Esther Gathigi is the Country Director of Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), Kenya. Ms Gathigi is very passionate about empowering the women and youth in society and has been actively doing this for the last seven years of her career. She shares her career path with the Sunday Nation.
Tell us about your childhood and educational background.
I was born in Nairobi and I’m the ﬁrst born in a family of four children. My parents worked in the corporate sector but my mum later left formal employment to pursue her own business interests.
My dad was a banker with a successful career, so I naturally followed in his footsteps and I enrolled at the University of Nairobi for my Bachelors in Finance and thereafter I got into banking.
I was doing quite well so I enrolled for my MBA in Banking and Finance from Moi University. In my mind I had it all ﬁgured out and I knew that I would be a banker all my life.
I have never been one to shy away from taking on leadership in the different spaces that I have been in. Perhaps it’s because the ﬁrst born in my family, so it’s a natural inclination. But I can trace this all the way from my childhood at home, being a prefect in primary school to being a part of delegations at Model United Nations in high school and leading community initiatives in University.
Share with us your career journey.
I began my career as an intern at NIC Bank – now NCBA bank – where I worked for eight years. My growth at the bank was gradual and I enjoyed my time there. By the time I left, I had risen to the position of a branch manager. At the time, I was the youngest staff in that position.
Even with my steady career growth, deep down I had a strong desire to serve the community and to be part of the solution to different challenges the society is facing, especially around women and youth. It was then that I began to make a transition in my career.
I took up volunteering at Global Shapers where I joined various initiatives that were inclined to the path I wanted to take in the next phase of my life such as powering education, by providing solar lamps to children in schools and Biashara Rehab that targeted young entrepreneurs and other environmental projects.
With this experience, I was now able to venture out into the NGO world. Then I joined WECREAT as the Executive Director. Currently, I’m the Country Director at Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT). The organisation mobilises and trains disadvantaged young people with digital literacy, 21st-century skills and the self-conﬁdence that will enable them to access livelihood opportunities in the digital economy.
My role involves managing a team of 58 people about 40 of whom are youth facilitators who are deployed into various communities to train other youth on digital skills. We are currently implementing the Daring to Shift Project across 17 counties.
This project aims to offer digital skills to young people through various programmes. At the heart of DOT Kenya, is the need to impact communities positively and enable holistic progress. Over the last 15 years, we’ve impacted more than 150,000 young people.
I also fundraise and meet private sector and community partners who we work with to empower youth. We recently joined the Edison Alliance 1 Billion Lives Challenge under the leadership of the World Economic Forum.
Our pledge is to deliver digital literacy and 21st-century skills for marginalised communities and schools in Africa and the Middle East, to reach an additional 1 million people by 2025. This will be achieved through DOT’s unique approach, the peer-to-peer model, that aims to empower youth who in turn train other young people in their communities and achieve transformation in their livelihoods.
What are the fondest memories of your career journey thus far?
I have several fond memories of each stage of my career but what stands out for me is the boldness to transition to a totally different sector, NGO, having only worked as a banker to that point. Also being part of a team that set up WECREATE in Kenya and at DOT leading a team that is reaching youth in 17 counties.
These achievements have made me realise several things. One is that, if you can, you should pursue your dreams and don’t shy away from taking up new roles that align with your vision. Second is that age shouldn’t deﬁne you or stop you from doing what you are passionate about, and third is that you can make changes at any point in your life
What has been a key driver of your growth?
Being patient, and persistent while chasing my dreams. It has paid off. I’ve also learnt the importance of being myself. When I began my career I thought I had to adjust my personality to ﬁt a certain proﬁle of leadership that I had in my mind. But I quickly realized that it was easy to lose myself in the process. I stopped conforming to people’s expectations and I blossomed into the embodiment of who I am at the core leading to my growth. I’ve also learnt standing by what I believe in and being a person of integrity. I also constantly work on improving myself and skills.
Who would you credit for their positive contribution to your career growth?
My former boss Peter Muthini in NIC bank held my hand, trained me and gave me space to grow. He was instrumental in my early career and pushed me to go above and beyond in any role I was assigned to.
Additionally, I surround myself with friends and associations where we push each other to be the best versions of ourselves. We also encourage and advise each other on various life situations.
Having the right kind of people around you helps bring out the best version of yourself.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in life?
Working in an organization that is making a difference and impacting the lives of young Kenyans. Every decision I am making is to think of how we can support youth and provide them with up-to-date skills they require to progress in the 21st-century workplace.
I also enjoy working with youth across Kenya. Right now we have more than 40 community leaders facilitating our training programs across Kenya.
It’s fulﬁlling to equip them to see and hear of the success stories that come from our programmes; the conﬁdence the youth gain and skills that they will carry with them into the future.
Key decisions you might have taken along your career journey?
Leaving my banking career and venturing into a sector that I had no experience in. I thought I would be a career banker which informed even my educational choices, yet here I am doing what I am passionate about.
What would you advise the youth?
There is no limit to the number of times you can start over. Be ready to take risks, to fail, to get up, and to try again. Try again differently.
Your future plans?
Impact and inﬂuence more young people and women beyond Kenya.
What do you do for fun?
I am an avid reader. You will always ﬁnd me tucked up somewhere quiet with a good book or at the gym.
If there was one thing you could change about your past, what would that be?
Nothing really. I believe each setback is an opportunity to start over again. If you are not satisﬁed with something, go for what you want, and pursue your dreams. Every success has led me to where I am today.