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Modest Kendi, the Silent Star

Kendi Ntwiga-Nderitu
Kendi Ntwiga-Nderitu. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

In 2017, Kendi Ntwiga-Nderitu spoke about her story at the UN General Assembly to represent the African woman. A couple of years back before that she had been selected from a pool of 1,500 applicants from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa as an emerging African leader for tech women.

She also founded She-Goes-Tech to mentor young girls to pursue careers in science and technology (3,100 girls so far).

She continues to contribute to groups like The Gates Foundation, Aspen New Voices and Ford Foundation. When she worked at Oracle, she won the Oracle Excellence Award, granted to the top two percent high performing employees globally.

She has also worked for Intel, HP and now Check Point Software Technologies as managing director and country leader.

Driven, smart and accomplished, she’d rather keep these accolades under her hat because she feels that she has yet to contribute to the village that raised her. She spoke to JACKSON BIKO.

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From my interviewing experience, most men who do 40 percent will make it sound like they did 90 percent, but most women who do 90 percent will try very hard to make it look like it was 40 percent. Women tend to be very modest about their achievements. I see it in you. But if I handed you a trumpet and told you to blow it without judgment, what would you say about your achievement?

(Long sigh) Biko, that’s a difficult question. I’m the typical woman in that regard. (Laughs) And I knew you might ask me that question. So, last night I thought; if he asks me what I think has been my greatest achievement, what would I say?

And I’m like to be honest, I won’t have an answer. (Pause) Why? Because I think these things are vanity.

What things? Achievements?

Yes. Look, if you ask me who I am, the one thing I am, is a child of God. And the journey we’ve been with my God has been such that, He puts the desire in my heart and I pursue it with excitement because there is nothing in the world better than this. It’s been a process Biko, it’s one after the another. So, when you ask me what are those great achievements, I’m at a loss, because they are not even mine.

So God puts us here for a purpose. He says, I want Kendi to do this thing and you do it very well and God is pleased. But why not proclaim it? Why not honour Him? Why deny the Lord that glory?

(Chuckles) I know. OK. Good question. Look at you now making me feel guilty. The conversation we are currently having in church is the marketplace influence. How do you speak about your achievements?

How do you acknowledge God because preaching comes in different forms. (Pause). I wonder why I would struggle speaking about what I have done and I know it’s because I still feel short. I grew up in the rural area, went to school, did a technical course and excelled in the multinational space.

I have received awards, I mentor women but I still feel short. Why? It’s because it took a village to bring me here, literally and the last few years I’ve been asking myself, Kendi, what have you done for the village?

When I go back to my village things haven’t changed much yet I’m here celebrated in global platforms. For what? Of what use are my achievements if I can’t bring it back home!

What do you have to do for your village for you to say, you know what? I’ve done well for my village.

I’m searching for myself. I’m going through that process now. It has to be a social change that works for my village.

Yes, I have a foundation where I educate children here and there, but three or four children? Can that be scaled?

What if you were put on earth to change only one or two lives? Would you have failed your purpose?

But is that enough? I don’t think so. I think I have to put my skin in the game more.

Is there a chance that you’re very hard on yourself?

Yes, I am (Laughs). It’s a constant. Yes, I’m usually hard on myself. I am, but it’s because more can be done. Do I feel like I have given my best in trying to get people to get education which is what changed my story back home? No.

Are you proud of yourself?

(Laughs) Biko, now what question is that? (Pause) I’m OK with myself.

Is that the same as being proud of yourself?

Well, I’m not disappointed with myself. So, the opposite of being not disappointed means I’m fine. (Pause) Do I think I’m all that? …

Being all that isn’t the question ….

(Laughs loudly) Am I proud of myself? That I can’t answer, but, do I have moments when I have felt Kendi did well? Yes. I have done things that I thought were impossible and did them well to my standards.

What are your best drivers in life?

(Long pause) When people underestimate me. People think it’s easy to underestimate me because I’m not loud. Then I prove my ability and earn my credibility.

What have you done for yourself to reward yourself so far?

Once you have food, a roof, and the children are going to school, what ’s more to do? That’s enough.

What are your interests outside work?

I watch movies with my children. They love that because we just sit and have popcorn. A meal outside, sometimes. I used to love to travel but I travel too much for work so it’s usually off but when it’s social travel, I’m good.

One of my best Christmas holidays I’ve had was last year when my husband, myself and the children went to visit our friends in Western Kenya. We drove all the way through Kericho, Kisumu, Kakamega ….it was so much fun.

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