Mary Ngechu, a mother of three, was named UN person of the year-runners up 2017 in recognition of her role in changing lives through promoting skills, decent jobs and enterprises in the manufacturing industry. The award falls under the UN in Kenya Award of the year whose selection involves consultations and voting among all 25 United Nations agencies based in Kenya.
She shares with us her reaction after winning the award, her achievements and challenges faced as a woman in the manufacturing industry as well as her hopes for the future.
Congratulations on your recent award as UN person of the year- runners up 2017. How did that make you feel?
I am still humbled and pleasantly surprised for my commendation as UN in Kenya Person of the Year 2017 (Runners Up) for my role in “Changing Lives through Promoting Skills, Decent Jobs and Enterprises in the Manufacturing Industry”.
Tell us about the Line Plast Group
The Line Plast Group of companies consists of Plast Packaging Industries Ltd and Lineart Solutions Ltd; businesses I have grown from scratch in partnership with my husband Paul Ngechu Wangaruro.
Kenya’s rapidly expanding workforce is not finding jobs fast enough and the Line Plast Group are addressing this issue through providing decent employment/work to 183 staff including workers, technicians, technologist, engineers, sales and marketing, and administration and finance specialties. These two companies also outsource work to about 80 workers per month when large orders are made. With each employee supporting at least 3 to 5 dependents, this translates to over 200 households and over 1000 Kenyans directly benefitting from these 2 enterprises.
Line Plast Group has laid out procedures of how to deal with industrial waste that contribute to climate change and have a negative impact on the health of employee and Kenyan citizens at large. We have made plastic, water and paper recycling a priority in both plants.
What is your view on Kenya's mentorship and apprenticeship culture? Do you think there is room to do more particularly in entrepreneurship ?
Our youth present challenges as well as unique opportunities to our economic development. We need to exploit Kenya’s greatest asset for growth: its sizeable and rising population of talented young people.
Through apprenticeship we can focus on investing in skills and education for the youth to power Kenya’s industrial revolution.
Many young people have grown up with the notion that to be successful, they have to have white collar jobs. Our society needs to stop esteeming certain jobs because they are prestigious.
I have gained immense satisfaction through my work in the manufacturing industry and also been part of the learning process through apprenticeship programs.
What is the greatest challenge you have faced as a woman in the manufacturing and entrepreneurship field?
A small number of women grow through the ladder to gain the needful experience to become owners or CEOs of manufacturing businesses. As women in manufacturing, we are few in number
because of the culturally prevailing opinion that manufacturing jobs are not for ladies. Our peer networks are therefore not as strong and diverse as we would like them to be.
What is your life mantra? What are the words you live by?
Good planning leads to prosperity.
Which woman in Kenya do you look up to and why?
I look up to Flora Mutahi, the Chairlady Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) & CEO and founder of Melvin Marsh International, which is behind the Melvin's Tea brand.
As the first woman chair of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) since its inception in 1957, she has deliberately championed for opportunities, possibilities and engagements that bring more women on board in the manufacturing industry. I also admire her well-seasoned entrepreneurial journey.
What's your word of advice to young women in Kenya?
It is not how good you are; it is how good you want to be. Do not let lack of capacity limit your dreams.
What next for Mary?
I have embarked on a passionate journey to lead a discussion on the untapped potential for entrepreneurship and skills development in the area of waste management and utilisation which has high potential for business to business transactions, resource efficiency and climate change mitigation. One of my projects is the Waste Management and Entrepreneurship Hubs.
These hubs aim to maximise the value of all the material resources we use in our Kenyan economy, helping to create new business opportunities as well as helping businesses find savings in how they use materials and manage their waste.