A keynote delivered at KamiLimu by Professor Gateru, Vice Chancellor, Riara University.
Transcription by Allan Wasega, Mentee @ KamiLimu, Student at JKUAT
Africa — the land of mass poverty, endemic corruption, inefficient infrastructure, diseases, hunger, ignorance — a seemingly endless list of challenges faced by people in the continent. So, what should we as Africans do about our current situation? The famous mathematician, Carl Jacobi, stated that “Invert, always invert.” These are the words Professor Robert Gateru, the current Vice Chancellor of Riara University lives by, and with which he encouraged attendees at KamiLimu’s Professional Development workshop held on 24th March. Born to a family of modest means in the plains of Laikipia, Professor Gateru defied all odds to become one of the youngest university Vice Chancellors in Kenya’s history. Along the way to his current position, he has earned several academic qualifications and recognition for his work such as being awarded the Distinguished Scholar Award by the ICT Association of Kenya and being recognized by the Business Daily as one of Kenya’s Top 40 under 40 men in 2012. Notably, he had to learn how to take advantage of the opportunities open to him to earn his achievements. This was the primary message he had for participants at the workshop — the need to look at our disadvantages as stepping stones to success instead of letting them weigh us down. Professor Gateru then highlighted the importance of investing and believing in oneself, and the opportunities in innovation and entrepreneurship.
“Kenya has about 30 million mobile subscribers. Assuming that one could build an application through which they could charge each of those subscribers a shilling each month, then they could receive monthly earnings of about 30 million shillings ?” — Professor Gateru
The numerous challenges we face in our society are opportunities for enterprising individuals to formulate solutions for them. According to Prof. Gateru, instead of focusing on seeking employment upon graduating from college, young people across Kenya could embrace entrepreneurship to help the country overcome some of the challenges its citizens face. Thus, he encouraged participants at the workshop to be keen on identifying the needs of the people so that they could build products which potentially meet these requirements, and, in the process, secure a livelihood for themselves.
Investing in Self
“Believing and investing in yourself is the best way to shift your thinking from a paradigm of excuses to one of solutions.” — Farshad Asl
Everyone has the potential to achieve greatness if they can work toward attaining their goals, whether personal or professional. However, most people go through life not knowing what they are capable of or what they want in life evidenced by the high number of individuals working in jobs they do not love, pursuing the wrong courses at university level, or even stuck in unhappy relationships. Prof. Gateru stated that one of the most effective approaches people can use to escape this trap of lack of fulfillment and direction is by investing in themselves. Accordingly, the most significant step toward achieving this objective is by first identifying oneself, one’s strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. A person can do this through introspection — in other words, spending time by yourself, reading books, and keeping a journal or diary to document your emotions and decisions. Additionally, borrowing from Blaise Pascal’s observation that “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” Prof. Gateru encouraged individuals to spare some “me-time” for reflection. In this manner, they can pinpoint their virtues and weaknesses after which they can exploit their strengths and define ways through which they can seek assistance for their failings. Subsequently, the person should pick a few things and be good at them through persistence and consistency (what Warren Buffet calls operating within your circle of competence).
Belief in Self
“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” \- — Norman Vincent Peale
Prof. Gateru’s last message to the participants was that they should have faith in themselves and their ability to achieve their desires. Indeed, without a firm belief in one’s capability to attain his or her goals, they can quickly abandon such a quest at the first sign of trouble. Therefore, it is crucial that people should work purposefully towards accomplishing their objectives regardless of the challenges they may face. According to Prof. Gateru, one way of doing this is by focusing on what you want to do, and to never compromise on your beliefs, integrity, and goals. Additionally, one should take personal responsibility for his or her success and avoid being distracted by any obstacles. However, achieving success takes considerable amounts of patience, and, for this reason, Prof. Gateru urged the attendees to read about and learn from the story of the Chinese Bamboo. Notably, once cultivated, the bamboo takes about four years before it germinates. Within that period, a frustrated farmer can easily stop nurturing the plant. Nonetheless, once it germinates in the fifth year, the bamboo grows to about 80 feet (24 meters) in six weeks! From the Chinese bamboo tree story, people can learn that, at times, progress can be slow, frustrating, and unrewarding but that, with patience and persistence, it is worth the struggle in the end. Overall, using these guidelines, Prof. Gateru hopes that we can build a more prosperous Africa by taking advantage of our challenges and turning them into opportunities.
Marquardt, Michael J. Leading with Questions: How Leaders find the Right Solutions by knowing what to ask.
Tracy, Brian. Eat that Frog.
Sharma, Robin. The Greatness Guide.