Preparing Scholars to Be Leaders: The Mawazo Leadership Retreat

Dr. Chao Mbogo and Dr. Rose M. Mutiso speaking at the Leadership Retreat

Dr. Chao Mbogo and Dr. Rose M. Mutiso speaking at the Leadership Retreat

“When you see yourself in a different light, you see that you have a voice as an expert in your field,” says Mawazo Institute Program Manager Elaine Mungai. At Mawazo, we work to encourage an expert voice amongst our Scholars. One that rises against the tide of societal norms impressed upon them that tell them, as women, they are not expected to be leaders in their country, much less in their fields. We strive to teach our Scholars skills that not only are not provided within their PhD programmes, but that also allow them to leverage their expertise and become leaders in their careers and communities.

This is why, in November 2018, the Mawazo Institute in partnership with DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service), hosted a leadership training retreat for our Scholars and a selection of DAAD programme scholars. Mawazo chose DAAD as a partner for this initiative because their work in Kenya, supporting and providing scholarships for Masters and PhD students, closely aligns with Mawazo’s vision for our Scholar Programme. DAAD’s work is also concerned with the quality of education in local universities and amongst postgraduates and they too, noticed a lack of support for young scientists to grow in roles beyond their research. Selecting a few of their own female scholars, Mawazo worked with DAAD to create a specialized two-day training that would give attendees a deeper understanding of what leadership within the sciences looks like.

Mawazo also wanted to help the scholars develop the tangible skills required to be leaders within their fields. Over two days, experts led trainings designed with scholars’ needs in mind, which were coupled with insightful panel discussions on issues relevant to local researchers.

Held in Nairobi, the retreat opened with a discussion on the state of women’s leadership roles in academia and research. Led by local experts, Dr. Ruth Aura-Odhiambo (Egerton University), Mr. Mike Eldon (The Dan Eldon Place of Tomorrow), Dr. Chao Mbogo (Kenya Methodist University), and Dr. Rosemary Okello-Orlale (Strathmore Business School), the issues raised included the lack of women’s leadership within local universities. Where despite a steady increase in female students pursuing university degrees in Kenya, the percentage of women enrolled in PhDs and who hold positions of leadership in higher education remain low.

In fact, women make up less than a third of both academic staff at public universities and enrolled PhD students (1). Further, as of 2014, only 5 of Kenya’s 22 public chartered universities had adhered to the legally mandated one-third gender rule in staffing (where at least one-third of the teaching staff should be women) showing the dire need to shift these statistics in favour of women, whose talents can infuse academia with new ideas and perspectives (2).

Irene Kinuthia, a personal leadership coach, then led the group in a session to help them identify and develop their leadership styles. This was followed by a panel discussion with Mr. Murefu Barasa (EED Advisory), Dr. Linda Davis (Giraffe Bioenergy), and Dr. Joy Kiiru (University of Nairobi), that focused on available career options for academics and researchers, helping scholars identify new and alternative career paths. Scholars also received training on building effective negotiation skills, a requisite for maximizing desired outcomes within positions of leadership. This session was taught by Kathy Vaughn, a conflict management expert, before Naliaka Odera, professional branding expert, guided the group in a session on building successful public professional profiles using mediums like LinkedIn, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook.

As the retreat drew to a close, Mawazo CEO, Dr. Rose M. Mutiso, and Programme Manager, Elaine Mungai taught a networking session intended to help scholars learn how to build and leverage their networks. Additionally, each evening, scholars from DAAD and Mawazo were invited to network with each other at an informal cocktail hour, overlooking the gardens at the retreat venue.

Mawazo is incredibly proud of the results of our first ever Leadership Retreat. In post-retreat evaluations, our Scholars reported feeling better able to communicate their thoughts and ideas and apply out of the box thinking to both their research and their career plans. Networking amongst Mawazo Scholars, DAAD’s Scholars, and established subject matter experts in a variety of fields also provided new opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and for Scholars to see, more tangibly, their potential future career paths. Mawazo believes that professional opportunities such as this are a necessary part of a holistic PhD programme. One that builds on Scholars’ diverse, innovative, and truly transformative research—and gives them the tools to position themselves as experts and future leaders.


  1. Mukhwana, E.J, L.J Koskei and O.S Oure. 2017. “Gender and diversity among staff of Public Universities in Kenya.” RUFORUM. Working Document Series (ISSN 1607-9345) No. 15: 75-91 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322580783_Gender_and_diversity_among_staff_of_Public_Universities_in_Kenya

  2. Mukhwana, E.J, L.J Koskei and O.S Oure. 2017. “Gender and diversity among staff of Public Universities in Kenya.” RUFORUM. Working Document Series (ISSN 1607-9345) No. 15: 75-91 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322580783_Gender_and_diversity_among_staff_of_Public_Universities_in_Kenya