Betty Maina – Astute economist who helped transform the industrial sector in Kenya

Aid, Trade, and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Founded on the core values of human rights, equality and sustainability, the UN’s Post 2015 Development Agenda and its Global Partnership for Development aim to “ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for the world’s people of present and future generations”. A central question for this panel was how to ensure that globalization helps build sustainable and inclusive development. Another question adressed the role of aid and trade in helping developing countries benefit from globalization. Stakeholders from developed and developing countries, from the public sector and from civil society, debated how globalization can be shaped to benefit all.
U.S. Mission Geneva / Eric Bridiers

When anyone mentions manufacturing, the name that easily comes to mind is Betty Maina, who has been at the forefront of the sector in Kenya for years, most notably as the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM). Her relentless efforts have given this sector a face in the global arena and for her outstanding work, she has been
feted several times, both at home and abroad. She has worked as the Principal Secretary for East African Affairs and in January 2018, was named the PS for Industrialisation.

For someone who was once told she wouldn’t get very far because of her hairstyle, Betty Maina has done more than good not just for herself but also for society at large. She was fresh out of university at the time and looking for a job. Her hair was styled in temporary dreadlocks, which was uncommon then and associated with rebellion. “Someone told me pointblank that nobody would ever take me seriously with that kind of hairstyle,” she recalls. Although she went on to prove that person wrong several times over, she still considers it the best advice she ever received outside of the classroom. To date, she appreciates the value of proper grooming in the workplace, and particularly the need for subtlety. “It shouldn’t be this way, but people often judge you based on your appearance so you have to be careful of the picture you’re putting out there,” she says.

This advice may have resonated with the person she believes she is. Maina describes herself using words like “God-fearing” and “authentic” and “simple”. Add to this ‘courageous and passionate’ and you have a woman who is credited with transforming the manufacturing landscape through changes in the regulatory framework, keeping the economic liberalisation agenda burning in a regional and global context, and championing the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).

For more than a decade, Maina was not only the engine that kept the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) running, she was also the face of the premier business association bringing together a strong membership of 800 giants of industry. As Kenya’s official face of business, it is no wonder that in 2011, she was bestowed with the Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS) State Award. Born in the cold highlands of Chepkutung in Kapsuser location of tea-famous Kericho County, this “simple” village girl has surely evolved as a trailblazer in one of the most challenging fields of our time – business management.

She recalls going to Chepkutung Primary School with her three siblings. “I remember feeling different,” she says, noting that most other children came from well-to-do families. But that did not deter her; she scored good grades in the 1977 Certificate of Primary Education exams and earned a place at the prestigious Alliance Girls’ High School. Her arrival at the school in Kikuyu, near Nairobi, marked the first time she was ever anywhere near a major urban centre. But she did not get the full ‘city experience’ until she joined the University of Nairobi in 1985 to study land economics. “Coming to Nairobi was exciting,” she recalls with nostalgia.

Maina’s parents, both teachers, had wanted her to pursue an ‘important’ course like medicine, but she had her heart set on law. Eventually, she settled on land economics, which was uncommon for a woman in those days. Nonetheless, she graduated with honours in 1988 and got her first job as an assistant project officer at Shelter Afrique– a pan-African housing company – where she worked for a year. Her next stop was the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS/Habitat) as a research assistant with the Urban Management Programme.

She says her early introduction to economics and development gave her a career headstart, while her early work stints offered vital experience. For instance, as a research assistant at the UN, she took up leadership roles that instilled in her management and organisational skills. She left UN Habitat in 1993 and worked as a consultant for four years, offering her expertise to various institutions including government, parastatals and private organisations. During this time, she became a gender adviser for the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands Programme, and later the Local
Government Reform Programme in Kenya.

Other organisations she consulted for were Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the Association of Local Government Authorities of Kenya, the Engendering Political Process Programme (EPPP), The World Bank Kenya Country Office, the European Center for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Maina went back to school to pursue a Master of Science degree in Development Administration and Planning at the University College, London. This is what ushered her into a fully-fledged economics and public policy analysis career. She joined the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in 1997 as the chief executive officer, a role she
played with outstanding diligence.

Betty Maina, CEO Kenya Association of Manufactures, speaking at the UNIDO-15 Unido General Conference in Lima, 2 December 2013.

During her six-year stint at IEA, which is an independent policy think-tank and advocacy organisation, Maina expanded the organisation’s programmes and pioneered major reforms. The most notable was the drafting of several legislations, which were tabled in Parliament for debate. “The most interesting work I did at IEA was around public sector reforms,” she notes. She also co-ordinated the institute’s major projects on Building Common Futures. In 2004, the country was on the verge of major reforms. Talks were underway for a referendum and people were debating a new constitution for the country. As an expert in organisational leadership and policy analysis, Maina had already noted the huge gaps in policies, particularly those affecting trade and the private sector. “I felt that something needed to be done about these gaps, so I started taking notes,” she says. As fate would have it, the chief executive officer of KAM left office, and she was the next best fit for the job. “When I was asked if I would take the position, I said ‘why not?’ and jumped right into it,” she says.

For more than 10 years, she steered KAM and made it a reputable and respectable organisation in global circles. The association grew in leaps and bounds to have more than 800 professional members, seven satellite offices from the original single national office and a steady increase in annual revenue from Ksh24 million to Ksh400 million. Her proudest achievements are the contributions she made during her stints at IEA and KAM, where she actively shaped policy in the industry. “I am impressed that we were able to influence the public process and particularly to insist on the establishment of the PBO because it is something I had personally worked on for years.” The PBO is critical in enabling lawmakers to scrutinise budget proposals more effectively and with transparency.

Words of Wisdom

“Never dismiss people; even those who seem lowly among us are important.”

“Nothing is easy, and there is no magic wand for success. Persistence and hard work matter all the time. You can’t afford to give up.”

“Learning not to personalise challenges is critical for success.”

“You get out whatever you put in. If you put in guile, thievery, selfishness and mischief, you’ll get it. If you put in good intentions, generosity, openness and the spirit of giving, it will always come back to you.”

Working with her diligent team, Maina was also able to effect changes in the country’s telecoms space and to guide crucial economic reforms in the tea and energy sectors, with focus on lower tariffs and improved efficiency. Under her stewardship, KAM was also able to build relationships with key committees of the Legislature and to expand its programmes by more than five times.

Maina left KAM in April 2015, which also marked the end of her term as a director of the board of Anti-Counterfeit Agency. In November of the same year, she was appointed Principal Secretary in the State Department of East African Affairs in the Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection. She held the position until January 2018, when she was named PS for Industrialisation. She credits part of her success to mentors who guided her through the years. These include Joan Waithaka, her headmistress at Alliance Girls’ High School, who instilled
in her the importance of a good education and hard work. She also draws inspiration from Joe Wanjui, her colleague at IEA, Micah Cheserem, former governor of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) and Edward Sambili, former deputy governor of CBK.

Maina beieves strongly in education and knowledge. “In life you never stop learning. It is a continuous process,” she says. Besides her formal education, she has also undertaken several short courses covering topics such as corporate governance, strategy and financial management. She also did a course in Budgeting and Financial Management in the Public Sector at Harvard University and another in Developing Anti-Corruption Strategies at the World Bank in Washington, DC.

Although exceptionally successful, the journey to the top has had its fair share of challenges. She says one of the biggest has been breaking the glass ceiling as a woman in a male-dominated industry. “People take a long time to believe you as a woman, and getting your ideas to be considered takes double the time.” For instance, in 2003, the PBO legislation was rejected. Maina had put in long nights to draft it and so this was a blow. “This was actually the lowest point in my career,” she shares. It took several more years for the PBO legislation to be approved and when it was finally passed, it became the highest point of her career.

She draws strength from her past experiences, close associates and most importantly, from God. Born and raised in a staunch Christian background, she has learnt how to nurture her faith. “I wake up at 4.30am every day and spend one hour studying and meditating on the Bible before I start my day, which often ends at 11pm or later.” Her days are often busy with meetings and other official activities, but she still finds time for her daughter, who is an only child. “Do I really balance between work and family? I don’t know, I just get on with it!” she quips. On the rare occasions when she has some leisure time, Maina likes to be with friends eating grilled chicken or grilled fish – her favourite meals. She also plans to venture into golf as a pastime and spends time on projects that she values. These include the
AGC Baby Centre – a home for abandoned babies in Nakuru County, as well as Chepkutung Primary and Secondary schools where she is the patron of the Board of Promoters. “It’s important to give these kids a chance,” she says. “We had our chance and it is now their turn.” Maina and other alumni have managed to establish a secondary school that has had four batches of candidates for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations.

Given a chance to live her life all over again, is there anything Maina would change? “I would study law,” she chuckles. “I would also probably have had my daughter at a younger age,” she adds, noting that late motherhood has not given her enough time to take pleasure in the entire experience.

Most importantly, she hopes people can see her as a real person rather than just her titles or accomplishments. “I want people to get what they see, and I want to be trusted – that what I am doing is not out of selfishness but for the good of everyone,” she concludes.

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