Updated: Oct 3, 2022
Words by: Naftaly Muroki, Monitoring and Evaluations Lead at Metis
A toddling Naftaly
On a regular Saturday in January 1995, I was born. Though oblivious of my surroundings, I can only imagine the joy my birth brought-- the usual excitement that accompanies becoming new parents. My mum was only 17 then, having been forced to marry early because she had to drop out of school, her single mother was unable to raise the school fees to educate all her children after her husband abandoned her. She also had to help her mother raise her younger siblings. Thus, my birth marked a new chapter for her, having a family of her own to love and care for.
Growing up there was nothing particularly unusual or interesting about my life. I went to the same government local primary school like most other kids in the village. After being enrolled in kindergarten, however, my teacher noted my ability and passion for mathematics and languages, I was terrible at any form of art that required drawing though.
After joining class one, I brought home my first-ever award from school, a plate that I was awarded for being the third-best student in the class. My mum has kept that plate to date. That became my first and last award because my school never hosted the prize-giving day ever again, to this day I still don’t know what prompted such a move.
Naftaly’s parents pose with their bundle of joy
As I advanced to class 2, I started becoming more aware of my surroundings. Problems started cropping up back at home because my dad, who by this time had moved to the country’s capital, Nairobi, to look for greater opportunities, had fallen into alcoholism. Not because life in the city had been unkind to him, in fact, he did so well for himself that a few years after moving into the city he had his own small business. My mum with only basic primary education, could only rely on her one acre piece of land to feed, cloth, and educate her children. My two little sisters had been born by now.
In class five I suffered an illness that at the time, I thought would deprive me of the ability to walk on both feet. I spent the first term in and out of the hospital and it got to a point where I had to completely abandon going to class and focus on regaining my health. My illness brought an untold emotional and financial strain on a family that was already going through a lot of challenges. Luckily for me, my uncle, who later became an instrumental part of my life, offered to sponsor my treatment in Nairobi. After a week in Nairobi and having seen the doctor that he recommended, we returned back home and I started getting better. I managed to get back to class in the last week of the term and at this time I was now walking with crutches though the pain had abated and I could sit and concentrate in class. This experience, though tragic, taught me a valuable lesson in not taking what I had, however small, for granted as it was possible to lose it all at once. From that period onwards, I committed myself to do the best at each and every single thing that I did. I became very committed to my studies and by the time I was in class 7, I was the best student in the class. I maintained my work ethic and graduated from the primary school top of my class. This allowed me to be placed in one of the best public secondary schools in the larger Meru region.
Secondary school and the beginning of my leadership journey
Adapting to the boarding school life was tough for me. I had been so used to being a day scholar such that spending days and nights at school felt unnatural for me. I, however, knew that I had to adapt fast or risk being left behind. I was shocked when the results for the first term were released. Having been used to being a top student in my primary school days, it was appalling for me when I got the result slip. Although I had performed quite well overall I was position 70 in a class of 200 students. All these students were used to being number ones and twos in their previous schools. I knew I had to work twice as hard in this new setting but I was ready for the challenge. I managed to be among the top twenty students by the 1st term of form 2 and among the top 10 students by the 1st term of form 3.
In the second term of form 2, I was one of the nominees for the position of the Students’ Council Vice President. After a rigorous vetting process, amid which I even thought of quitting, I was confirmed as the Students’ Council Vice President for the following one year. Serving in such a position for the first time in my life was a tremendous challenge. First, I had to practice the balancing act of being a good student in class while ensuring I played my role as the students’ council vice president. Secondly, some students felt that the students’ council was only a mouthpiece for the administration and didn’t care much about their welfare. Finally, there was a myriad of expectations that came with holding such a position.
This would, however, become a defining moment in my leadership journey. I learned the art of talking to a crowd, of teenagers nonetheless, the importance of caring for and minding the people that you are leading and above all the role that empathy plays in the heart of any good leader. I served well in this role and in the following year, I was elected the Students’ Council President, Debating Club Secretary, Journalism Club Secretary, and Young Catholic Students Secretary.
These leadership roles formed the basis of the Young leader I have become today. They taught me the importance of good leadership in any society and the value that good leaders can help create in their communities. They also taught me the value of taking an initiative, based on the available needs, even when not explicitly assigned a given role.
Naftaly and his school mate representing their school during a prize giving event
Naftaly receiving an award for exemplary leadership from the Assistant Dean of students JKUAT
Fast forward to the University, I decided to continue my leadership journey by running for the post of Academic Affairs Secretary. In this role, I advocated for students’ wellbeing and career development by organizing career fairs in partnership with the dean’s office. I also chaired the Academic Affairs Committee.
My university days only served to cement my belief that good leadership, in either political, social, or economic institutions, would and can go a long way in helping transform lives and livelihoods across the continent.
After completing my course work I partnered with my cousin, an amazing lady by all accounts, to co-found Beta Shoes Kenya, a social enterprise that manufactures affordable leather shoes using locally available materials and uses part of the profits and donations from well-wishers to make high quality school shoes which are then given to children, who have to brace the morning cold as they walk barefoot or in slippers to school, in public schools in rural Kenya. We have so far given out over 400 pairs of school shoes and we are in the process of giving out over 150 pairs before the Covid-19 crisis.
I stepped down from an active role at Beta Shoes Kenya when I got an opportunity to attend a leadership and Data science training at African Leadership Xcelerator (ALX) which was sponsored by Microsoft Skills 4 Africa. One of my motivating reasons for joining this program was my passion for use of data to inform decisions, cultivated during my undergraduate degree program in Actuarial Science, and my belief that we can leverage technology, coupled with good leadership, to build solutions that are going to help us solve most of the problems we are having in education, agriculture, finance, and healthcare across the continent and as we strive to develop these solutions we shall also be addressing the issue of youth unemployment in the continent. I successfully completed the program and even had a chance to intern with the African Leadership Group.
Now & then future
Contributing to the team spirit as a proud member of Metis
After completing my training & internship, I got a job as a data and business intelligence analyst at a family-owned holding company for a group of companies. After only a month of working there, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my work. I noted that one of the reasons why I felt as such was because I didn’t feel like what I spent over 40 hours a week doing even mattered. So when an opportunity to join Metis as a Monitoring & Evaluation Lead (Intern mind you) I didn’t hesitate, well maybe a little. And so far I can honestly say that I take a lot of pride in the work that I do because I know it is having a huge impact both directly and indirectly.
My plan is to serve and learn as much as possible over the next five years, attend a top business school, come back home and continue developing solutions for the most pressing problems in the continent. I am particularly looking to develop solutions in education, agriculture, and finance. This is mainly motivated by the fact that I have seen and experienced first hand how poor rural families in Kenya and by extension Africa, struggle to feed, clothe and educate their children. All the while relying on Agriculture that is dependent on inefficient cultivation methods, is filled with brokers that only pay meager prices for the farm produce only to resell them at exorbitant prices to the final consumer.
My dream for Kenya, and the African continent, is to see our people feed themselves with healthy and nutritious food cultivated from our lands. To see all children, girls, and boys, poor or rich, access quality, transformative and life-affirming education that will equip them to become the force of change in the continent. To see people living in rural and urban informal settlements have access to affordable and quality health care. And finally to see our youth become engaged in leadership both in public and private institutions. This will create a continent that feeds her people, ensures their prospertity and guarantees them a good quality life that is a right for all human beings.This is a bold dream which I know may not be accomplished in a single life. I have, however, made a commitment to ensure that I play my part in helping this dream become a reality. I am, and will continue, to do this by ensuring that the work I do is aimed at solving one of the above problems and by partnering with other like-minded leaders across the continent.
I know this journey is not going to be an easy one. I am however aware of the challenges that lay ahead and still have the right motivation, perseverance and the will power to see it through. My dream is to impact and change so many lives that when I look back as an old man I can afford to smile knowing that I left the world a little better than I found it.