Penina Kimani: Chief Digital Officer, Longhorn Publishers
Building confidence early, aligning one's personal and company vision, and transitioning from startups to corporates
About our Guest
This episode’s conversation is with Penina Kimani from Nairobi, Kenya. Penina spends her time thinking about equity within the education system and the role technology can play to promote it. Penina is the Chief Digital Officer of Longhorn Publishers, the only publicly listed publishing corporation and the largest publishing house in East and Central Africa. She is committed to enhancing collaborative learning in institutions using technology, data, and analytics to ensure each learner achieves their potential.
Her strong belief in the transformative power of education led her to build applications that promote collaboration, efficiency, and transparency for both learners and teachers. She previously co-founded Sproutfy Learning, a mobile and web administrative tool for schools. Her previous experience teaching A-Level economics and business studies at a learning center in Nairobi provided great insights into the challenges teachers are facing. She previously worked for impact investing organizations in Montreal and Boston. She studied Finance and Strategic Management at McGill University.
Everyday Leadership in Action
Here are a few highlights from the conversation with Penina:
Leadership development and character are shaped early: Penina came upon natural opportunities during high school and university to step up that helped build her public speaking skills and overall confidence. She also credits her parents for serving as continuous cheerleaders. She remembers regular conversations around the dinner table about situations and life decisions that often included questions such as “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” that gave her the fortitude to take risks while remaining rational. While studying abroad in Canada for college, she spoke up and advocated for a variety of topics. This confidence eventually led her to start a recycling startup, Safi, before graduating, an initiative she continued on past graduation.
Select leadership and development programs to align with your interests: Penina also had the opportunity to participate in a number of leadership programs. She found most valuable the programs that emphasized both leadership and a functional topic, which excited her and allowed her to apply leadership skills in a more focused way. For example, her participation in a program at McGill led to her passion for EdTech. For those considering different program options, she recommends considering the following questions: does it give you access to relevant mentors, and does it actually give you enough space to reflect and practice new soft skills?
Entrepreneurs can use roles at larger companies as learning opportunities during pivots: At a time when she needed to pivot her startup due to Covid, Penina took on a senior role at Longhorn Publishers, which has a mission that is highly aligned with her own personal mission. She has found the corporate position a great opportunity, giving her greater access to resources, room to learn new skills, and exposure to industry best practices.
When taking on a leadership role for an existing team, you must be aware of the previous dynamics and past leadership style: When Penina joined Longhorn, she realized that many people were not accustomed to her default management style. She had to find a balance so that they could adjust to her style and vice versa. However, such transitions do occasionally result in some staff transitioning away or out if a new balance can’t be reached that produces expected performance results.
The Everyday Leader is a podcast featuring conversations with leaders from across Africa’s companies, organizations, and governments about their experience managing teams and projects throughout their careers.
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