Betty Mwangi-Thuo – Engineer making waves in ICT innovation

Love for the sciences, the outdoors and tinkering helped Betty Mwangi-Thuo choose her career path. She is one of the most influential people in the ICT space in Kenya and in the region. She was in charge of mobile money platform M-PESA at Safaricom — a leading mobile service provider — steadily steering the growth of the mobile cash services.

Mwangi-Thuo speaks fondly of a childhood spent outdoors, farming and fiddling with things. “I enjoyed taking apart electronics just to see how they worked.” Having her parents support in her love for math, science and all things technical made it easier for her to choose and follow her career path.

Education was important to Mwangi-Thuo’s family. She studied electrical and electronic engineering and mastered in business administration in the UK. She is also a chartered marketer with the Chartered Institute of Marketing. She worked in the telecommunication industry in the UK before returning home.

Words of Wisdom

·         “Don’t fear! Stay focused on your dream.”

·         “Work hard, read widely, keep abreast with what is happening not only in your world but also globally, and be willing to change with the times.”

·         “Remember to have fun through it all, and always give thanks to God as He makes it all possible.”

Mwangi-Thuo worked in several organisations, where she climbed the corporate ladder to serve in managerial positions. She worked at Wilken Telecommunications as a senior manager, a position she held for three years before moving to GlaxoSmithKline Beecham International (GSK). She was at GSK for five years. She then moved to Afsat Communications Africa as the Chief Marketing Officer, where was in charge of developing and managing the distributor network in 26 African countries. In December 2007, she was appointed as Safaricom’s head of division new products to manage M-PESA, a money transfer service which had been launched earlier that year. Her job was to make M-PESA a fully-fledged value added service.

She grew with Safaricom as M-PESA grew. Barely a year later, in October 2008, she took over as chief officer new products division. Safaricom was restructured in 2011 and she was promoted to the position of general manager financial services.

Through her progressive roles at Safaricom, Mwangi-Thuo’s contribution to the system brought tremendous growth. She championed the M-PESA strategy to ensure continued innovation and introduction of customer relevant products in addition to peer to peer money transfer services offered by M-PESA. As a result, Safaricom launched exciting products like Lipa na M-PESA and M-Shwari. She is proud of Lipa na M-PESA because it “gives customers and businesses the convenience and ease of doing business without handling cash to pay for goods and services.”

“Being a female engineer in a male-dominated field was a challenge but that did not stop me from going for my dreams,” says Mwangi-Thuo. She shares that she was able to overcome the challenges she encountered by developing the right attitude. Mwangi-Thuo believes that the future holds greater things. “I hope to continue being actively engaged in driving Kenya’s financial inclusion agenda and to also participate in other initiatives that positively impact Kenyan lives,” she says.

Her passion for life and work comes from being a patriotic Kenyan who wants to do Kenya proud. “I’m passionate about helping Kenyans,” she says.

Two of Mwangi-Thuo’s proudest moments are the birth of her son, and being the leader of the globally acclaimed M-PESA.

She admits that, “balancing between both home and work life is difficult especially for professional mothers with young children.” To find balance, she recommends time management, which includes having an exercise regimen as well as finding time to relax and rejuvenate. She also recommends ensuring you get enough sleep and adopting healthy eating habits. “Also make time to spend with family and friends to maintain those relationships,” she adds.

What is a typical day like for Mwangi-Thuo? She starts her day at 5am by checking her emails and organising her household matters for the day. Once done, she wakes her son at 6:45am. They have breakfast together before getting him dressed and ready for school.

“I’m at the office by 8.30am. I begin by organising my workday which mostly comprises of back-to-back meetings from 9am. My calendar is managed by my personal assistant,” she says. She has her lunch at her desk between 1pm and 2pm and uses this time to catch up on calls and e-mails. Mwangi-Thuo’s evenings are set aside for her son’s bath time and to help him with homework. Then they have dinner, read and wind down for the night, retiring to bed by 9pm.

She sits on the board of the Mt. Kenya Academy Senior School, a school started by her mother. She also sits in the strategy and curriculum committee where she encourages and guides young ladies on how to be confident, passionate and to pursue all kinds of careers including those perceived to be male dominated. Her greatest life values are integrity and hard work. She also encourages people to have fun while pursuing their goals. “Above all, give thanks to God as He makes it all possible,” she says.

She has had various mentors and people who have inspired her along the way including Linus Gitahi, her boss at one of the companies she worked at before she joined Safaricom. He believed in integrity and taught her to maintain it because it was all she would take when she left.

As for the best advice she ever got? “Focus on your dreams and work hard — it will come to pass.”

Mwangi-Thuo has been featured by Mobile Communications International (MCI) as one of the top 10 most influential women in mobile technology globally. She was recognised as one of the top 20 most powerful African women in ICT by IT News Africa in 2011 and 2013. In December 2011, she was awarded the prestigious state honour of the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) for her contribution to Kenya’s ICT sector.

In her downtime, Mwangi-Thuo enjoys reading and travelling and spending time with her family. She also aims to take up golf again — a sport that gives her balance and focus. She also has a love for music, a passion which she nurtured while studying in the UK, as she was able to combine her studies with playing the piano.

In 2016, Mwangi-Thuo left Safaricom after a vibrant career spanning nearly 10 years. She was appointed commercial director at Britam.

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