I have been Technical Operations Manager East Africa at Sistema.bio for two years now. When I joined, Sistema.bio Kenya already had a well-established technical team that had managed to install 1,200 biodigesters in 2018 alone. My challenge was to keep the team motivated, train them on new skills, and establish an R&D division that could launch new biogas appliances into the market.
The renewable energy industry moves fast, and working for the biggest biogas company in the world comes with its own challenges. You have to be at the top of your game every day, both in managing your team and meeting all customer needs in good time.
What we have achieved
Since 2019, we have installed over 2500 biodigesters in Kenya, introduced new biogas appliances into the market, and explored new markets in Africa. In 2020, we completed the biggest R&D project in Sistema.bio’s history through the “Opportunity at the Nexus of Energy and Agriculture” program, in alliance with Factor[e], Rockefeller Foundation, and WindWard Fund.
Leading a great team – Defining clear goals and values
There is a quote that says “Leadership is solving problems”. I had never led a team with over 30 people through a period of exponential growth, yet I stayed motivated knowing we are solving one of the biggest global problems, climate change! Despite being new to the biogas industry, I can say we are doing a great job. Over the years we have consistently achieved customer satisfaction greater than 95%!
Leadership styles are not 100% governed by the gender of the person at the top, but rather by the company values which extend to the values expected of each individual in a certain position. However, each person adds their personal touch. In my leadership style, I have learned to listen more, give individuals freedom to explore specific areas of interest in their work and hire on merit. Once you hire professionals, then you have to listen to their professional advice.
When goals and values are clearly defined and understood, as a leader half of the job is done. Execution and follow-through are the other half. This will come with great expectations from the team and the clients. These have to be met for the circle to be complete. That said, there have been moments of self-doubt and deep worry about being “good enough”.
The gender issues!
In a male-dominated team (and industry), failure is sometimes louder than achievements. It is easier to attribute one’s failure to our gender rather than to the circumstances at that particular time. However, with time, when everyone sees that you occupy that position on merit, respect comes in. I hope for a time in the future when the fact that a woman leads a technical team will raise no doubts whatsoever, whatever that organization may be.
In most societies, especially in rural areas, cooking is a woman’s job, and it is done using firewood or charcoal. The kitchens are very smoky. Through biogas, we have changed the conditions of over 5,000 households in Kenya. This has meant changing the lives of thousands of women through our clean cooking fuel. This has been personally very fulfilling, and to do it while working with a dedicated group of people has been an amazing experience. Getting feedback from our customers and hearing stories about how biogas has changed their lives reminds me that there is still so much to do. We have barely scratched the surface both in Kenya and in the world. This is why, to me, biogas is a personal and gender issue!
An Amazing Technical Team!
Sistema.bio Kenya has a dedicated team of technicians, and we make a deliberate effort to offer equal opportunities to male and female applicants for various positions. My favorite story was sending Veronica Cherono to Old Fangak in South Sudan to install 3 biodigesters for Caritas Foundation. The community held a ceremony before her departure back to Kenya to show their gratitude and claim her as one of their daughters. This is my best example of why we give equal opportunities. Working women around the world are equally good but lack the opportunities to show their skills or courage to apply for these positions. I will continue to work toward changing this, inside and outside the Sistema.bio team.