How I Became CEO of Women-Empowerment NGO ‘Lensational’

June 6, 2022

Lydia Wanjiku Kibandi is the CEO of Lensational, a non-profit social enterprise that elevates the voices of women from underrepresented groups and communities through visual storytelling

She oversees the global strategy and works with teams across Hong Kong, Ghana and Kenya, strengthening the brand voice and positioning in visual storytelling.

Ms Wanjiku shares her Career Path:

Briefly tell us about yourself

I’m born again. My passions are in fashion, photography and storytelling. I believe everything I do is undergirded by these three areas.

I like to think of myself as someone who is very kind and empathetic but I do not shy away from giving an honest opinion. I’m intrigued by how the brain functions and I love to read a lot on it.

I love meeting new people but I also enjoy my own company and I enjoy discovering and seeing new places.

My favourite food is viazi karai and spicy dip but I also enjoy a well-cooked octopus curry and my favourite place is by the beach.

Tell us about your childhood and educational background

I’m the third born in a family of four. I was born in Nyeri but I have grown up in different parts of the country including Nyahururu and Kisii. My mother was a primary school teacher and my father was then a high school principal and we would relocate as he moved to new schools.

We had a very adventurous life growing up, my father loved to visit new places and he was very intrigued by art. So we would attend all national agricultural shows, music and drama festivals regardless of the distance and he would make sure to carry a vintage canon film camera to keep the memories.

One of my earliest memories was when we would take these long drives and I would be looking outside over the window and the vastness of these plain lands and very thicketed areas would really intrigue my curiosity.

I always wondered whether there were any people who lived there, what their lives were like, whether they had electricity, what kind of clothing they wore. I hadn’t realized that this curiosity would later inform the majority of my choices in life, including career.

I found myself getting in trouble a lot in High school. I don’t believe I would do this intentionally, and my mom would shake her head at me saying this but I sincerely struggled a lot with wrapping my head around the concept of rules.

In university, I took up Business and Information Technology. At a later stage I studied Fashion and Design because I felt very passionate about fashion and I wanted to create a clothing line which I finally did and currently run as a hobby and a means of self-expression and I am currently finalizing my studies in Photojournalism.

Share with us your career journey

My career journey has been very interesting and quite unanticipated but every role and every step I have taken throughout that journey has informed my growth to where I am.

I first began as a blogger running a small blog on fashion with a keen focus on enclothed cognitions, a body of work that illustrates how clothing impacts human cognition. I believe that this is where my passion in storytelling and photography really began to take shape.

At around this time, I also learned about Lensational and signed up for a volunteer position as the program manager in Kenya. My role involved deploying new projects and pursuing opportunities for new partnerships here in Kenya. The activities in Kenya were, however, not very active. Therefore, I continued pursuing a means of income, where I doubled as a personal shopper and wardrobe stylist, while passively volunteering at Lensational.

Shortly after this I enlisted as the executive assistant to a fashion stylist who was quite popular at the time. My first assignment was as her assistant in styling artists in Coke Studio Africa Season 3.

After about a year of working with her, I desired to evolve in my skill and role which was not possible within her entity and therefore, I took up a role in a private technology firm.

In 2018 I took a short break from everything to figure out what I wanted to do next, because although I wasn’t sure of my next step, the one thing I was certain of, is that I wanted to pursue something I am passionate about.

At around the same time, an opportunity came up to advance my volunteer work at Lensational by piloting a project with a conservation NGO where my role was to provide photography training to Maasai women living with wildlife in a bid for them to share their experiences as women who lived so closely with wildlife.

It had always been a desire of mine to work within the development sector therefore this was the perfect entry, plus I got to travel a lot.

I believe that this also really broke the ground for Lensational not only within the country but globally in many ways as we drew out these connections between underrepresented women and the environment. Two years in, although I was really fulfilled working with Lensational, I began to desire financial independence. I brought it up in conversation with our founder who, to my surprise, welcomed the idea to hire me.

My first paid position in Lensational evolved from country director to global programmes director in literally a matter of days as we defined what my roles would be.

I had always believed and felt that there was so much more potential in Lensational than we were seeing and that I would be of great value in bringing this to actualization and the rest as they say is history. I now serve as the CEO of Lensational.

What are the fondest memories of your career journey thus far?

The amazing people I have had the privilege of working and meeting throughout the course of my career. I have met and worked with world leaders, current advisors to Presidents, Military Veterans, celebrated artists, and all these people have informed my journey in one way or another.

Taking part in the New York Time Climate Hub at COP26 and the World Bank Fragility Forum were also really huge for me.

What has been a key driver of your growth?

If we are speaking about a key driver I would say staying thirsty for lessons, staying new ideas and inspiration. Basically just staying thirsty

Who are the people or relationships that you can single out that have been useful in your career growth and how did they influenced your trajectory?

Our founder Bonnie Chiu – the fact that she trusts me with what I would easily call her baby, her relentless desire to see and bring out the best in me and my fullest potential.

Faye Cuevas – she is not only my friend but my mentor. She has never held back opportunities to make space and room for me.

My Bishop. First I don’t believe I would be where I am without seeking God and knowing what His will and purpose for my life is which is a never-ending pursuit and second having a servant of God whose teachings are so sound and practical to day-day living has been a voice of wisdom and covering over me.

My father who has also been a voice of wisdom and guidance but also from whom I gained my leadership genes. I have always wanted to lead

My previous and current colleagues whose feedback thoughts and opinions have shaped my people skills and a very tangible way

Lastly, the women I work with, seeing their lives changed gives my life so much meaning which keeps me going.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in life?

Being able to sit with world leaders and contribute in dialogues that can bring about global change is a huge accomplishment for me. The fact that my opinions and voice matters in these forums that’s such a joy and really huge for me

Key decisions you might have taken along your career journey?

The decision to pursue passion over despite the financial restraints associated is possibly the one decision that I have found myself constantly making in all the turns of my career journey

Your current role and scope of job?

I’m currently the CEO of Lensational, a social enterprise that works to elevate the voices of the underrepresented using photography. As CEO I oversee our global strategy and I work closely with teams across three countries in Hong Kong, Ghana and Kenya to implement this strategy strengthening our brand voice and positioning in visual storytelling which has proven to be our value proposition in bringing to light the issues at the heart of gender to facilitate dialogue with policy and decision-makers and stakeholders to foster the change our target groups desire to see.

What would you advise the youth in Kenya today?

I believe it depends on what regards. I think generally in life as youth we need mentors. People who have gone ahead of us are people who can guide us and correct us. The openness to correction is often very understated.

Future plans in your career and in life?

For my career I want to continue building my skills in leadership and continue to evolve in this role in other NGOs when that time comes. I will continue my knowledge and academic work in the areas I’m getting more involved in such as policy. In life to see more new places and experience new adventures.

What do you do for fun?

Swimming and travelling.

If there was one thing you could change about your past, what would that be?

When I was younger, I made a decision to never have regrets. Because I would beat myself up so much for not knowing better and mentally this isn’t healthy. So I made the decision to never regret just take-in the lessons and I stand by that to date.

More often than not the choices we wish we could reserve, we simply didn’t know better and even when we think we do sometimes we simply don’t. And you know what they say about erasing the past, that you can’t erase the past without erasing some of the best parts of yourself.


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