A love for learning and a desire to make the greatest possible contribution as a professional communicator are what drive Mary Mwendwa, Head of Corporate Affairs with Kenya Reinsurance Corporation Limited (Kenya Re). When she heard about MScom, she immediately knew that its broad, strategic approach to communication management would be the perfect supplement to her practical experience.
Mwendwa, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, worked as a television reporter and editor and as a public relations officer for Kenya’s oldest bank before joining Kenya Re 15 years ago.
“I joined Kenya Re as a PR officer and worked my way up through the ranks to lead the division,” said Mwendwa. “As Head of Corporate Affairs, my job encompasses almost every facet of communication, including media and investor relations, corporate branding, policy development, publicity, event planning and non-technical writing.”
To keep broadening her knowledge base, Mwendwa also earned a diploma in TV and radio production and journalism from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication and studied finance and Information Systems Management at the Cambridge University Center in Kenya. But she still felt she lacked the broader, strategic perspective key to successful leadership as a member of Kenya Re’s senior management.
‘Love to learn’
“I love to learn, and I knew right away when I read about MScom that it was a unique opportunity to enhance my skills. I have a lot of practical experience, but I don’t have an equivalent formal, specialized education in communications management,” she said. “I knew MScom could give me that.”
The prospect of commuting between Nairobi and Lugano while managing her full plate of job responsibilities in balance with responsibility to her family might be daunting to some, but Mwendwa said her family and employer are supportive. A Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management Scholarship for MScom participants living and working outside of Switzerland makes the financial aspect of the undertaking more manageable, too, she said.
“I leave Nairobi by plane at midnight on Thursday, arrive in Zurich at 9 a.m., and take the train to Lugano, and have some time to adjust before the first class session,” Mwendwa explained. “It’s tiring but invigorating: the exposure to the best professors from all areas of communication, the international composition of our MS13 class, and the immediate ability to connect theory to real-world communication situations.”
Perfectly in line
Mwendwa said she’s counting on MScom to make her a well-rounded communications professional.
“I can work anywhere, so I expect this experience to be a gateway to an even better career because I will enjoy my work more when I approach it not only with practical experience but the academic background MScom provides,” she said. “MScom is very focused and brings in real-world business cases. It’s about communication and how communication is integrated in business strategy, and it’s perfectly in line with my professional projects and expectations.”
In particular, Mwendwa has found MScom’s Organizational Behavior and Systems of Thinking modules helpful in her work with Kenya Re.
“The Systems of Thinking class really made me see how we as individuals think differently, and Organizational Behavior showed me ways I can do things differently in my professional role,” she said. “Beyond that, I’ve learned a lot from just seeing how MScom is organized: the value of planning far in advance in order to implement a strategy and achieve strategic goals.”
Text based on interview carried out in February 2011.