Yes We Can
Kendi Ntwiga – Nderitu is the Country Manager for Microsoft Kenya responsible for developing and maintaining effective relationships across the company’s subsidiaries, and regional sales and marketing departments. The role also calls for the creation of strategies, building of plans, allocation of resources and the establishment of priorities and supervising engagements – all with the ultimate goal of increasing Microsoft’s share of voice.
Prior to joining Microsoft, Kendi served as the General Manager of the East, West and Central Africa Cluster for Check Point Software. Her extensive resume includes roles at Oracle, HP, and Intel, where she was tasked with leading and implementing business strategies across sub-Saharan Africa. Passionate about the potential of technology to streamline trade and commerce on the continent, Nderitu has proved instrumental in helping various organisations develop strategic digital roadmaps, ultimately enabling them to improve efficiencies and reduce costs. In fact, it’s this same passion that led to her being recognised as an Emerging Leader in Innovation and Entrepreneurship by the US government through the TechWomen program.
Kendi is also the founder of She-Goes-Tech, an initiative created with the purpose of mentoring young girls and women who are pursuing STEM careers. Her dedication to mentoring women in the tech space has also seen her lead gender inclusion discussions across different forums, including the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Yes We Can is a recurring series presented by Cloudflare Co-founder, President, and COO Michelle Zatlyn, featuring interviews with women entrepreneurs and tech leaders who clearly debunk the myth that there are no women in tech. To watch more episodes of Yes We Can — and submit suggestions for future guests — visit cloudflare.com/yeswecan
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of Yes We Can. I'm just super excited to have Kendi Ntwiga here today.
Hi, Kendi. How are you? Hello, Michelle. Glad to be here.
I'm good. Good. I'm so excited. You're based in Kenya right now, correct?
Yes, I am. I'm in Nairobi. Perfect. Great. Well, I can't wait to talk all about what's going on on the ground in Nairobi and in the country and all of your career in enterprise software and sales and leadership.
But before we do, one quick housekeeping item.
For those who are tuning in, if you have suggestions of people you'd love to see on the show, please email us at yeswecanatCloudflare .tv.
And if you have questions for Kendi, you can put them in underneath and I'll try to get to them.
But let's dive in. You know, part of the show is to highlight different incredible women in technology from different parts of technology because it's a massive and vast industry.
And I think what's so interesting about you, Kendi, is you spent a lot of your career in enterprise.
You've worked at great companies like HP and Oracle, Checkpoint, which is a cybersecurity company.
And now, today, you're a country manager, a country leader at Microsoft, which, of course, is a large company that we have all heard of.
So that's a lot of different enterprise companies.
And so I thought you could maybe start by telling the audience, if you can give us a quick summary of your career in your words, just a quick overview, and then we'll dive into some specifics.
Oh, thank you. Thank you, Michelle.
So of all the, what you've mentioned, like you said, it's big, global, high tech organizations.
I've been in that space for about 16 years. What I would say is the first one was the, which was HP.
That was the hard one for me to get to.
But even then, I was referred by a local partner, because as you know, these multinationals work with local partners in the countries that they operate.
And after that, I learned that actually, that when you're doing the job, it's almost an interview for your next job.
So all through, it's actually been referral after referral after referral.
And that's how I found myself where I am from the HP days to now in Microsoft, leading the business in Kenya.
I love that. I love that. And you're right, because so, so tell us maybe specifically, so currently, how did you find this role being the country manager for Microsoft Kenya?
Was it a referral? Yes, I was actually headhunted, but headhunting after a referral.
So one of the leaders who had hired me in Oracle, had moved to Microsoft some seven years prior.
And when they needed a local person to lead the business, he's like, I have the perfect person for you.
So I was going about my job at Checkpoint. And one day, I get an inbox and they're like, we want to talk to you.
I think you would be the perfect fit for this role.
So yes, referral, headhunting, which I have come to appreciate and yeah, not take for granted as I do my current job.
Wow. That's incredible.
A leader you worked with seven years earlier in your career who'd moved on and you probably didn't work.
Did you stay in touch during that time or just kind of casually?
More casually, what I've, because most of my leaders have also been my mentors and coaches and as well as sponsors as he did this time, because I didn't know the role was going to be open.
I've always kept in touch just to be like, and it's just that good relationship, business relationship.
So they know what I'm doing.
They know what I'm up to. We discuss, you can imagine because we had worked with him previously.
So if he had, he had left seven years prior and I was in Microsoft, I was in Oracle for five years.
So meaning when he was meeting me, I was this really young person.
So he saw me develop through life and it was interesting to always keep in touch.
Yes. So it's just that casual talk, but also encouraging myself to be trained and coached and mentored throughout my career and life.
I think that there's some really good lessons there for all of us in that Kendi.
So thank you so much for sharing that. That's terrific.
So before we get to your current role, I would love just to maybe look back first, because it's just, you have worked at so many of these large organizations again, HP, Oracle, Checkpoint, and now Microsoft.
And I think that I would love to hear your reflections on kind of how those companies, what was similar and what was different and just, were they all the same or were there differences in those different roles?
So what's common with all of these companies is that they are listed in one of the stock exchanges in the US, whether it's New York or whether it's Nasdaq.
So they are listed. And what I've come to appreciate about listed companies is that you have to report quarterly numbers.
So that is one common denominator with all of these companies, because I've been always in the business side of it, whether I was doing it as an individual contributor or doing it as a manager or a manager of managers, it's just the same.
We have to report quarterly. So that's, and with that, of course, for those who were in that space, you know, it comes with some pressure to get the numbers right, to push for execution.
And you get, I started to get used to the pressure of it.
So I know the quarterly rhythm, but also having the balance of strategy and looking forward, you know, and just knowing that I can deliver for the quarter, but also for the year and maybe have plans for three years from now.
So that there's business continuity. I love that.
Okay. So those are the things that are similar. Was there anything different between those four different large companies?
Yes. The main difference is a culture.
So you find that all, most are trying to achieve the same thing as in bottom line.
It's trying to achieve the top line. So the bottom line can also be good, but then how they do it is different.
So the various organizations and this difference is seen in the culture, which is not surprising because we, you know, when we, when you go and you do your MBA, the one thing they say is the biggest differentiator of the, of any organization is really the culture.
So I have seen that in practice and I have seen those that have been able to sustain and ride through the wave.
And that's been the biggest difference. So for some better than others, in my opinion, but yes, that's been the biggest, biggest differentiator.
I think that, that, that you're right. You read about this word culture and it's like, I think sometimes it's easy to say, Oh, it's all the same, but I do think that these companies all probably do feel different and how, how they go about achieving and working on initiatives and products and what it feels like on a day-to-day basis is being part of that team does feel different.
So thanks so much for sharing that.
It's interesting that you said about being a publicly traded company, quarterly earnings.
We actually have our quarterly earnings call later today, but I, as a newly public company, I, we're, we're, our team is quickly learning all about that.
So that resonated with me. I had a little smile when you said that.
Nice. Okay. So today, so let's take, take you to where you are today.
So now you're the country, country leader for Microsoft in Kenya, which is a huge job.
You're responsible for, for, for the organization in Kenya. And maybe you can just tell us a little bit about what does a country manager do and a little bit more about your roles and responsibilities.
Cause I bet you there's a lot of people who are listening who aren't exactly sure what that means.
Thank you, Michelle.
So as, as a country manager for Kenya, representing Microsoft, my biggest mandate is really to land Microsoft's focus or mission in the country.
And you find that our global mission, which is empowering and I'm sort of paraphrasing, but the same meaning empowering every individual or person on the planet to do more.
So now ensuring that that mission lands in Kenya, and that shows up in very different ways.
It could be that, cause we have different departments in Microsoft, whether it's philanthropies, where we helping skill people, where we're pushing for people to use more technology for their own good, where we are working maybe with governments to align policies, where we pushing for digitization or any business transformation from a tech perspective, where we work with the bigger corporates.
So looking at the landscape in Kenya, and that's why Microsoft then has a Kenyan who's based here, who understands the, the local, who has a local perspective.
So gets that knows how the nuances of working locally, but also understands the global mission for Microsoft, seeing how the two match and then delivering value for the country, for the dwellers of the country, for the citizens, but also as well value for Microsoft.
So in summary, it's really, I'm the custodian of Microsoft's mission in the country, which means I meet with, whether it's top leaders or executors, whether it's technical minds, whether it's the schools, where we challenging young minds to study more, to think new technologies, to have a voice, so that at least our, our needs are represented.
So we are not a minority, even as tech is being developed.
So all of those conversations, and that's basically what I do for my job.
That sounds really fun. Interesting people and stakeholders.
And that's amazing. How large is the organization in the country?
So far, we almost 500 employees and at least 400 of this are engineers, which is run separately from the business side, but in total, Microsoft has about at least 500 employees in country.
And it is, you're right.
It is an exciting role because it puts me in a place where I'm actually able to bring value to my country, to my people from a global perspective.
I love that. And I'm curious, you know, I think that this, that that point is so interesting.
It's like, Hey, helping make impact locally where I'm from and where I live.
I think there's something so that resonates at the core of everyone are, are those various external stakeholders receptive?
Like, do people, do you see people wanting to learn more, especially around how technology and how it can be helpful or maybe harmful in some ways?
Do you, do you see that the different groups that you interact with, are they receptive or are there some people who are still nervous about, about, or, or I don't know, second guessing of, of the technology industry?
So what's the, the good thing is that because operates in Kenya, Kenya, we are very forward thinking and we love to learn.
We love to be ahead. We love to innovate, um, which also speaks to the landscape that we have the tech landscape in Kenya.
So you'll find we are called the Silicon Savannah. I know you're in San Francisco where it is the Silicon Valley.
So we are called as a Silicon Savannah. And that's because of the minds that we have, the many startups that are represented here.
And so also the, the environment from a government perspective, government has put in place infrastructure and policies that actually allow for innovation to thrive.
So because of that, then you find my work is made easier. Just as an example, yesterday morning, my day started by going to meet.
We, we, we have the data protection office.
So I was going to meet the commissioner, the head of that office for us to have a conversation and see, as you're thinking about there's a protection, as you're thinking about how do we treat personal identifiable information or data for citizens of Kenya or for organizations that are operating in our country, what are some of the things you're having?
So you find going to have that conversation, it's, it's well -received and we sit and have this conversation in a way that is progressive.
And what I really took out, what I loved about our conversation, she's a lady first, and she was saying that her work is not to police, her work is to enable.
So when you have that mindset, then it means all of us playing in the space we are enabling, not necessarily having a police, a stick.
We don't have a stick behind us, but we're just looking at it and seeing how best can we make this environment work.
So that's it to answer you. Most times it's, it's actually the people are very receptive, whether it's individuals, whether it's people looking for skills, when we like Microsoft, we run a global skilling initiative where we encourage people to look at the technologies they can skill, or even because we are linked in this part of Microsoft, how they can enable themselves from a professional perspective.
And you find that you have a lot of young people who take up this initiatives or even SMEs and government is a partner for us.
So you find the government, the ministry of industrialization goes with us to, to enable the SMEs.
So the play is, is, is quite positive.
Resistance you'll find sometimes, of course, there's a few resisting organizations here and there, but then it's just a matter of time because this is where technology is going.
If you, if you're resisting cloud now, we know we have other new, we ourselves as Microsoft, we've just launched Metaverse, right?
That's the whole, so it keeps, we keep launching and launching and launching.
So yeah, people are receptive. Oh, right. Exactly. Keeps going. Eventually people will come along.
Well, that's great. That's great. And we're going to come back to hear more about Silicon Savannah in a minute, but before we do, you know, just as you think back to your 16 years working in enterprise software, different organizations and all these different roles you've had, you know, obviously you're also a people manager, you're a leader, you're a people manager.
And I, and I think that I'd love to spend a few minutes just hearing about your people philosophy.
What's kind of, what is your people philosophy as a manager and, and how has that changed maybe as you've gone along in your career?
Thank you. Thank you for that. So what I came to realize very early and, and I realized this as I, as I joined HP back then, there's a privilege that comes in working for the global organizations.
And with, with that privilege, because it's already a known brand, as in it's a strong brand, it is enviable.
It is all of that. So with that, there's a very big responsibility that you carry as a person, responsibility to your people first, responsibility to the organization that has hired you, but just responsibility in general, to just know that this is a privilege and acknowledge it as such.
So what then that taught me. And as I looked through whether, when I was at an individual contributor, I realized the biggest differentiator was actually attitude.
So you find that those who would come and because with privilege, it's either you feel so important that you're unreachable or you recognize it and you try to extend yourself to help others around you.
So the, and so even now, when I hire, the first thing I look for is attitude.
So I look at what kind of person is this? Are they simple in a good way? If they're complex, is it in a, in a not blocky way, right?
Are they, are they approachable?
Are they just generally good people? Do they love to learn? How do they think of their mind?
Do they think if you think you're too important, if I'm too important, then how do you help those around you?
How do you then bring the vast resources that are placed in your hands to help those with you?
So that is something I look out for.
But beyond that as well, I look for energy. I found that, and by energy, I don't necessarily mean super high energy, because if you have a very high energy team, then maybe nothing much will be done because everyone will be just out there spreading their energy.
But that's this, that balance of energy, you know, they're, they're, they're positive.
They reach out, they go out of their way. They're excited.
They have passion in themselves, because when you have that, then it's infectious.
And the team synergy, depending on how the team is that, that those I have, they could be the best candidate for the role, but I look at what the energy they're bringing to the team.
And I just, I can't hire them because I know if they bring it, then the team will be destabilized.
And I would rather the team is more developed than brought down.
Then of course, after that, we look for skill, but the skill for me is not usually the first skill I can train.
And you, and when you have a good attitude, it means you can be told, I know you're good.
I know there's a strength that you bring, but there's also this gap that you have, which you can be coached.
So when you're told that you don't take it personally and you don't get defensive, you actually be like, wow, that's an amazing thing.
Can I learn more? You know? Yeah. Oh my God. I love that. You know, I can still hear you.
I don't know. We can maybe you shut your video off. Oh, there we go.
You're back. You're back. That's great. You know what you said really resonated with me.
Cause I think back to how I got my first job, I think there was a lot of, because of this attitude and energy and literally, I remember my first boss said, cause I did not have the proper skills for that first job.
And she said, I can train you.
And, and I, and I, and I even think about some of the best people that I'll get to work with on a daily basis.
It's, it's attitude and the energy. I think those are really, I'd never heard it quite put that way, but I think that there's a lot of wisdom in what you said.
So thank you for sharing that. Thank you, Michelle.
Um, okay. So let's go back to, uh, Silicon Savannah, which I love that we've, I think we need a map cause there's definitely, you know, Silicon slopes and Silicon beach.
Anyway. So this is, I am a little bit embarrassed. I didn't know about Silicon Savannah.
So thank you for enlightening me. And as you said, I'm based in San Francisco, California.
So I guess the original Silicon Valley and you were based in Kenya, Silicon Savannah.
Um, uh, we had a guest on last week that was in Cape town and she gave us a great overview of what was going on in South Africa.
I'd love to hear from your perspective, just tell the rest of us, especially we haven't been to, for those of us who haven't been to Kenya, what's the technology scene.
Like you gave us a little bit, um, you know, a few minutes ago, but maybe just an overview of like, what's the technology, what's the tech scene like in Kenya and East Africa, how's it going?
Um, are there startups like give us, give us kind of give us, um, your overview.
So fast Nairobi. So happens to be the, the hub for most of the global high-tech companies.
And so you find when a global company and most of this, uh, whether they're from the West or from the East, when they're looking to come into at least the Eastern Africa region, they come and set shop in Nairobi.
And the reason this is so it's because our infrastructure, our infrastructure is well -developed, um, as well, the, the people you find the skillsets, there's quite a bit, like I said, Microsoft, we have over 400 engineers.
Now, not many of the African countries will you go in and find wild ready engineers to work on global products, but Nairobi presents you that.
And so, because we have that background, um, then you find you will, the, the big tickets as you, as you're walking and I've been to the Valley quite a bit, San Francisco, uh, I've been to the Bay area.
So when you're walking the Bay area and you find different signs across the roads, um, and, and from the start to the end, it's the same case here.
So you find your big ticket organizations are there then beyond that, what, what we've encouraged over the last few years is, can we also be creators?
And the reason for this is the high levels of unemployment in Kenya, but also in Africa.
So the challenge then has been, can we have people who create companies so that we are not just getting 400 handful of people being employed because 400 is still a little, um, but we are having, we are having big organizations that are startups, which can be skilled and skilled to cover the world.
And so we find that.
So you, when you come in Nairobi, you'll find your trigger foods, big startups, you'll find your cellulite startups that have employees who are over 2,000 employees.
And these employees, um, you find your M copper, right?
Some backed by the bigger organizations, others just grown here. And then after seeing the potential to scale, they are back then to scale into other markets.
There's a very vibrant startup community. And that is why we call the Silicon Savannah.
If you find the VCs that are set here as well, they're quite a number.
And most of the organizations, most of the spaces that they invest in are really tech companies, but it's tech companies that of course are providing a solution for them, for the environment or for the society.
So you find it is a health company, but it's tech backed or insurance company, but then it's tech backed or it's a logistics company, but then operating the food security space.
And FinTech is vibrant.
It's, it's, we, we like to say we are almost the mother of FinTech to some good extent because a lot has been tried here and scaled to the world.
So the Nairobi space is quite interesting for someone looking for a to come to and be, we have also a very big expert community who are either founders who've come to set here and then scale to the world, or who have actually just come to work in the country and provide their efforts.
Yes. That's great. That definitely makes me want to come visit and, and, and that's great.
The, you know, the founding, you know, the mother of FinTech, which actually, as soon as you said that, I was like, you know what, that's probably fair because I just remember people talking about how payments were done through mobile phones in Kenya, and you have to see this.
And now that you think about it and like, whether it's my memo or, you know, how I'm paying people all the time, it's, it's a iteration off with what you've had in Kenya for a long time.
That's great. Any prediction, any, what's the latest and greatest there?
Maybe you can give us some preview on what will be big eventually in the U.S.
Any, any new innovations? So really what I love, I look at the reports and this is, this is not to allude to what's next, just a comment in terms of the cryptocurrency play.
If you look at the number of players that are in Nairobi, it's amazing.
We are risk takers and we just are ahead. So in terms of what's, what are people looking up to?
Food security is a big deal. I know it's a big deal globally, but we're looking at Africa as a food basket, mostly because our land is arable, land not very well utilized.
You find populations, about 70% of the African population relies on farming, but then when you look at the GDP, the contribution for farming is not even maybe 40%.
So that means there, there's so much room for optimization.
So a lot of play and a little focus is on the agri space and as well as expanding the fintech space.
So those are the two main ones and the variety of that around that and a variety of that.
Yeah. That's great. That's great.
Thank you. That's good. Okay. So we have about six minutes left and I want to, I want to hear about this organization that you started called She Goes Tech, right?
So she, S-H-E, goes, G-O -E-S, Tech, all one word, capital S-G-T. So for those who want to look it up online, She Goes Tech.
So I love this initiative.
So maybe start by telling the audience, sharing with the audience, what is She Goes Tech?
Let's start there. For me to tell you what is She Goes Tech, I'll tell you about how I got into tech.
So I grew up as, as we are four and I will spend my older being a brother, a boy.
And every time would go, my mom, a teacher, my father, a water engineer.
And every time we'd go to school, they would always, my parents would always encourage me and tell me, you can go and do maths and do sciences just as well, if not better than your brother.
So started with that encouragement from the time I was really young, maybe the age of 10.
And we had this thing going with my brother, I would compete.
But then when I got to high school and I've joined high school, I'm the age of about, I went when I was about 14, they were studying 14.
At around 16, I lost a bit of track, right? And at 16, when I'm turning to, and at 16, I was in, I was in form three.
So between form two and form three, it's four years in high school.
So I wasted my mid years and I started to backtrack.
And I forgot, I keep saying my teenage was complex. So then when I got to form four, which you must do an exam for you to go to university, I now panicked.
And I was like, Kendi, you're supposed to be a brilliant lady. And here you are, you're going to flop.
So anyway, so then I remembered what my parents always told me.
And I also remembered that because I have a logical mind, it's easier to remember the formulas and do them in mathematics and remember the facts of science.
So if I do those, and my mother, who was a teacher, had told me when they go to Mac, because girls avoid the sciences and mathematics, they're sort of a bit more lenient.
So if you do well, chances of getting closer to an A as a girl are actually very good.
So I then focused in the last year of my high school, I focused in doing mathematics and sciences.
And that is how I passed and was able to now get into tech.
So now, fast forward, I came and realized when I got into tech, I realized even from then, we were very few in class, we were very few in the industry.
And I remembered in high school, most girls avoid taking the sciences.
So I was like, what is that one thing that I can do that would encourage these girls to just take these courses?
And that's how I came up with Chico's Tech.
So with Chico's Tech, I go back to high schools, I go back to girls, and I tell them my story.
I'm like, you know what, it took me a year to turn around my results, turn around my what I was doing in high school.
And that's what I needed for me to be able to select a course that was a tech course, a STEM-related course.
So you can do the same.
It's not as complex. Just do it. If I did it, then you can do it.
That's the summary of it. Then when they get into the industry, I pick mentors to work with them who encourage them to remain in the industry, just balancing the whole dynamic of what society needs of us and what you can do for yourself.
Oh, my God, I love that story, Kendi. And it sounds like you just have, like, you're like, I just saw this and I just did it.
It's just, you're like, I didn't want to do it.
So how's it going? I mean, how many girls have gone through? I mean, how do you measure, like, how is it going with you?
I mean, it sounds incredible, and I love that you're doing this, and just maybe gives a sense of how is it going.
So right now, from the last count, maybe around 5,000 girls slowed down a bit because of COVID, because what would happen is I would go to high schools.
A high school would likely have, like, 400 girls. So that means you're to reach at least half of those, and that's how the number is able to grow.
So now that schools have resumed physically, then I will resume it.
You'll find that most of these girls are in the rural part of it, so you're not able to do a lot of remote coaching.
So for remote, it's been mostly the people who are there, early employment, new workers in the industry, people who are looking to do some of these things.
But yeah, so now resuming, going back to high schools because they're organized communities, that is, and then fast-tracking from a mentorship perspective on the things to consider if you're in the industry and remaining in the industry.
But it's going well. Oh my goodness, 5,000 girls. That's a lot of people.
Good for you. That's amazing. There is much more. We are many. There are so many girls to reach.
I know, there's many left, but you should also... I'm trying to get better.
I was just talking to one of my colleagues before this call, but we have to get better at celebrating what's going well, and so you should celebrate 5,000.
That's amazing. And we'll be here to celebrate when you hit 20,000 too, Kendi.
How about that? Awesome. Thank you, Michelle. Okay, so we have about a minute left, and the one question I ask everyone who comes on the show is just as a woman in technology, where has industry lived up to your expectations and where has it fallen short?
So I'd love to give you a chance to respond to that. Where has it lived up to my expectation?
We are encouraging more women. We see more women in leadership.
There's more deliberate action where that is concerned, and that is amazing and very encouraging.
Where would we do more? Can we set up the women that we bring on board for success?
Can we equip them with what they need, whether it's skills, whether it's mentorship, whether it's the opportunities that we give them?
Something that is easier. Not easier in that sense, but let's not give assignments which are already outrightly seen to be collapsing to women.
Let's set people for success.
I love that. That's great. Well, Kendi, you've been an inspiration.
I've enjoyed the last 30 minutes with you. Thank you so much. I definitely am going to try and plan a trip to come visit you in Nairobi, and next time you're in the Bay Area, please let me know.
We'll get together for a coffee. Everyone, Kendi Ntwega, based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Thank you so much, Kendi. This was terrific.
Thank you, Michelle. Thank you.