A lady who is passionate about education and derives satisfaction from giving back to the society
By Catherine Kuria
I was walking home one evening and along a pavement, I encountered a young girl probably in her early teens. She looked fatigued, ragged and malnourished. Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to talk to her. She started crying silently and I was lost for words – so I decided to hold her. Her sobbing finally stopped and the only words she could utter at that juncture were fail and school. Later, I came to learn that she had failed her KCPE and her adoptive family could not afford to send her to high school. In fact, they had kicked her out of their homestead.
The young girl left me distressed and silently thinking – what can I do as an individual to help such an unfortunate girl (and many others) who share her plight? Is it the fault of our children that they fail exams or do we lay the blame on various public schools in our country which are under resourced? Learning may be in full swing in private schools but children who attend public schools need an extra push. They need resources and guidance to realize their full academic potential. Pacemaker International Africa is one of the many answers we have in our country to curb this challenge.
Peggy Ochola is the founder of Pacemaker International Africa – also known as PACE. It’s a non governmental organization that gets recent high school graduates to volunteer as teachers in under resourced public schools.“There is a big gap between the performance of kids in private and public schools,” says Peggy. “In most public schools, one in every two children scores below 250 marks and our role is to help such kids get better marks so that they can join leading high schools,” she adds. By the same token, PACE is using this opportunity of serving the community as a means for young people to build skills that make them more and more employable.
In 2007 after completing her KCSE, Peggy applied for a scholarship to join Harvard University. She completed her application with the help of Zawadi Africa who walked her through the whole process. A year later, she secured the scholarship. Zawadi then gave a commitment for ‘each one to teach one’. That is where her motivation to give back to he society came from.
At Harvard, she studied chemistry and education. For her, education is really exploring what you want to do or what you want your big contribution to be. Peggy really loves solving problems which is why she ended up working in the education field.
Before PACE, she had her first job experience as a French-English translator for a local NGO and at the same time, she volunteered in a children’s home. “That time, there was a huge gap between finishing high school and joining university and I got to do a lot of things that helped me grow as a person like volunteering, climbing Mt. Kenya, teaching and that really began to shape me into the person that I am today,” she narrates.
After completing her studies at Harvard, she started working at Coca Cola’s Women Economic Empowerment Program. The opportunity to work there taught her that even corporates can actually have social impact. “That was the beginning of my understanding about how the business world can actually make a difference in the society,” she recalls. From Coca Cola, Peggy founded PACE in January 2013. She began going to schools and recruiting young people to volunteer.
“PACE was first an idea in my head which I developed through writing, before sharing it with various partners,” she says. “We started with 24 volunteers and have since grown to 150, with a presence in 35 schools,” she adds. The organization’s volunteers are armed with skills that enhance their chances of getting jobs in the ever competitive labor market.
She has grown as a founder and as a non-profit entrepreneur because she has learnt that one must keep on learning. One of the biggest motivations in her job is actually how much she learns each day. She takes a lot of online classes in order to hone her skills on how to run a non-profit organization, fundraising, getting investors and programme development. Her mentors (who run similar organizations) teach her a few ropes in the business.
When PACE was starting, Peggy did not have a lot of experience about running an NGO. Part of her journey has been constant learning through asking people for information. “People are very willing to share information, but you have to approach them with a lot of humility,” she advises. “I have learnt to maintain a middle ground as a leader in order to succeed, “she adds.
She has also learnt the importance of embracing ethics, honesty and integrity as a leader. “In our initial stages, it was hard to find investors but with time, many of them have gained trust in us,” she asserts. By the time they had their first investor, they had recruited 66 volunteers who had gone through the pipeline and were offering 4,000 hours of volunteer service.
“Currently, our volunteers are offering 172, 000 hours of service and it has been an incredible journey of consistent growth,” she avers. “When you get an investor, it’s important to be accountable to them by demonstrating that you are using the resources they have entrusted on you in a way that is generating returns,” she adds. PACE is for instance working with the Buruburu Girls Alumni Association which sponsors volunteers to serve in the city high school as teachers.
The journey to success isn’t always an easy one. Obstacles will come your way but how you handle them is what determines the end result. For Peggy, it has not been smooth sailing either. “We have made a number of mistakes since our establishment but we have learnt a lot from them,” she says. “Once you have accepted your mistake in an honest way, your partners trust you more and they are willing to give you more business,” she adds.
Convincing young people to volunteer their service as teachers has also not been easy for the organization. “We convince them that by volunteering (which is a very effective way of giving back to the society), their chances of securing employment in the future will be enhanced,” Peggy observes.
Her role as the CEO of PACE
As the CEO of PACE, Peggy’s major role is to drive the organization’s strategy. In that regard, she has assembled a team of highly motivated employees which shares her vision. “We have a clear structure that ensures that all the members of the team are accountable in respect to the different roles that they play,” she avers. She also oversees the business development docket which is charged with the responsibility of getting partners who are willing and able to support volunteers.
Word of advice
“Perseverance is vital because there are many challenges in the world of business (whether profit or non profit),” Peggy advises. One of these challenges is building systems and structures for the business. In addition according to her, it is important to have very supportive networks. “My family (and in particular my husband) has really supported me in my quest to succeed,” she says. “They give me very honest criticism that has enabled me to become a more polished leader,” she emphasizes.
Finally, she advises women to find a balance in their lives and ask for assistance when a need arises as opposed to struggling single handedly to be perfect. “They should not try to be super women – let them learn to work with other members of their teams or professional colleagues,” she avers.
Hobbies and personal life
Peggy is an avid reader. “I always have a book in my handbag which I read while caught up in a traffic jam or waiting at a reception for a meeting to start,” she says. “I am therefore able to acquire new knowledge on a regular basis,” she adds.Currently, she is reading Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy. The major lesson in that inspirational book is about how to avoid procrastination. It encourages individuals to attack the biggest and most important task of the day first thing in the morning.
The best book that she has ever read is Home going by Yaa Gyasi which is about the wounds that were inflicted by slavery. Peggy also loves listening to podcasts while driving especially the ones comprising inspiring stories about successful entrepreneurs. A very staunch Christian, Peggy is a member of a Bible study group. She also loves spending time alone in a quiet environment in order to reflect on the progress she is making in her life. Her favorite cuisine on the other hand is ugali and fish. She enjoys swimming and played hockey while in high school. She has been married for two years.
A day in the life of Peggy
She wakes up at 5:30am, prepares herself before taking breakfast and leaving her house at 7.00 am. Her day in the office normally starts at 8.00 am and she is engaged up to 11.00 am when she goes out for meetings with clients. She goes back to the office at 4.00 pm and works until 5.00 pm. She attends the Bible study classes at