From an air hostess to a political scientist with a cognizance in data science
By Catherine Kuria
The knowledge of political science is vital to not only the ruler but also the subjects. Political science deals extensively with the analysis of political systems, the theoretical and practical applications to politics, and the examination of political behaviour. Renowned Greek thinker, Aristotle, defined political science as the study of the state. Political scientists are very much sought after these days because of the changing landscape of politics across the globe. Many people are therefore keen to gain an understanding of how the political world works; they need someone to explain the nuances of the political economy. One such person is Esther Wangari Philips; a Kenyan born German political scientist.
Miss Philips studied political science at the University of Wuppertal in Germany. She then specialized in political economy and later did a masters in international relations, peace and conflict studies at the University of Frankfurt and is currently writing her thesis. When it comes to political science, she is mostly enchanted by the interaction between countries both socially and economically. Initially she wanted to pursue tourism management. She did her stint as an air hostess for a year with a German company. During that year, she realized that she needed to go back and study in order to give back to her community. As a person who cares deeply for her people, she wanted to probe deeper into the issues affecting them and come up with solutions.
After her graduate studies, she went to Argentina to do an internship with an organization known as Centre for Digital Inclusion. There she experienced digitalization. She realized that data science plays a critical role in informing decisions that are geared towards development of a community. For her, it has been a journey as a political scientist to find ways of empowering others.
Mu Data Analytics Institute was created by a group of African scholars living in the diaspora to quench the need to give back to their homeland, Africa. Miss Philips says: “Our main aim is to use data science in order to assist developing countries (specifically the countries we come from) in partnership with universities to raise awareness on why data is important in this new era.”
The Mu Data Analytics team held a pilot training in Kenya to train small and medium enterprises (SMEs). They trained them on the value of data science and how they can use it for the growth of their businesses. They held the training in partnership with Mount Kenya University (MKU). Her main role is to ensure that the project is successfully implemented. To that end, she collaborates with all the stakeholders to ensure that value is provided for the participants of the training and the knowledge transfer which is taking place is sustainable. They also trained MKU’s staff in order to deepen their knowledge on the key field.
After working in Peru with an Afro-Peruvian foundation that was empowering black Peruvians who had been left out of the political realm, she got a broader picture on how to extend a hand in helping other people. Miss Philips has also worked with a German development bank and gained understanding of how development works from a top-down perspective. The project that she was recently working on in Kenya – training SMEs – has been the most fulfilling. “It has been an opportunity for me to come back to Kenya. This has been something that I always wanted to do; to give back as well as engage myself here at home,” she conveys.
“Data is a resource as well as recourse of the future, working and creating resolutions together with people here on the ground is very empowering,” she says. “Being scholars and children of Africa and coming back to our community to offer service is really fulfilling,” she adds. In the devolution era, data science is important for unlocking development. It has for instance enabled the counties to track how far they are developing in terms of infrastructure.
The attribute that drives her is the desire to succeed. Whenever she sets her mind to do something she yearns to achieve, she gives it her all. But even failure paradoxically is a success on its own because you learn from it. She uses that experience to learn and do better. Consistency also drives her. Consistency is as important as correctness according to her. She queries: “How can you ever be true to your word if it is not consistent with your actions?” Inconsistency is inherently sketchy and causes people to believe you have an alternative motive. This is both a factor in personal relationships, as well as business, and even fitness routines. Essentially, consistency can be attributed to any aspect of life.
Miss Philips also likes having a positive outlook on things.
“What I have learnt in the course of my career and study is the importance of following my interests and passion. Do not give up on those things that interest you. If you find yourself interested in mathematics, writing or singing just follow that path because there is something in you telling you that it is okay to do so,” she says.
However, she expresses that in as much as one is encouraged to follow those things that he or she is passionate about, one must make calculated decisions. She poses a question: “You could be interested in fashion but is there a market for such a career?” According to her then, the decisions that one makes should add value to people’s lives.
In addition, they should set reflections of what they want to do in life while taking advantage of the opportunities around them. “Even after having lived in Germany for more than 15 years I have seen that there is a lot of potential in Kenya. There is a lot that you can do here and it’s very important to network. Go out there, grab opportunities and work on them because I really don’t think the solution is leaving the country and seeking greener pastures elsewhere.” There are greener pastures right here at home, we just really need to see them as such and seize them.