Out of a comfort zone


Grace Wakesho Maingi, the Executive Director of the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF). PHOTO | POOL

Often the person we are is the person we were as children. “I always wanted to correct injustices,” says Grace Wakesho Maingi. She was that child who was always disturbed by unfairness.

Her mother said she would end up doing law. And she did, at the University of Leicester, UK, and a Master’s degree in Human Rights at the University of London.

She then plunged into it —nose-first—working as Executive Director at Uraia Trust, Federation of Women Lawyers—Kenya (Fida) and served in senior management roles at the Law Society of Kenya and the Coalition on Violence Against Women.

Now she finds herself in a completely different sector as the Executive Director of the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF).

“Being in a new sector, people can either open doors for you and welcome you to the table or not,” she told JACKSON BIKO. “But whatever the case, there is work to be done and it will be done to satisfaction.”


As a leader, how important is it to be liked?

As a leader people can either accept you— which makes your work easier— or they can decide not to, which makes your work more difficult. So I wouldn’t say being liked, it’s more of being respected and being welcomed into some ‘closed spaces.’

What I’ve learned over the years is that you can do your job, and do it in a way that you’re not mean, but you still get the job done. That way people know what to expect from you.

How would you describe this season of your life?

I changed jobs in June last year, from a sector that I’ve always worked in, governance and human rights, to a sector that is more philanthropy and development focused. It was a leap of faith because I was moving from work that I’ve done for over 21 years to do something a bit different.

I’ve been in the season where I’ve had to realise the things I don’t know and that I have to learn. I have to be comfortable with who I am and not feel the pressure of being something or someone I’m not.

Coming into a job where my predecessor had been in the position for 17 years, established a name and track record, there are a lot of external expectations.

But I can only be me, I can only be Grace. I can’t be who was here before. And I have to make a name in a new sector, as opposed to a sector where I was known. So it’s been a season of not caring too much about what people think. [Chuckling].

What’s been the most difficult season in your life so far?

Balancing work and family obligations. Wanting to be the best at both and being pulled in two different directions. Also realising that when you’re doing very well at one you might not be doing well at another.

What are you doing better at— of the two forces?

The difference now is that I have help. I have someone who I’m able to talk to professionally, to help me manage different seasons of life. I’ve also gone through leadership training. One of the things I’ve learnt is taking time out, and not just on a Sunday but an hour or so in the morning every day.

When did you find Jesus or did Jesus find you?

[Chuckles] I more or less found him. I was born again when I was in Class 7, maybe about 12 years. But then after high school, I partied a lot.

In 2014, I re-dedicated my life. [To God]. It’s been amazing, just the realisation that God loves me regardless and that there’s nothing I can do that can separate me from His love. That I’m created to worship Him and serve Him. And a time will come that we’ll be in eternity together with those who we love who we have lost.

What do you struggle with when it comes to salvation and your relationship with God?

What I’ve struggled with in the past is just that clarity of hearing from God. When faced with a big life decision, like how sure am I that what I’m hearing is from God or myself or just the external environment.

But what I’ve grown to realise is that the more I am in tune with myself and the Word then the more I can be like yeah, that’s what God is saying to me, and it’s being reinforced by 1,2,3,4... issues.

What's your fear now?

My fear is not being there to see my sons — 16 and 12 — grow into adulthood. Though I do know that they will be provided for by their Heavenly Father. But still, there is fear that grips me, if I’m not there what will happen to them?

What do you wish people knew about you?

[Chuckling] Do I really wish people know anything about me? I don’t like the focus being on me. Okay, if I talk generally, I wish people realised that we’re complex beings, we have different things going on, so if we could be kinder to each other.

Are you living your best life?

Yes. I’m happy. I love my work. I love seeing my sons grow up into separate individuals from who I am and I am just amazed that they have their own opinions, very strong opinions, and I’m like ‘who’s child are you?’

My happiness now is different from my happiness before. I’m more content with who I am and where I am. I’ve come to terms with my life. I’m not striving for change.

I’m not going to live in New York or work in someplace in London. No. This is it and I’m happy with it. I’m okay with the mistakes I’ve made, I’m okay with the mistakes I will make. And it’s not going to be perfect.

What do you wish you knew at 30 that you know now?

How much time do you have? [Chuckles] I wish I knew then that it’s okay to be me. That I don’t need to apologise for who I am or what I think or what I say. I wish I was more confident in myself. That everything was going to be okay. It will find its level. And that these things have a way of working themselves out.

You mentioned happiness, define your happiness.

Reduced fear. Contentment. Joy in the simple things in life like flowers, and plants.

What kind of fears have you had to reduce?

I used to worry a lot and wear it like a badge of honour. I didn’t realise how it countered my faith. I used to think when you worry then you do better and you’ll be better.

But now I have reduced fear, reduced worry, reduced concern. I have realised that it’s not the bad event you need to be worried about. Bad events will happen— you cannot protect yourself from that. Question is, how do you go through them? Who will you be as you go through them?

If you were to ask God one question, and you’re sure you’ll get an answer, what would that be?

Why did you create us? Like He didn’t need to create us for us to sin, for us to come back for restoration, why? Why did He create man yet He knew man would sin?