Chances are that once you meet Gina Din you won’t forget her. The popular PR Guru has an incredibly strong, almost haunting, presence. Tall, with an easy smile and a humility that clearly comes from her very core, Gina is one of Kenya’s global champions for Africa. A regular traveller on Kenya Airways, we spoke to her as she returned from New York, where she was one of the speakers at the African Leadership Forum on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
At the African Leadership Forum you eloquently spoke about women and leadership. What is the current status of women globally and in Africa?
As we reach the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) period and begin the new season of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), we have some really good news and some bad news in terms of progress towards women’s empowerment and gender parity. It has been said that, “Women are the biggest emerging market in the history of the planet – more than twice the size of India and China combined. It’s a seismic change, and by all indications, it will continue.” Forget India, China, and the Internet. The economic power of the world is now in the hands of women.
In Africa the operating environment for gender equality has certainly shifted for the positive, albeit in variable degrees. Yes, Africa is rising but sadly not uniformly and the playing field for women still remains a bumpy one. Women are globally paid less than men, there are not enough women on boards and not as many as expected in senior management positions. While many governments have made progress in ensuring girls receive education, it is still a fact that more girls drop out of school than boys. There’s a constellation of African women who want to ensure this doesn’t continue. I am glad I am one of several incredible African women doing just this.
What did winning the CNBC 2015 All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA) East Africa Business Woman of the Year award mean to you?
I was absolutely delighted and really excited. I was also humbled, as the other nominees were so inspirational. It’s a very special feeling being recognised by such an amazing organisation. CNBC is a great brand and I am so proud to be associated with them.
You dedicated the award to the “faceless, nameless women across the continent who work extremely hard with no recognition”. Can you expand on that?
There’s a saying that if wealth were the result of hard work, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The majority of those women will never be recognised. They are the unsung heroes of Africa without whom Africa would not be rising. I am dedicating my award to them.
Kenya will host the World Trade Organisation’s 10th Ministerial Conference (MC10) in December 2015. It will be the first time that the conference is being hosted in Africa. What type of discussions should we be having about women, trade and entrepreneurship?
A large number of women entrepreneurs in Africa are involved in trade, therefore we can assume that women will be affected by the outcome of MC10. It’s so important that we focus on trade and not aid. Positive steps have been taken in the past with agreements such as the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), which has not only sparked optimism about Africa but also transformed national economies and driven a continent of entrepreneurial women. And women play an essential role; the business environment in Africa is open to investment and trade in part because women are taking charge of their own economic wellbeing. We also need to be having conversations about ensuring equality in all ways for all women.
What is your hope for the continent in regards to leadership and the role of women?
My hope is to see more women at the table making decisions, be it in government or the private sector. It’s likely that we won’t get invited to take our seat – I know this from my own experience. We just need to pull up a stool and sit down anyway. The folks around the table will get used to it!
What is the biggest misconception about success, and what does it really take to be a leader?
Success is what everyone sees without really knowing the failures one goes through. Personally, I feel that failure and success go together. You can’t have one without the other. I have had a lot of failure in my life and a certain amount of success. The older I get, the more I am able to welcome them both with equal measure. Leadership is really about building people who build the business. I feel very proud of the people who have come through our doors [at the Gina Din Group] and been part of what we have built.
You have said that going outside your comfort zone is important. What is the scariest decision you have ever made – in business or otherwise?
To be honest, running your own business by its very nature means one is continuously living outside one’s comfort zone. When you employ other people and you know that the decisions you make will affect them, being scared becomes the new normal. The scale of the trust that a client gives you when managing their brand’s reputation is also daunting. However I thank God that my PR business has evolved from strength to strength and I am absolutely comfortable being uncomfortable now.
As an entrepreneur I have to admit my venturing into energy exploration three and a half years ago when I was invited to sit on the board of Erin Energy Kenya was quite intimidating. I suppose I was so confident in my space and pretty much owned that space, so getting involved in a technical field such as energy exploration was daunting. However I am much more familiar with energy now. Entrepreneurs need to continuously and ruthlessly edit what they are capable of. I am glad I am learning to do that.
Which women do you look up to and why?
I have great admiration for the CEO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, who has made huge strides in a traditionally male-dominated field; Michelle Obama because she is an incredible mother, she’s bright, strong and has used her platform to highlight issues affecting women and young people; and the late Wangari Maathai, for being so gutsy and determined to articulate important issues during a difficult and oppressive period in our country’s history.
Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you have been given and would like to pass on to others?
Walk like you deserve to be there!