NURU MUGAMBI: I stir up trouble and systems work

Saturday January 12 2019

Nuru Mugambi

Nuru Mugambi is the director of public affairs at the Kenya Bankers Association and the Eisenhower Fellowships-Kenya board chair. PHOTO | COURTESY 

NJIRAINI MUCHIRA
By NJIRAINI MUCHIRA
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Nuru Mugambi, who was appointed the Eisenhower Fellowships-Kenya board chair in December, believes in bringing positive change to society. She took over from Lady Justice Mary Ang’awa.

Indeed, this was one of the reasons behind her decision to return to Kenya 10 years ago after living and working in the US for many years. It also played a role in her recognition by former US president Barack Obama as an emerging African leader, which saw her join a group of Africans from different countries to participate in the Eisenhower Fellowships programme in 2016.

“I am passionate about positive change and I get agitated about systems not working,” says Nuru, the director of public affairs at the Kenya Bankers Association.

Her role as chairperson of Eisenhower Fellowships accords her the opportunity to help inform local policy and regional collaborations towards promoting sustainable socio-economic development in East Africa.

Nuru has been instrumental in the local banking industry since joining KBA in 2012. Prior to this, she worked in various companies in the US for 12 years.

Her contributions towards policy formulation have seen the banking industry adopt numerous progressive practices, particularly in public engagement, sustainable finance and alternative dispute resolution. For her contributions, she was awarded the Fellow of the Kenya Institute of Bankers designation in 2015, becoming one of the youngest women to earn it.

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Nuru is also a founding member of the Kenya Chapter of Graca Machel's New Faces/New Voices Pan African Network that promotes women's economic empowerment.

She graduated with honours in Business Administration from Kennesaw State University in Georgia in the US, and holds an executive MBA degree in strategy from Georgia State University.

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What is your off-duty passion?

Community and community change. I am active in my neighbourhood community of Kilimani, in Nairobi, through the Kilimani Project Foundation. Kilimani generates some of the highest tax revenues for the county yet the roads and security are terrible, and many systems do not work.

I am also passionate about gender issues having grown up in a family of girls, and coming from a community that valued boys more. There is an adage that says, if you give birth to only girls then you do not have children. My father went against the grain to disregard these stereotypes. I am a feminist. I am passionate about helping women close the gender gap, but at the same time not creating another one with the boy child.

What would you have been if you were not doing what you are doing today?

Maybe a politician or a teacher. A politician because I am an agitator and I am uncomfortable with the status quo. I believe things can always be better, systems can always work and things can always be fairer. And a teacher, because I enjoy teaching and sharing knowledge.

How would you describe your personal style?

Authentic. I try not to be somebody else. I try to be who I am in the moment. I don’t believe who we are is a constant. It changes based on life’s experiences and the environment.

How do you manage your wardrobe?

I wear everything from new ready-made outfits to tailored ones; expensive to cheap clothes. I have everything. Lately, I am wearing more of African print. This is part of me maturing as a woman, and being comfortable in my own skin.

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

There is no one place. In Tanzania, I like the Cape Town Fish Market in Dar es Salaam. In Nairobi, it’s different places depending on the food, because I eat out a lot with my daughter.

Which is your best destination yet in East Africa?

The place where I find peace is upcountry in Meru. I visit mostly during the holidays.

Do you have a must-visit list?

I used to, and Hawaii was top on the list. Then I visited Hawaii and now it is India and Japan. Japan, because of technology and the things they are doing with it, like robotics. I would like to take my daughter there because it is important the next generation becomes comfortable with robotics.

What is East Africa’s greatest strength?

Diversity. From a people’s perspective, we are very diverse, which is exciting. Also, the economic sectors are quite diverse, with huge opportunities. We just need to work together and put policies in place to tap into the opportunities.

What is your best collection — books or music?

Music. I have a large collection of music from country, Southern hip-hop, old school... and now I am getting into African music. I have an eclectic ear.

Any book you have read recently that had a great impact?

Animal Farm. You hear so much about it. When I finally read it, I realised it is really a powerful book. We all need to read it again and again because we seem to have forgotten how society operates.

What is the most thoughtful gift you have ever received?

An air fryer, which allows you to fry food with little or no oil. That was a very thoughtful gift because in my house Friday is chips day.

What is the best gift you have ever given?

Time. I have so much going on and my time is limited. I host people a lot in my house. I have slowly come to appreciate that time is the best gift you can give.

Which is your favourite website?

Twitter, because it is like a mini-MBA. If you follow the right people you gain insight that may have taken years to form. You take it and internalise it and you become more informed. It also gives you an opportunity to express yourself.

What is never missing from your fridge?

Tomatoes. A funny thing about tomatoes is that they are part of the produce that informs how interest rates are priced. Sometimes we forget how a tomato is central not only in a household but also in an economy.