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Lizz Ntonjira: Inspiring young people to reach their potential

Sunday June 28 2020
Lizz

Lizz Ntonjira- Mutuma, 33, is a powerhouse in the communications field. PHOTO | COURTESY

By KAREN MURIUKI

Lizz Ntonjira- Mutuma, 33, is a powerhouse in the communications field. She serves as the head of Global Corporate Communications at Amref Health Africa, and is the founder of the Lizz Ntonjira Network, a youth engagement platform that offers various resources, coaching, mentorship and training for youth. She has received a number of awards and accolades, including the International Woman in Tech’ in the prestigious Women4Africa Awards, the ‘IBM Smart Communicator Award’ for World Class Media Relations and exemplary communications work in Middle East and Africa in June 2018.

Could you tell us more about the Lizz Ntonjira Network? What inspired you to start it?

 It’s a platform that provides innovative, engaging, interactive and tailored training and coaching for the youth. The Network is aimed at enlightening the youth on the different unexploited professional and personal paths to become the leaders of today and consequently inspiring the next generation of leaders.

Within its mission to inspire young leaders through mentorship and coaching, the network has held a number of events with a total attendance of over 400 participants — three being youth career workshops and one CSR visit to teenage mothers in the low-income areas of Nairobi.

The themed workshops give youth an opportunity to interact with panellists and have candid conversations on how to package themselves for a rewarding professional and personal development journey. During the sessions, the youth have a unique opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with industry thought leaders. Further, 11 youth have gotten scholarships to attend various professional courses so far. Held every two months, the workshops aim at training youth on how to position themselves for the job market, mentoring them on personal branding and development, enlightening them on unexploited career paths which they can venture into, training on entrepreneurship among other objectives.

The Lizz Ntonjira Network continues to grow with over 1,000 registered members joining it seven months after its launch.

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What would you say will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

One of the things that keeps me up at night is the rate of increasing femicides not only in Kenya but in the whole of Africa. Last year alone, this made the news almost every month. It worries me that rape and other forms of sexual violence are increasing, and young women tend to fall victim to intimate violence.

Also, there is an increased level of school dropouts due to teenage pregnancies. In December 2019, my Network collaborated with the Link Youth Initiative to visit one of their programmes dubbed Young Mothers Initiative. Over 90 teenage mums attended the event, where girls as young as 15 have dropped out of school and are supporting one or two children with no stable income.

Early sexual debut, unplanned pregnancies and a high number of births remain issues for adolescent girls and young women in Kenya, and we need to do something about this because it puts young girls at risk and at a disadvantaged position. These issues coupled with growing unemployment for young people, where majority are young women, are some of the challenges I see the generation behind me facing at escalated rates.

What advice would you give to women trying to break into the communication field?

 When it comes to corporate communications, I have learned that you’re always on deadline. It’s not about the perceived glitz or glamour of the industry — it’s about getting work done within stringent timelines.

It’s about thinking out of the box and trying your best to translate a company’s vision and mission into tangible outputs. It’s about always staying ahead by lots of reading, understanding new trends, particularly how digital media is disrupting the industry, and leveraging on technology in your content supply chains to automate operations, drive decision making and personalise consumer experiences.

It’s about understanding the regulatory and policy frameworks in different landscapes and territories to be able to leverage appropriately on opportunities. It’s about building dependable and reliable contacts in all other fields and disciplines, and building trust among your stakeholders.

It’s also important to be clear on which specific area in communication you would like to specialise; public affairs, government relations, investor relations, public relations, advertising, digital media, executive communications and in what specific industry. The communications field is quite huge.

How did you overcome any gender-related roadblocks in your career?

 I stayed true to myself and stood my ground. I raised questions when I needed clarity and questioned anything that did not sit right in my conscience. I always ask the uncomfortable questions just because I love clarity. I hate being stuck in grey areas. It’s either white or black with me.

I remember once I learnt that a male counterpart who had less work experience and qualifications than me was earning more, and I did not hesitate to go ask my supervisor why this was the case. I mentioned to him that I was happy to escalate it to HR as it was pure discrimination and guess what — two months later after constant reminders, we renegotiated my contract. I think that’s one of the boldest things I have ever done. Having my law degree as a foundation has been a real asset. You always have an upper hand when you are aware and informed of your rights.

Also, in the beginning stages, you’ve got to prove your work ethic and abilities. You’ve got to show you are capable. Then you can start to really add value and move onto the next stepping stone of your career by being proactive about it. Ask for stretch assignments, ask to take on more duties, among others. Mentorship is also critical, and it plays a huge role in anyone’s career journey. I would say find women who share parallel experiences and also collaborate with male leaders you respect — there is a lot you can learn from them.

Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10am?

 Probably at the salon having my hair and nails done or running numerous errands before the crazy week schedule begins again.

What do you like doing in your downtime?

 Reading a book, spending time with my husband and children, trying out recipes or catching up with my siblings and friends.

What’s one thing that the readers would be surprised to learn about you?

 That I have tattoos, and that I love rap music!

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