 2015, she founded Little Einsteins East Africa that teaches students about the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through fun and hands-on activities at the Science Explorers Lab in Nairobi as well as through in-school workshops and holiday camp activities.

The Little Einstein’s Programme is now offered in 18 schools in Nairobi and has registered over 3,000 children. Little Einstein’s East Africa further runs a STEM programme on YouTube and plans to open in Kigali this July.

The mother of two believes in giving back to the community and she is a founder and trustee of the Ex-Bomarian Educational Fund, a non-profit organisation formed by the Kenya High School Alumni that sponsors needy students admitted to the school.

She also led a team in building three homes for internally displaced people through Habitat for Humanity Kenya. She participates in mentoring through career fairs and counselling. She loves art, poetry, music, and eclectic jewellery and accessories.

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What’s your off-duty passion?

Little Einsteins East Africa, where we teach innovation and creativity by teaching STEM to children aged three to 12, by having them engage in hands-on projects and experiments.

We held our annual science fair last month and I worked on a project with my children. We combine fun and learning.

If you hadn’t gone into architecture, what would you be doing instead?

I would be an artist, a starving one for sure because my fine art skills are not good enough to earn me a living. I however love architecture and creativity.

What signifies your personal style?

I have classic pieces that I can wear for many years, such as a well-cut jacket and a dress that last beyond fashion trends. I also have an eclectic style so I have newsboy caps, converse sneakers and big earrings. I don’t spend a lot on clothes, except on great jackets, shoes and bags.

How do you manage your wardrobe?

I am completely Type A about the organisation of my wardrobe. Dresses in one row, shirts in one pile, jeans in another. I find it makes it easier to get dressed in the morning and mix and match pieces when you know what goes where.

Where in East Africa are you most likely to be found on your day off?

I was born and raised in Mombasa, so I still have a soft spot for coastal locations. I love Zanzibar in Tanzania and Watamu and Diani in Kenya.

What is your best destination in East Africa?

The Medina Palms in Watamu. It is serene and well designed. I also really love Kigali. I appreciate the cleanliness and orderliness.

What is on your must-visit list?

The beaches of Bali, Indonesia, and the Machu Pichu ruins in Peru. I would also like to travel more within Kenya, and I plan on visiting all the 47 counties.

What is the most thoughtful gift you have ever received?

It has to be the cards I get often from my children. My two sisters are also thoughtful gifters. One sent me flowers and a beautiful note on International Women’s Day last month. The other took me on a surprise visit to the set of Blackish in Los Angeles, where I met the stars of the show.

What is the best gift you have ever given?

My siblings and I gave our parents a cruise to the Caribbean Islands on one of their wedding anniversaries.

Your last great read?

I recently read Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor. It is an African science fiction novel. A refreshing and engaging read.

What genre of books do you most enjoy?

I love books by African authors, fantasy (C.S Lewis and G.R Martin) and chic-lit. I know that’s very cliché, but I appreciate a good Marianne Keys or Sophia Kinsella book, especially when I’m on holiday. I also read to get better in business, entrepreneurship and inter-personal skills. I am currently reading Built to Last: Visionary Habits of Successful Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras.

What movie has had the most impact on you?
Definitely the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is a classic and can be watched many times over.

Favourite music?

Hip-hop and reggae. I cannot sit still when old school music is playing. Reggae is timeless. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Peter Tosh or Romaine Virgo.

What is your favourite food?

Chapati and dengu (green grams). Nothing beats the homely feel they evoke. On an evening out, I prefer Indian food, and I also love Thai soup.

What never misses in your fridge?

Milk and yogurt.