When Mr Simon Gicharu, the founder of Mt Kenya University, is awarded an honorary professorship at the International University of Management (IUM) in Windhoek, Namibia, Monday, he will be adding another feather to one of his many caps.
After all, getting recognised for his work has become almost a normal affair.
Mr Gicharu has three honorary doctorates, a book published to his name, sits on three boards and is a recipient of the 1st Class Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear (CBS), the highest award a civilian can get in Kenya, getting recognised for his work has become almost a normal affair.
But as the MKU founder will tell you, it has not been a walk in the park for the entrepreneur who is also marking 20 years since he was fired from his first job as a teacher but instead of looking for employment chose an unbeaten path of establishing an institution of higher learning.
At that time, apart from the then United States International University (USIU), the private university business was a preserve of religious institutions who had the finances and reputations that would attract students whose parents would afford the high fees charged.
It is a journey that has seen him conquer several odds, rise, fall and make mistakes but learnt from them in the process.
The most recent of his many victories is when the government two weeks ago agreed to sponsor students to study in private universities.
This was a climax of years of lobbying by the National Association of Private Universities in Kenya where he is the chairperson.
And although few people would remember this, the journey to the admission of at least 12,000 students who this week made history by being the first ever to be admitted to private universities through government sponsorship started at a meeting in Mombasa in June 2012.
ALWAYS SAW BIGGER PICTURE
Born in 1964 as a firstborn in a family of six born to the late Stephen Gicharu and Alice Wambui, he says his early life experiences as a child born to peasant farmers would shape him as a person who always sees the bigger picture.
“Just like today, there was no money to be made through peasant farming during those days,” he says.
“So to supplement our income I would along with my brothers and sisters pick coffee at commercial farms which was paid per kilo,” he says.
After sitting his CPE exam at Kiawaria Primary School and later Gathriruini Secondary School, Mr Gicharu would join Murang’a High School and later the Kenyatta University (KU) where he obtained a Bachelor of Education Science degree in 1990 with majors in Mathematics and Chemistry.
After graduating he took up various teaching jobs in secondary schools before ending up at the Thika Technical Training Institute and eventually getting a scholarship to study Enterprise Development at Cranfield University, UK.
Upon return in 1996, he realised had been fired, “for not clearing with the government when leaving for further studies.”
“With the savings I had made while in Britain, I bought a second-hand truck and started distributing milk but after some time I realised that was not my passion,” he says.
STARTED COMPUTER TRAINING
And so together with his wife Jane Nyutu, he approached the African Christian Church and Schools (ACC&S) asking them if they could be allowed to use the church’s space to set up a computer training college.
Armed with Sh20,000 which he borrowed from a friend they started the Thika Institute of Technology which seven years later would metamorphosise into MKU.
“The premises had no electricity and all we needed was a computer and a generator.
“Every morning I would carry the generator to the place and in the evening take it back. It was brief case business.”
In 2006 the Commission for Higher Education allowed it to collaborate with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in offering diplomas and degrees.
And in 2009, the college received an interim letter of authority to offer degree programmes and a full charter in 2011.