Katherine Ichoya – Executive Director, FEMCOM an institution of COMESA; Kenya & Malawi

Words of Wisdom: “We must support one another. Men have used us to fight one another. We must work together.” – Katherine Ichoya

Interview with Katherine Ichoya – Executive Director, FEMCOM an institution of COMESA; Kenya & Malawi

Katherine Ichoya – Executive Director, FEMCOM an institution of COMESA; Kenya & Malawi

Katherine Ichoya is the Executive Director at FEMCOM – The Federation of National Associations of Women in Business in Eastern and Southern Africa. FEMCOM is a COMESA institution. (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa – promoting regional economic integration through trade and investment. Its membership consists of 19 states).

The main objective of FEMCOM is to promote programmes that integrate women into trade and development activities in the region, in particular, in the fields of agriculture, industry, trade, services, fishing, mining, energy, transport, communications and natural resources. FEMCOM was founded on the idea that regional economic integration cannot be seen to have succeeded if it did not involve the full and equal participation of women in business.

Katherine came to FEMCOM from her pervious position as a committed campaigner of gender equality both at the secretariat and in the COMESA region. Katherine was the Senior Gender Mainstreaming Officer from 2007 to her time of leaving COMESA to join FEMCOM in 2009. Katherine was one of the pioneers of creating the COMESA gender policy.

Katherine Ichoya YouTube promo video (approx. 2 min.)

Suzanne F Stevens’ Episode Perspective Blog:  Guilt a Heavy Burden to Bear.

www.femcom.org / www.comesafemcom.org

Katherine Ichoya – Executive Director, FEMCOM an institution of COMESA; Kenya & Malawi

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 ]: Catalyst for pursuing a career in Gender Policy

[ Katherine Ichoya ]:

  • I felt a calling to support women’s cause, as an activist in credit, gender & leadership skills
  • It is important to make a difference
  • In the bank, I realized there was a gap. Women were not benefiting. This led me to work with women’s groups. I benefited from interacting and networking with the elder women that were in leadership.
  • The impact of the work we do

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: What are your Proudest Accomplishments

[ Katherine Ichoya ]:

  • Being one of a group of women, along with Women’s club and National Bank, who assisted Maasai women in selling their beads to tourists. This was the foundation for the Maasia market.
  • Supporting women to export and work with them to get loans
  • Because of FEMCOM under COMESA, we see women talking across boarders on issue of ‘food security,’ this is achievement.
  • Being involved in COMESA Gender Policy, I wanted to make a difference in regard to policy. Gender policy is hold leaders accountable.
  • Creating the First-Ladies round table, it is still a resource for ideas and change

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: The most rewarding element of your career

[ Katherine Ichoya ]:

  • Making the difference we are making
  • The Leadership we are providing

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Most significant thing happened to achieve career accomplishment

[ Katherine Ichoya ]: COMESA leadership gave me a lot of support. When I asked: “give me an opportunity to do this,” they would say “go ahead.”

[ Suzanne ]: Your Role at FEMCOM

[ Katherine ]:

  • I saw a huge market, an opportune moment for women to begin to trade amongst each other.
  • Women need a structure like FEMCOM and COMESA provides. They play a critical role in facilitating trade, ensuring it provides a networking forum for the women to communicate. This will be the most effective if we come up with a system for women to communicate through the internet.
  • Each member state of COMESA has FEMCOM representative (focal point) An umbrella association, in Kenya it is the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs (FEWA)– This association will have many associations of women in various sectors i.e. Tourism, Agriculture, handy-craft; We need to have linkages at the Federal level. We facilitate linkages at the Regional level by encouraging African women to do business with their neighbors and promote cross boarder trading.
    • At FEMCOM we are lobbying the governments to make sure women in trade are not harassed at boarder
    • The government can promote private sector and public partnerships, where we can all work together to create a safe and secure environment for women.
      • For example going to clean toilets at the boarder

How Women can get involved in promoting more ease for trade?

Women who have some money can contribute to these initiatives that made trade for women more seamless. It doesn’t all have to come from big business.

Biggest challenge for FEMCOM to achieve objectives

1. ‘Women in Business’  – sounds like they already have money. The reality is we are talking about women in small and medium enterprise; a lot of these women are ‘non-starters.’ They are often making just enough money to feed themselves. They are not making enough profit to advance themselves. Sometimes they are just ‘busy bodies’ – running around but not showing success on the balance sheet.

  • FEMCOM needs to support them with training to add value to what they are doing.

2. Challenge with working with women in business is many have ‘dependency syndrome.’ Many women started with the NGO mentality. When FEMCOM was being constituted, that was the time that many of the Women’s business associations and NGOs where starting. It is ‘women in development approach,’ rather than the private sector approach. This is a critical challenge we have right now.

  • FEMCOM is a private sector structure, not an NGO. It has to have a corporate sector approach
  • I don’t believe we should continue to promote this dependency syndrome, or we cannot call ourselves businesswomen.

Challenges for the continent and Women working together

  • Women need to work together. FEMCOM, through COMESA, assists women in establishing business incubators.
  • If women met as groups to discover how they can add value by processing food and putting it in department stores, i.e. make tomato paste out of tomatoes, then profit margins would increase substantial.

How to invest in business growth

  • We have a responsibility to assist the growth of business.
  • The Banks can tell them how to grow business
  • Introduce affordable technologies to add value to certain products.
  • Train women in food preservation

Greatest Asset of Africa

  • Greatest asset is the women’s group infrastructure
  • Traditionally women have worked together, helping one another. That is a traditional concept we should nurture. If we could commercialize it would have a huge impact.

How do you use your Network?

  • I learn from and work with mentors, share experiences with other women peers
  • I do call other women when I need help; they help me to move on. Many of them have been in that position.
  • I know I cannot move forward alone, we all need backup.
  • I have role models that I often refer to.
  • Lots of women have extreme wisdom, regardless of education, or language barriers, I talk to many women for different perspectives.

Role Responsibility

  • As a woman, most of CEO’s of the COMESA institutions are men, I feel a double responsibility to prove that women can deliver. That is a challenge.
  • Demonstrate that when women are given a position of leadership, they can work even better then than a man.

Personal Challenges due to your responsibility

  • It is not easy when I have to leave the country when I want to be home. Leaving my husband, and the projects we are working on can make it quite challenging.
  • It is a lonely life some times. There is no question about it!

Women’s responsibility to society

  • We have to give back what society has given us. As a result you persevere through challenges.
  • You are denied time to be with family  – but when you see what you are doing you know you have to push the edge – so we can hand the torch to young women, create a legacy.

Reflective Realizations

Something that you did that did not work in your Career

  • Before we came up with the COMESA gender policy, I thought it would be an easy transition. Because people come from very different backgrounds it was very challenging.  I thought I was going to convert men’s thinking, this turned out not to be very easy. I went through a lot of stress. I almost gave-up. I thought because I had a position, I would be listened to, that was not necessarily the case. My network encouraged me ‘not to give up,’ you must push on, and I did.
  • This is a challenge for any woman who is trying to bring change.

How did you deal with it?

  • I cried and prayed a lot.
  • I also confronting people. An African woman who confronts demonstrates disrespect. You are misunderstood. It is expected that in the boardroom you are to be quiet, not ask certain questions. But I had to speak up.
  • Many of us women have the same credentials as men. We go to the same Universities and yet we don’t get the respect.

What have you learnt about yourself as a result?

  • How to manage insanity
  • I need patience and it truly has been a virtue

Leadership Legacy

How to measure success?

  • When I can hold the governments accountable. Regardless if I am there or not I have created a document a process that will make people accountable and will be used by generations to come.
  • When recognized as an export in my field.

Edgeness Insight
(An enhanced version of our self that is discovered when pushing the edge of our comfort zone)
When I have to be a confronting leader. Example: When pursuing a budget.  Without the money, you will not be able to achieve your goal. You need to confront the situation even though it is uncomfortable, or you will not be successful.

Who Supports you?

  • My husband and my family. My husband also went with me to the United States when I went to achieve my degree at Harvard
  • If you don’t have a family that supports you will go forward two steps and back one

Katherine’s perceived Gifts

  • I have a good heart, I love people, I love making friends
  • I like to carry people along with me in success
    • Sometimes this is an opportunity to be attacked
    • I am a person with integrity. It can be challenge when people want to take short cuts, as I am not interested.

My weakness

  • I am too open, and I could learn to deal with people differently

How do you define success?

When I have been involved in initiating and/or spearheading an idea and the project is successful.

People after me are implement a project I started and it continues to be successful

How do you define Leadership?

  • When your role assists in making impact
  • You can see the success that you set out to achieve
  • Where you have process/ documentation that is referred to dictate future decisions i.e. gender policy

Leadership Lessons by Katherine Ichoya

  1. Don’t start things for your own fulfillment. Start it to make a difference to uplift the life of someone else.
  2. Always network.
  3. Ask people to critique of you. This keeps you grounded, so you don’t live a lie.
  4. Look for solutions.

What is next for you?

  • My challenge is to bring enough critical mass for women to carry FEMCOM forward. I don’t like failure.
  • I want to share my knowledge, especially with the youth. I want to work with young women to share experiences, facilitate networks, linkages. Help remove the fear that they don’t have the confidence to achieve.

Reflective Realizations from Katherine Ichoya
What advice would you give to your daughter if she was 10 yrs. old today?

They need to be international citizen. “It is a global village. Think big, think support system, think self-confidence.”

What do you wish you were told you when you were 10 years old?

It is only you that can make you. Go for it.

Words of Wisdom by Katherine Ichoya

“We must support one another. Men have used us to fight one another.  We must work together.”


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    2 replies to "Katherine Ichoya"

    • kathleen holland

      It was a pleasure to just watch your wisdom exchange interview, well done!!!!!! I learned so much about FEMCOM, it’s role and your extraordinary role in developing it. I especially loved your point around the fact that one of Africa’s greatest traditional concepts is the strength of women’s groups. This really is an amazing foundation throughout Africa and one which has fostered many incredible African women leaders!

    • Loveness Lamba

      FEMCOM has come at the right time when African women need to be encouraged in their trade and networking activities as these will contribute to the development of African continent.On establishment of business incubators,truly this is a great way for women to learn to work with each other as well as learn from each other.We sure need the inspiration of strong and goal oriented women like you to bring change to the boardroom.Your legacy shall surely live on!

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