Jane Wathome, Founder, Beacon of Hope, Kenya

Words of Wisdom: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Jane Wathome quoting Gandhi

Interview with Jane Wathome, Founder, Beacon of Hope, Kenya

Jane Wathome, Founder, Beacon of Hope, Kenya

Beacon of Hope is a registered Faith based and community non-governmental organization instituted to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic among women in poor communities.  This is achieved by setting up programs to assist in the prevention and management of the disease. BOH was registered in 2002 when it commenced its operations in HIV/AIDS work in Ongata Rongai.

Its Mission: To bring hope to women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS within poor communities by empowering and equipping them to meet their spiritual, physical, emotional and economic and family needs in a sustainable manner.

Who they serve: Individuals and families affected by or infected with HIV.

What they do: Vocational training, product development & marketing. And have Beacon Academy so can children can go to school while mothers are creating products.

Jane Wathome came from sales and marketing. She volunteered at church, then decided to get her degree in Master of counseling. Here is where she decided to focus HIV/AIDs as this is where so many women where vulnerable.  She volunteered and for some time before the Beacon of Hope came to fruition.  She decided to make working with women with HIV/AIDS her career when she was challenged with a confronting question of will you do what every it takes to serve these women? Listen to real question as Jane explains it in the interview.

Jane Wathome YouTube promo video (approx. 2 min.)

Suzanne F Stevens’ Episode Perspective Blog:  Leadership from the Animal Kingdom

Beacon of Hope website: http://www.beaconafrica.org

Jane Wathome, Founder, Beacon of Hope, Kenya

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version above. Please comment on the site, we want to hear your wisdom!

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Pursuing your purpose:

[ Jane Wathome ]:

  • I looked at my long term vision, I asked myself, “what do I want to spend the rest of my life doing? I knew I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world, but I have gifts in business, marketing, counseling and evangelism
  • My goal was to take a holistic approach to HIV/ AIDS
  • I would visit in the communities HIV/AIDS, provide food, education for women, but then I would go back to my comfortable world. It wasn’t enough. More needed to be done.
  •  Women wanted to be taught to do something in order to be self-sustainable, and deal with their HIV/AIDS. So my intention was just to help a few women to live a decent life and prevent HIV/AIDS. For the ones infected I wanted help them gain access to money buy medication

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Team development and Hiring and expanding

[ Jane Wathome ]:

  • Based on need we grew.
  • We wanted a medical center, we built one
  • We need clinicians, we hired them
  • Mothers would come to the center with children; they needed education, so we hired teachers
  • Mother needed skill training, so we needed to employ people who had skills to assist them in development
  • Social department was needed for microcredit, so we created one
  • We now we deal with 1000s of women, so we increase the number of staff to accommodate the need.
  • We hire women that that have gone through the process, as they have empathy and passion and compassion
  • Many of these women did not think they would get a second chance in their lives based on having their disease.  Because they do have a second chance they really have become great champions.

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Hiring people to working with HIV/AIDS patience

[ Jane Wathome ]:

We hire based on 5 C’s, a concept created by our Pasture

  1. Competence – look at professionalism. Although we are philanthropic, we also want to be a centre of excellence. We only hire people with the credentials required. We are recognized now as a college and that requires a high level of competency. We offer diploma programs.
  2. Committed
  3. Character – Integrity and compassion
  4. Chemistry – Do they fit in, understand the vision, work well with the team
  5. Cost – can we afford them

[ Suzanne ]: How to achieve a level of Excellence that Beacon of Hope is known for

[ Jane ]:

  • We hire people that are well educated
  • We mentor our leaders, if they have all 4 C’s out of the 5 (Competence) we will invest to sponsor them to assist with their education
  • Hiring professional and competent staff is key so they can assist as mentors
  • Leadership development is very important

How to identify the third C – Character when hiring

Before individuals start working for Beacon of Hope we have a process that  has evolved over time:

  1. Short list the applicants
  2. They are then evaluated by a panel of staff
  3. We check their references
  4. The applicant is then observed for two days on the job without pay
  5. The staff assess character and chemistry
  6. Everyone provide feedback
  7.  If we are all in agreement they are hired
  8. That individual then goes on a six-month probation where they are observed. Their character is really evaluated. Will this person help us to get to where we want to get. Or the money they felt was fine, but   realize it may not be enough for them. Then we may decide to part ways.
  • This has helped us get high retention, and to reach or objectives.
  • Sometimes we do not hire people after they have done the two-day volunteer on-job character assessment. The team’s input is key to this decision
  • This process is followed for medical department and pre-school

Mentoring Team Leaders

  • We have team leaders for every department, so I focus on top team leaders – which there are eight
  • We go on leadership retreats, I get a speaker to come
  • I encourage them to read different books, go to different workshops
  • I do a lot of mentorship
  • I encourage them to mentor their team
    • I get them to share how they are mentoring their team

Motivating the entire team

  • We have staff retreat (assuming we have the resources)
  • We spend two nights together.
    • First night we watch a move
    • Second day we do team building exercises
    • People give presentation about their departments
  • What makes me exciting to see is when people do presentation we start identifying their strength. Someone who did not go to secondary school, and all of a sudden you see them emerge as a leader.
  • Team leaders we will go away three time a year where we pray together, and have strategic conversations
  • Every day a department comes together and prays together
  • Every Friday, the entire staff (except the pre-school) comes together
  • Once a month the entire staff comes together to hear presentations
    • No matter what your role, cook, gardener, nurse, or head of clinic you are in these presentations so each person can understand one another so no one is left behind
    •  It inspires people to own the vision, own the organization as they are part of it.
    • After these presentations we pray together

How did you know to put these systems in place?


1. I do a lot of reading (John Maxwell’s books have been key),

2. My husband is a great leader; he studied at Harvard and he is on several boards. He teaches me, when he goes to a workshop, he comes home and shares insights with me.

  • I am an executor, so I learn I then implement

3.My pasture Oscar, I will call him after I go to church and ask for more explanations on concepts

4. I seek out mentors, who are individuals who have an expertise that I need to learn from. Example: I speak expert who has set-up a medical intuition. For the school leadership I speak to Winnie Gitau  –  who runs Pure Health Care, who I believe is most successful business women in this country

  • I identify mentors in areas that I want to grow in

5. My number one mentor is Christ. I learn a lot from the bible.

Approaching Mentors

  • I would just ask people that I respected to mentor me
  • I needed different mentors throughout the stages of development
  • You always travel to the mentor
  • No one every said no, because they knew I was serious

Challenges with team and how you deal with them

  • When we started Beacon of Hope people came on as a volunteer. They came because they were passionate, it was their calling
  • As we continued to grow, people joined our organization because it was a ‘job,’ a way to make money. It was not necessarily a calling. You hope they will come with the drive and passion, but that is not always the case. This has been one of my biggest challenges.
    • You need to know how to pick people for the different seasons, and you need to know how to mentor them
    • You need understand that you are not working in a perfect community, but this is where I need to study and read HR books to learn how to deal with this situation.
    • If people don’t have a passion for what we do, and they are competent, they tread along. We hope they will eventually gain the passion.

Leadership lesson learned from initiative that initially failed

One of the key missions of Beacon of Hope is to empower women, not to create a dependency.  WE cannot use disease as an excuse to continue to give handouts. We are here to empower women.

  1. Micro credit when I first implemented didn’t work
  • People who took the money never repaid
  • Then we hired someone that it was their passion, we had to make some tough decisions and stop providing some of the safety nets, like food rations. We moved from Charity to Empowerment.
  • It is now quite successful, we have thousands of people using micro-credit
  1. Kitchen garden program
  • We got the ministry of agriculture to teach women how to grow their own food in their backyards
  • Women believed it would never work, and it didn’t
  • I kept the idea in the back of my mind to resurrect again some day
  • We did away food rations, food donations and brought in micro-credit
  • So we took a hundred women for training once a week for a month. We showed and taught women it can be done and now they have gardens.

What did you learn about yourself when initiatives didn’t work?

That I don’t give up when I believe in an idea. I am not a quitter. No matter how long it takes, if I am convinced if it is good for people and the organization, I just wont give up.

Most rewarding aspect of your career?

  • Seeing God using my gifted talents to transform a community
  • Seeing myself grow in leadership, seeing myself do things I never thought I would do i.e. public speaking.
  • Learning to allow myself to be stretched

Most challenging aspect of your career?

  • Getting people to see my vision, this has not been easy
  • Sometimes you need people, even though I like to be self-sufficient. I don’t’ like always having to ‘beg’ for assistance i.e financial.

Most significant career decision

When I decided to work with HIV/AIDS full time. Leave the corporate world and the money I was making

April 2002, I remember the conversation with God and he was asking me “how far are you going to go with this? ” Is it hobby? I knew I was ready to donate my life. Then the next question came: “If you need to wash them, will you wash them?” I believed I would. Two days later I was in a situation where no one would help a HIV/AIDs woman, and I was faced with my test. I needed to wash a woman. This is my calling. The institution where this women was lacked the medical care needed and it inspired to create the Beacon of Hope medical centre.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of you when you push the edge of your comfort zone).

  • Public Speaking
  • I like a private life , I would say to an extent I am timid.  Because it is not about me, it is about what I do, I need to public speaking and it attract attention, which is definitely outside my comfort zone
  • It is helped deal with my shyness and privacy

Biggest obstacle to get to this point in your career personally & professional

  • Personal fears sense of inadequacy
  • Professionally, overcome discouragement from people that thought I was crazy doing what I was doing. Often heard discouraging voices on the sidelines. You have to stay focused on your vision and not get discouraged. “You have to be the change you want to see in the world” Gandhi
  • I have to focus more on the encouragement and less on the discouragement

Advice to try and find your purpose

  • Be real to yourself
  • Real in identify fears
  • Look at the bigger picture no just here and now
  • Look ahead five, ten years
  • Learn how to deal with strength and acknowledge your weakness. Think learn how you can turn your weaknesses into strengths.
  • Take time to reflect to visit yourself

How do you ensure that Beacon of Hope is sustainable without you?

It goes back to the leadership development. When I am here or not, work continues.

What does success mean to you?

Service, commitment to God. Be inline with God purpose for your life. Success is focus and humility. It will be community centered.

How do you define Leadership?

It is when you serve

Leadership Lessons by Jane Wathome

  1. Focus is key
  2. Perseverance and endurance
  3. Selflessness in philanthropy or in business, the same principles apply
  4. Allowing a team to run, not to contain them, just guide them and cheer them on. This allows you to focus on the vision, so you can run with them.

What would you like your leadership legacy to be?

  • To be perceived as a selfless leader.
  • To be remembered for my role in mentorship and leadership development.  Helping people to use their gifts or talents for the glory for God.

Reflective Realizations from Jane Wathome

Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yr. old Daughter?

  1. To be focused, understand who you are and focus on your strengths. Try to turn her weaknesses into strengths. I would tell her to never let her weakness destabilize her and get in the way of her focus
  2. Everything we do to be successful is obedience to God.

Q What do you wish you learned at 10yrs?

  • I wish got more information, encouraged to take risks. I wish I was encouraged to focus more on my strengths and encourage to know myself.

Words of Wisdom by Jane Wathome

Women in Africa need to begin to believe in themselves. They need to realize that they are the hope for Africa. They are wonderfully made by God and they have gifts and talents to give to this nation. To realize they are the majority.  We can bring transformation in leadership, in the family and in community.

As mothers our role is so significant. We have power to shape and nurture the next generation. We determine what the type of nation Africa will become based on how we nurture our children. We have role to shape the leaders of Africa of tomorrow.


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    5 replies to "Jane Wathome"

    • Clene Nyiramahoro

      I have heard about Beacon of Hope before. I have met Jane personally. I am glad there are women like her in Africa. Her story is so inspiring and encouraging. Taking care of those who cannot help themselves is a noble calling. We need more women like you Jane. Suzanne, thank you for letting the world know, that there is still hope in Africa for the African women. Your courage and determination is commendable. Reading this interview makes me believe that, “Yes we can and together we will make a difference.

    • Rusia Bariho

      So inspiring and motivating for all women to be positive agents of transformation.

    • Michael Waweru

      What an inspiration.

    • Quote from Jane Wathome (Kenya): “Be focused. Understand who you are and focus on your strengths. Try to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Don’t let your weakness destabilize you and get in the way of her focus.” Read more in the YouMeWe blog[…]

    • […] Jane Wathome (Kenya): “Be focused. Understand who you are and focus on your strengths. Don’t let your weakness destabilize you and get in the way of her focus.” […]

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