Professor Bitange Ndemo is a household name in Kenya known not only for his work in the public sector but also his passionate efforts towards breeding a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship with a special focus on the young people . Dr Ndemo is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and the former Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communication.He sits on several Boards including Safaricom and Research ICT Africa. He is a senior advisor to the UNCDF’s Better than Cash Alliance and the UN Global Pulse.The soft spoken professor shares his a few words on his journey.

You have so many titles under your belt, how would you briefly describe yourself?

Well that’s a hard one but I would simply describe myself as a teacher who absolutely loves to read and write.

What Kenyan meal have you had that you find overrated?

Ugali is overrated in my opinion [Laughs]. It is tasteless and has got no flavor whatsoever and yet it is considered as a staple in almost every household. This actually reminds me of an incident I had a while back. I went on a trip and decided to bring sacks of sweet potatoes back home as a suitable alternative source of carbs and my wife couldn’t fathom the idea. To prove a point, I decided to have the sweet potatoes grinded to flour and had chapatis prepared out of them. The chapatis were then served to the family including my brothers who were visiting and they couldn’t believe that not only were they enjoying the meal but they found it filling which is usually the worry, especially in the Kisii culture.

What was your first ever job and how did you get it?

My first job was as a clerical officer at Kenya Power & Lightning Company. I did that before I went to University to assist my mother in paying for my younger siblings’ education.

Have you ever had trouble finding a job ? How was that whole experience ?

I did. This happened after returning from the US where I had got my Masters degree in Management Information Systems and also worked there as a systems analyst for some time. When I came back to Kenya I thought that getting a similar if not better job would be a walk in the park. I had all the papers plus the experience. What could possibly go wrong! Well everything did go wrong and none of what I had, mattered. I couldn’t get any job, leave alone that which I expected. It was quite a big blow to my ego and to top it all off I was newly married and had major responsibilities. I tarmacked for about 3 months or so and dropped it, saying  to myself “This is nonsense. I need money like yesterday!”. I decided to get into business with my relatives, exporting vegetables. Unfortunately, news travelled fast and soon my mother and the whole village got to know what I was doing for a living in the city. They couldn’t believe that their golden boy  came back from the US, just to sell vegetables. Dealing with all that talk became another issue. Luckily I got a teaching job not long after that 

How would you advise someone who is in a similar situation, having to work at a job that is beneath their qualifications just to survive?

Don’t despise or reject any job! Consider it only as a stepping stone. I mean, I started off washing dishes and toilets while in the US but I am definitely not doing that right now ,am I ?Kazi ni Kazi! Do what you need to do to survive and just have a long term goal in mind.

Who has had the biggest impact on your career?

Ministry of ICT of Kenya(Twitter)

I would have to say both my mother and former president Mwai Kibaki. My mother has had such a significant influence on who I am in general. She was such a disciplinarian to the point that I would think she was mad at times. She built in me a character that has acted as a driving force all through my whole career journey. On the other end, former president Mwai Kibaki trusted me with tremendous responsibility  by appointing me Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication during his government, an action which I was very grateful for. That was an incredible opportunity.

What are some of the important lessons youve learnt about money?

Too much money breeds problems! It is important to just have enough. I don’t spend on what I don’t need. I have driven the same the same car model for many years-The VW beetle range and have never felt the need to change it. In total, I have had 27 VW beetle (s) popularly known as The Bug, in my lifetime. I also avoid carrying physical cash around to just avoid the hassle. I think its more rewarding to use that money to impact people’s lives instead.

 When it comes to investments and savings, the key is to start as early as you can and with with the little you can afford.

How do you relax?

I run a lot. I make a point of doing between 10 and 15km runs either in the morning or evening which also serve as part of my fitness routine. I give myself targets so it makes it easier. I also do a lot of walks, and listen to audio books while at that. I love reading and I’m tempted to do book reviews ever so often.

Tell me about your fitness routine and the motivation behind it

Well, in addition to the runs that I do, I mind what I eat. I make sure to have my dinner early at around 5pm and have nothing else thereafter till the next day. Its quite a hard routine and you need a lot of discipline and consistency.

All this came about, because I had a health scare and my doctor told me I was at risk of getting diabetes given my weight back then and also the history of the disease in my family was a key contributor to the situation. That was all I needed to hear, to get myself running to the hills literally!

What are some of the best parenting lessons youve learnt

Parenting is hard! You have to be careful not to become a dictator like Idi Amin and also watch yourself not to be too much like mother Theresa. Maintain a balance! Discipline is key but love transcends all.

Have you found your purpose in life and what importance do you put in people finding that?

I think I have, though its not always easy to tell. Right now, I place great importance in teaching entrepreneurship to young people and mentoring them to succeed. I could easily spend my time in various income generating activities for my personal gain right now but I choose not to. I believe that time is better spent helping the young people of today navigate the Entrepreneurship and Innovation scene. The fulfilment I get, when I see them succeed in their entrepreneurial journey is indescribable.

What advice would you give your 25 year old self

There is a lot of opportunity in play and you just need to be open minded to see it. Millennials right now are having difficulty understanding that. There is a whole lot more opportunities now than what we had during our time. We now have online resources for virtually anything that sparks your interest. You can learn without paying a penny. In addition, there are a number of industry experts out here interested in giving them advice, where need be. They just need to ask!