Profiles

Living struggle-free

BilhaNdirangu

Bilha Ndirangu is the new boss at African Leadership Academy. She’s the first non-founder CEO in the history of the organisation. PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Bilha Ndirangu is the new boss at African Leadership Academy.
  • She’s the first non-founder CEO in the history of the organisation.
  • It doesn’t hurt to also mention that she’s the first woman to hold this position.

Bilha Ndirangu is the new boss at African Leadership Academy. She’s the first non-founder CEO in the history of the organisation. It doesn’t hurt to also mention that she’s the first woman to hold this position. 

But all these shouldn’t come as a shock if you peek at her career trajectory; senior project manager at Dalberg Global Development Advisors where she advised governments, corporations, and foundations across the continent on solutions to African challenges. (she was involved in the Wings to Fly school scholarship programme.) 

Previously and for the past seven years, she was the CEO of Africa’s Talking which empowers software developers. She attended the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and left with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. 

She’s deeply entrenched in her spirituality. She says things like, “making a difference in different people’s lives is key to me so that by the time our interaction is done they would have met God through me.” But she says it, not with hubris, but humility and conviction.

Although astute and cerebral, while Bilha occupies an important space in the big Africa conversation, she remains petite and seems to occupy only a small space of her chair at the Serena where she met JACKSON BIKO. 

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When did you realise that you're smart?

That’s an interesting one because I guess one could ask what does smart mean? Is it a question of you scoring As in school? We define it in a very narrow way so that the person who gets As is defined as smart, but a creative writer or a painter, it takes years for somebody to be like “oh, you’re a genius.” 

Most people are smart in interesting ways. When I think about the person who organises my house, it’s a genius the way she can keep things very neat and orderly. Think about what it takes to build a society. It takes different types of smarts for us to build the society we want and I think being able to identify and call them out is important. 

But going back to your question, I guess I was always that child who asked a lot of questions, which annoyed my mom to no end. Just an inquisitiveness of why are things like this and I was never satisfied with one answer. So, if I asked something and they said “because of this”, I would be like “but why”. So, I guess it’s something that has always been ever since I could speak.

Is there a particular question you're constantly asking right now in this season of your life?

When I look back at the things I’ve been able to build it’s clear that there is a reason why God put me on this earth. What’s my purpose, why am I on this earth? So I think it’s making sure that that’s well-articulated but I guess you grow into all these things. 

The question of whether my purpose is coming together is answered by the fact that everything I do is driven by my faith in God. I know that sounds simplistic but because of my belief in God and the love for Him, the question becomes ‘what does He want me to do, and why did He put me on this earth?’ So in many ways, my purpose becomes living out what He has planned or ordained for me. Making a difference in people’s lives is key so that they meet God through me.

When was the last time you felt that you've disappointed God?

[Pause] Good question. I don’t want to say it’s a daily occurrence, but I guess because I tend to be hard on myself I will be like ‘I could have done this better’. And so if I am not careful that could create this sort of self-flagellation process where I constantly feel like I have to keep beating myself up and if I feel remorseful enough or penitent enough, then maybe God might forgive me. But on the flip side, I realise there’s a God who loves us unconditionally. So, I’ve had to teach myself not to think of myself as disappointing God.

When you think of your childhood, what memory sort of floats to the surface?

I had a varied childhood. I think one of the things was the juxtaposition of living an urban-rural life. So my grandmother was a coffee farmer and every holiday, we would go visit and spend a couple of weeks with her. This sort of informed whom I have become over the years, having this inside-out sort of experience. I can tell what happens in rural Kenya bacause I’ve lived that life. Because I’ve being on the other side and can become this bridge. For example, I have lived in the US and so know what it feels like, and when I come back home and we’re trying to build businesses here, I can sort of be a bridge between investors looking to come to Africa or Africans looking for investments outside.

What’s your biggest struggle currently?

I know this will sound weird but, (chuckles) I don’t have a struggle now. [Innocent look] I mean what would people’s struggles be?

My God! Do you have a whole day?

(Laughter) I know this sounds weird but of course there are what people will call problems but for me, it’s about perspective. On one hand, I’m very clear that God’s got my back. That sorts a lot of things. So even when problems come a long the way I’m not a loss of what to do. 

I think the reason why people say something is bothering them is because they can’t see the end of it or there’s a fear attached to it, right? I do genuinely believe that everything works together for my good, and I’ve seen that. 

It’s actually to just have a life where I’m very content I think. I think I’m very content.

When was the last time you were really overwhelmed with emotion? And what emotion was that?

I think it was love. A love for my father. I got to a point when I was thinking about him and just everything he’s done and who he’s been in my life. The emotions of love and gratitude just flooded my heart and I was very grateful.

How do you let your hair down?

It’s already down.[Laughs] I have a great family so I love hanging out with my family. I work out every so often. So at some point, I’m a crossfitter...is that letting your hair down? (chuckles) I used to cycle, even though I haven’t done that in a while, I need to get back to it. I love nature -anything that gets me out in nature, I love it. I enjoy it.

What's your extravagance? Incidentally.

Shoes. [Chuckles] I also like cars. I like a combination of elegance, speed, and comfort. I love speed.

If you were a car what car would you be?

[Chuckles) I guess maybe a Mercedes Benz.

Is that what you drive now?

Yes.