Tackling a national water crisis during the ESMT Berlin Online MBA

Kenyan student Lucy Wanjiku Mutinda wanted to find an MBA program that would give her the business skills she needed to tackle her country’s wastewater management problems. She told us how the ESMT Berlin Global Online MBA helped her find funding and realize her dreams.

In short

How Lucy’s entrepreneurial mother inspired her

If you had been in Kenya’s Machakos County in the 1980s, you may have noticed a woman selling oranges and lemons on the roadside. This woman was the headteacher of the local primary school. She was also the mother of Lucy Wanjiku Mutinda, a current Online MBA student at ESMT Berlin.

Lucy’s mother was selling fruit on the side to ensure that her children could go to school. According to Lucy, her mother’s entrepreneurial spirit and determination to provide for her family continues to inspire her to this day.

 “Throughout my life, my mother has been a great pillar and an inspiration,” she told MBAGRADSCHOOLS. “She was a primary school headteacher, but not only was she teaching, [but] she also had this entrepreneurial spirit on the side. We had an orchard farm where she grew a lot of oranges. In addition to her income as a teacher, she made extra money from selling oranges, lemons, and some other fruits. This really helped make sure we could go to school.” (01:20)

Lucy’s mother embedded an entrepreneurial drive within her that lives on to this day. But that wasn’t the only influence she had upon her life. Lucy recalls another story from her childhood in Kenya as being pivotal for her future interest in wastewater management.

“I remember whenever we washed our clothes or utensils, we didn’t wash them in a sink or anything. We would use containers and wash them outdoors. But my mother would insist we don’t throw away the water so we could use it to keep our trees growing. So, despite us growing up in an arid area, the area around our home was always green,” she says. (02:15)

“I think this idea of environmental conservation really got into my head,” she adds. “By the time I grew up and studied engineering, I always knew I wanted to do engineering, but engineering that would help me to provide technology or knowledge that would help to preserve the environment.” (02:42)

Tackling Kenya’s wastewater management problem

If Lucy’s mother provided the spark she needed to pursue an interest in sustainability, her late father shaped her life in other ways. He passed away when Lucy was just 12, but his stories of studying abroad left a lasting impression on her.

“During the 12 years I spent with my dad, he always spoke about his scholarships in the US and Germany,” she tells us. “As we grew up, he would keep showing us the photos and how he had studied at California University and in the south of Germany. I remember – I would always tell him this – ‘when I grow up, I have to go to all these places that you have been to.’” (05:20)

All of the intertwining influences of Lucy’s life would eventually come together in 2008 when she won a scholarship to study in Germany. After seeing the country’s innovative approach to wastewater management, she was inspired to use those technologies to tackle her own country’s issues with wastewater. Her mother had already shown her the value of reusing wastewater, but that wasn’t the case across Kenya, with underdeveloped wastewater management systems contributing to a national water crisis. A chance conversation with a Kenyan friend would set Lucy on course to confront that crisis.

“A friend of mine from university, while working in the USA, had come across a technology that the US army uses to manage waste in the camps. He wanted to go back to Kenya and implement this technology. Then I said, ‘Wow, I’ve seen similar technology in Germany and think this is the way to go.’ So when I came back to Kenya in 2009, we set up the business,” she explains. (09:59)

Lucy started the new business but soon realized that she needed the skills, knowledge, and network to take it to the next level. Eventually, Germany came calling once again. Unable to leave Kenya because of her commitment to her new business, she started looking for an online program that would allow her to study alongside her career. Her previous links with Germany would prove invaluable in finding one.

“I couldn’t afford to pay for my own studies,” she recounts. “But luckily, Allianz was looking for a young female engineer who is doing business and impacting the environment. They approached the German Business Association, of which I happened to be a member. I fitted their profile and they decided to sponsor my studies. And so here I am at ESMT.” (21:18)

Diversity and data in the ESMT Berlin Online MBA

The ESMT Berlin Global Online MBA is a melting pot of diversity, comprised of 74% international students from 37 different countries. But, what is the value of such diversity?

“We have people from India, Japan, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Switzerland,” Lucy says. “For me, a network this rich is more valuable than money. When I mentor people that are younger than me, and we talk about starting a business, I tell them the same thing: that a network is more important than having cash.” (22:32)

Besides an expanded network, the Online MBA at ESMT Berlin has also provided Lucy with the practical skills she needs to succeed in business. She cites the school’s focus on data as a key takeaway from the program. It’s something she has been able to take from the Online MBA and apply to her business straight away.

“Because of being in the data-driven decisions class, I have seen the importance of using data,” she says. “Even how to use the most easily-accessible data to come up with a decision and create a long-term policy.” (28:18)

How an MBA is helping Lucy achieve her dreams

Lucy’s entrepreneurial mindset can be traced back as far as her early days in Kenya, when her mother used to sell oranges and lemons to fund her education. That mindset has now developed to the extent that she sees herself as inseparable from her business. It means her future success is defined by her company’s future success.

“My future is very much interlinked with my company because this environmental preservation from sewer pollution that I do is not just as a concept, it’s something that I’m really passionate about,” she says. (29:43)

“I want to have something that can outlive me as an institution,” she adds. “It’s my dream to leave behind an NGO that advocates for training people in STEM with an inclination to really preserve the environment.” (30:53)

Our passions, motivations, and dreams in life can come from a number of places. In Lucy’s case, they came from her parents, who imbued within her a desire to start a business, study abroad, and look after the planet. However, we still need the practical tools and skills to make our dreams a reality.

Lucy’s time in the Online MBA at ESMT Berlin has helped her expand her network, gain practical business skills, and take those learnings into her career. She has big dreams, and an MBA is helping her achieve them.

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