Our Communications Manager, Liberty Kituu, sat down with Lizz Ntonjira, our new Communications and Engagement Director, to discuss her career accomplishments, passion for gender equality, and more.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? What sparked your interest in communications?
I was born in Meru, a county in Eastern Kenya. Both my parents were civil servants: my dad was a government economist and my mum was a nurse, and both are retired. Because of the nature of their jobs, we moved around a lot. I grew up with five siblings that I truly adore and parents that I honor, love and respect for the sacrifices they had to make to ensure my siblings and I had food on the table, a good education, and clothes on our backs. Toys too, when they could afford it. As a child, I wanted to be a pilot. That was before I realized that I needed to be very good in math and physics. I preferred languages and humanities. So, I decided to become a lawyer. I have a law degree, but I don’t practice. I am more drawn to strategic communication and policy implementation. I was that student who would always be called on to make speeches, recite poems, and speak on behalf of my school during high-level events. That was because I was a very confident kid, and I would like to believe I’ve carried that confidence with me throughout the years. It has helped me get where I am today, as well as all my other qualifications. I could say that was my entry point to communications, which has grown organically and remarkably over the years.
You were first published at 10 years old. What was that like?
I’ve always been passionate about story telling. I would read a lot of story books and novels when I was young. I actively and passionately started writing at the age of six, so getting my first article published at only 10 years in the biggest media outlet in East and Central Africa, (Daily Nation) was a confirmation to me that I was on the right path. So naturally, becoming a writer was something I really looked forward to. During my first year in campus while pursuing my Law degree, I struggled hard until I got a regular column at the same newspaper. I think my first paycheck was about 10,000 Kenya shillings (approx. $100) That was in 2005 when I was 18 years old. The following year, while still studying and writing for the newspaper, I got a job as a news anchor at a leading Kenyan news channel called K24, when the media station was relatively new. At 19, back then I must have been one of the youngest (if not the youngest) news anchor in the country. I also volunteered for a PR company. I juggled several things back then; I was pursuing my law degree, worked for two organisations, and still managed to volunteer for another organization. Being able to do these things and multitask and be efficient at all tasks assigned to me at work and still study and pass my exams, is something that has shaped who I am today.
In 2021 you self-published your book #YouthCan. What inspired this project?
I have always wanted to publish a book. They say, the more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. So, during the pandemic, I committed to writing my book #YouthCan-which I did while juggling all my other professional and personal tasks. The book was inspired by the integral role young people play in advancing socio-economic pillars of their respective countries, but often this is undervalued and downplayed. Youth empowerment and participation is a dynamic cycle, which is the foundation of the book. When empowered, young people can contribute to all sectors of the economy with a passionate desire to be catalysts for both individual and national development. When I set out on the project, I couldn’t have imagined the success the book has gained over the past two years; winning global awards, featuring in top international magazines and media outlets and other recognitions. I’m truly honored and grateful for the support bestowed on the book, because by extension, it is support to all the young people from the 22 African countries (Anglophone, Lusophone, Francophone) that have been featured in the book.
What is one of your proudest career accomplishments?
For me it’s not really about any title that I’ve held, but what I have done when holding a position of power; and especially a power to influence. Therefore, my greatest accomplishment is positively impacting the people around me, whether it’s my peers or a team that I have led. Standing up and speaking out whether it’s for myself or others within my team or larger organisation is something that I consider a great accomplishment. In some cases, I’ve raised issues that have led to the change of policies within organisations that I have felt were biased against either the youth or women, and that for me is very significant. Being able to experience leadership at a very young age and pave way and advocate for my peers and introduce policies that facilitate an enabling environment for people to thrive in the workplace is something I cherish.
What attracted you to the WomenLift Health and our mission of expanding the voice and power of women leaders in global health?
If there was any organization that spoke to my heart-this, is it! The alignment between WomenLift Health’s mission and my own personal purpose, values and goals is like two peas in a pod! Women, for a long time have been disenfranchised and disempowered. In the global health space particularly, there still exists an imbalance “gap” in the division of leadership roles between men and women. And that is why WomenLift Health’s work in expanding the power and influence of talented women in global health to achieve gender equality in leadership is critical to so many mid-career level women within the global health ecosystem; whether at the national, regional or international stages. Additionally, Gender discrimination, implicit bias, sexual harassment and assault have been found to be systemic barriers to women’s advancement in their careers. However, through the work that WomenLift Health is undertaking, a new wave of women are leading in ways that build cooperation and inclusion. I’m honored to now be part of this narrative.
As someone that has worked in various initiatives that support gender equity, how best can we fight gender bias and uplift more women?
We are all aware that despite achievements and progress made over the years, women face major challenges and obstacles. For example, we still do not take into account differences in income and power between men and women, hampering efforts to finance programmes that reduce inequality. In addition, a majority of girls and women in low and middle income countries are still denied education and employment, and have limited opportunities in trade, industry and government. I strongly hold the view that since days immemorial, women have played and continue to play a significant role in the economic and social development of their countries. What is at stake is that they are not visible, not recognized and not rewarded for the hard work they do. Governments, the private and international development sectors need to do more in allocating more funding for women led business ventures and at the workplace ensuring employees have safe channels to report bullying, sexual harassment and racism without being exposed, victimized and even worse, dismissed.
What role do you believe men as allies can play in the promotion of gender equality and women’s leadership?
It will take 286 years to close the global gender gap, according to the latest figures from the United Nations. 286 years! Despite the growth in understanding and support from male colleagues, there is still a significant need for greater awareness and action among male allies to lessen this gap. One of the most critical ways men can lend their support is by committing to be champions of change by listening more to their female colleagues. It is only through sincere dialogue that male allies can provide actionable support to advance equity. Men should also play an active role in supporting inclusive recruitment and promotions. Most importantly, men must call out inequality.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
I’m an adrenaline junkie and I love to farm. Taking a drive to my farm, overseeing, and rolling up my sleeves to tend to my vegetables excites me. I love gardening too. Cooking is often my go to stress reliever. Bungee jumping, ziplining, and go karting are activities I thoroughly enjoy! During my honeymoon, I made my husband zipline on the longest Zipline in the Indian ocean and the third longest in the world (ha!). He doesn’t like those activities! Spending time with my family and friends is something I enjoy very much as well.