By identifying and pursuing a career she is passionate about, dedicated public servant achieves her dreams in leadership
By George Gichuki
Some people make decisions regarding the careers they want to pursue based on how big the pay cheque at the end of the month will be. They therefore end up joining careers they are not passionate about, in the quest of making their wallets fat. To say the least, most of them get very frustrated and they never reach the pinnacle of such careers. Not so for Dr. Jane Kiringai, the Chairperson of the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA). An economist by profession, Dr. Kiringai’s passion about working in the public service ignited fire in her belly to advance her studies and excel in her career. The fire became hotter after she read John Ortberg’s celebrated book, Get Out of the Boat. “The book made me ponder on whether I was sacrificing my purpose in life on the altar of a good job,” she remembers. Lady luck has not let her down. In a fulfilling career spanning over a decade, the key decisions she made in its early years have yielded dividends.
Dr. Kiringai started her career journey as an economist at the National Treasury in the early 90s. She was involved in making of the national budget. “ After some time in the National Treasury, I decided to further my studies and I therefore went to the United States of America to pursue a masters degree in economics,” she recalls. She came back to the country after one and a half years. “Once back in Kenya, I took a detour in my career and I left the public service to venture into the private sector – banking to be specific,” she adds. It is at this point of her career journey that Dr. Kiringai realized that she was not cut out for a job in the corporate world. “After nine months in banking, I realized that my calling was in public service and I had to realign my goals accordingly,” she recalls. Consequently, she secured a job as the head of statistics at the International Committee of the Red Cross. While working in this organization, an opportunity that was very close to her career aspiration presented itself. The government established the Kenya Institute for Public Policy, Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) and it advertised for jobs in the new organization. Dr. Kiringai was recruited by KIPPRA as a policy analyst. “I was a member of KIPPRA’s first team of employees and the government relied on us while implementing its policies,” she says. “The team also conducted macro-economic modelling and forecasting for the country and the experience was wonderful,” she adds.
To excel in the field of economics, one has to be very highly trained. Despite being a mother of young boys, Dr. Kiringai therefore decided to further her studies. She enrolled for a PhD in economics in the UK. “ Doctoral studies can take a lot of time to complete – I was therefore lucky to get a flexible programme at the University of Nottingham ( UK) which granted me a window to be at school briefly and to work from home as I took care of my children,” she says. Nevertheless between her studies, her work load at KIPPRA became too heavy and balancing the same with her studies was an uphill task. To address this challenge, she decided to look for a job that was less demanding in respect to time, hence giving her an opportunity to focus more on her studies. Dr. Kiringai then joined the European Union as a manager in charge of the tourism portfolio and private sector development. “The beauty of my new job was that I would leave the office at 4.30 pm promptly, then proceed to the library up to 7.00 pm for my studies,” she recalls. She successfully completed her doctorate degree in 2008 and she got an opportunity to work at the World Bank as a country economist. She held that job until last year (2017) when she was appointed by the President of Kenya to lead the Commission on Revenue Allocation as its Chairperson.
Beneficial leadership lessons
“One of the key lessons that I have learnt in my career journey is that one has to know very clearly where his or her career is destined,” Dr. Kiringai observes. To this end, she has picked an important lesson from Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “ Covey says that you have to begin with the end in mind and in that respect, until you are clear on your vision of success, then you should not start the journey,” she avers. “Never go into any task blindly no matter how minor it might seem to be; always endeavour to find out what the end result will be.” Dr. Kiringai points out that this is a very important leadership lesson for her as the Chairperson of the Commission on Revenue Allocation. The tenure of the current team of commissioners (which she heads) is six years. “I always ask my team to imagine it is December 2022 and we are having our exit party; what shall we tell those in attendance? What shall we have achieved in our six year journey?”
Dr. Kiringai further says that leaders should visualize clearly what success looks like, write it down and review it every day. That becomes their compass. “Whatever they do, they should always go back to the compass to evaluate whether they are still heading to the right direction,” she emphasizes. She also points out that one does not become a leader over night – It’s a series of incremental steps. Consequently, she has learnt from her journey to assemble the right instruments and shape them in a fashion that enables her to attain her goals with ease.
In the same breath, Dr. Kiringai observes that it is not easy to change a career path once somebody has embarked on it. Leaders should therefore anchor their visions very well. To illustrate this point, she observes that when the typewriter was invented, the keyboard was organized like the alphabet A, B, C, D, E,F and therefore, people used to type very fast and its keys would lock. To slow down this process, the keyboard was made a little more complicated – and hence the Q, W,E,R,T,Y. Nevertheless, today, even after the invention of very fast computers and smart phones, the format of the keyboard has not changed. “This is because it is a trodden path and it is not easy to change from the same,” she says.
Fourthly, she advises leaders to assemble great teams – both at their workplaces and homes. “Once the leaders have identified the key pillars in their strategy, then they should map out the points at which the members of their teams should come in, depending on their areas of strength and expertise,” she says. In the same breath according to her, at their homes, it is important for leaders to have friends to cheer them on. “You need cheerleaders in your team – they could be family members, friends or trusted peers whose support you can count on when need arises,” she avers.
A very faithful Christian, Dr. Kiringai emphasizes that in order to succeed in leadership, one should have a very strong relationship with God. “Leaders need to appreciate that there is a higher being than themselves (God) and therefore all their work must be anchored in prayer,” she advises.
Only a few individuals are able to successfully rise through the ranks and become leaders of their respective organizations. “ For women, the journey to leadership is even more challenging compared to that one of men,” Dr. Kiringai shares. “Personally, I have had to go back to university to further my studies twice, while married with young children,” she adds. She attributes her ability to pursue her goals in education to the fact that her family and girlfriends are very supportive. “My husband was very supportive and at no time did he get in the way of my progress because from the word go, he knew I had planned to further my education,” she says. In the same breath, while she was abroad pursuing further studies, her girlfriends ensured that her children socialized with their neighbours and celebrated their birthdays without fail. “I was therefore at peace because I knew that every aspect of my life was well balanced,” she affirms.
Dr. Kiringai gives the analogy of balancing the wheel of life to emphasize her point. “ You have to balance all the demands of your life ; if you pursue one at the expense of the other, there is bound to be an imbalance,” she cautions. According to her, balancing the wheel of life is very complicated for women in leadership because of their multiple roles as mothers, wives and key drivers of their organizations’ strategies. In that regard, she says that the government ( and private sector players) should formulate policies and programmes that support and take into account the different needs of working mothers so that they can advance their careers. “Some international organizations have arranged for day care facilities for their employees , which allow them to have ample time to concentrate on their jobs,” she observes. There are also some good examples in Kenya where companies have organized day care facilities for working mothers whose goal is to promote their career growth.
Role as the Chairperson of CRA
The Commission on Revenue Allocation is mandated to table a recommendation to parliament and the executive on how revenue will be shared between the two levels of government ( national and county ) every year. It also devices a formula for allocating money among the 47 county governments within their five year tenure.
Moreover, the commission makes recommendations on public financial management and financing of county governments , besides defining the sources of revenue for both the county and national governments. It also determines which places are marginalized in Kenya and comes up with the criteria for allocating the equalization fund.
The commission is structured in two parts. On one hand, it has a team of commissioners led by the chairperson. On the other one, it has a secretariat (headed by a chief executive officer) which reports to the commissioners. In total, the organization has six committees and each is headed by a commissioner, with a team of employees at the secretariat.
“My role as the chair is to provide strategic guidance and direction to the commission while it is discharging this mandate,” says Dr. Kiringai. “I am also the spokes person of the commission,” she adds. Currently, her team is working on the third generation formula for sharing revenue among county governments and it is her responsibility to ensure that the statutory timelines are met as guided by the strategic plan.
Advice to women
Dr. Kiringai advises women who are aspiring to be leaders to define their destinies very clearly. After that, they should identify the pillars that will enable them to reach their destinies. “ They may also need a mentor ( preferably someone who has walked through a similar journey before ) to support them in their quest to attain leadership positions,” she advises.
By the same token, she cautions women never to undermine their ability in the journey to the top. “They must be above average in their achievements while bearing in mind that while competing with men, they have to work twice as hard,” she emphasizes. “In the same vein, they must think clearly about their vision, write and pray about it because in my view, thoughts become things,” she avers.
True to these pieces of advice, Dr. Kiringai has been successful in her career because from the onset, she clearly thought about her destiny , devised an appropriate compass to guide her and relentlessly fought in order to emerge victorious. Indeed, her story is an inspiration to many people, especially her fellow women.