By Sylvia Mulinge
It’s a year today since Bob Collymore, my boss who became a mentor, and ultimately a friend, passed on. There are many things I remember about him but one that stands out is something he said at a fireside chat we had during the release of the Safaricom 2016 sustainability report, where he admitted that who he was, was formed much more by the influence of the women in his life; his wife, his daughters, his grandmother, his mother among others.
A man who greatly valued the humble background he came from, he held the belief that this female influence created a great sense of responsibility in him and inspired him to be deliberate and intentional about living a purpose led life that made a difference.
Bob, as we fondly called him, deeply cared about diversity and inclusion in Safaricom. He not only spoke about it passionately but also worked hard to see that gender diversity is achieved and in the process, women were not left behind. I remember him actively tracking us all as his leaders on our diversity and inclusion KPIs with the same energy and enthusiasm as he tracked our revenue performance.
I remember when he took over as CEO, the permanent staff headcount stood at 2,470 with a ratio of women to men at 1:1. Today, while the ratio remains the same, we have 4,503 permanent employees where the women enjoy the 50+1 majority. On the leadership front, as of the year ending March 2019, we had registered a 2% growth of women in senior management level from 32% to 34%. His goal was to achieve a 50:50 ratio by end of this year.
From the office to social media, Bob never shied off his stand on women empowerment. He was part of an unprecedented movement of men and women that advocate for the female voice to be heard, for their equality, justice, and rights. In his last tweet, he announced the signing of a petition by global movement-ONE calling for the sexual assault laws in Senegal to be dramatically improved in order to protect women and girls from gender-based violence.
Under his leadership, Bob ensured that at any given point in Safaricom, there were always about 20 girls participating in our internship program. He believed they needed the exposure and the experience of what it is like to work for brands like Safaricom. Besides, he oversaw the launch of gender themed empowerment forums such as Women in Leadership, Women in Business and the Women in Technology.
In response, the Women in Business forum enabled more women-led businesses to access tenders from Safaricom. As of last year, at least 178 women-owned Businesses had pre-qualified for the contracts accounting for 3.2 per cent of the total procurement spend. Bob aimed at making it 10 percent by end of this financial year.
The Women in Technology forum has since been dedicated to inspiring women to advance their STEM careers through internships, mentorship culture and coaching programmes. This has seen the proportion of women in our technology division rise to 22 per cent and we are targeting to hit 25 per cent by the end of 2020.
The many roles that women are often required to play in their families and in society inevitably impact their careers. This is something Bob understood quite well. He believed in the retention of women, especially mothers in childbearing age. Because of this, Safaricom women employees enjoy a four months’ maternity leave and when they come back, they return on full pay and on reduced flexible work hours, working an average of six hours as they go through the following six months. Bob made room for a clinic and a childcare facility so that our employees could bring their children to the office if they could not leave them at home for any reason.
Through leveraging on technology and innovation, Bob administered the partnership of CarePays’ M-Tiba that offered comprehensive maternal and child health programmes and medical camps powered by Safaricom and M-PESA Foundations. This improved access to quality, affordable and accessible services for over 100,000 women and children’s lives across the country.
As the 2018 curtains closed, he pulled even one bolder move. He announced full school scholarships for 18 girls under the mentorship of dance queen Moesha Kibibi, a slum girl with dreams of making the lives of 2500 girls better than they were. He showed the world that supporting women is essential for the growth of any country’s economy.
Kibibi’s story paved way for the launch of Ndoto Zetu, a transformative initiative by Safaricom that has seen thousands of women empowered to do extraordinary things for their communities. To Kibibi and many other women, Bob made a room for them. Walking down the path of Purpose, he was determined to live that which was bigger than him and use his platform to do good.
Bob was a mighty tree, and under his cover, women, not only in Safaricom but also across the region found a shelter that nourished them and gave them the courage to believe that nothing is impossible if they believe and work towards it.
Not only was he an iconic servant leader, but a good friend who taught me about the importance of leading with purpose. Today I remember him with joy because he made a significant impact in my life. Bob stood for me, fought for me, and made me believe in myself, teaching me never to apologize for being who I am, inspiring me and mentoring me to reach my full potential, even when I did not have enough confidence to believe. He is part of my story and I am a living embodiment of a man who never stopped making room for women.
May the footprint of our lives forever remain etched in the lives of others long after we are gone. May we be conscious to build that footprint everyday with the decisions and choices we make.
We miss you Bob.
You may be gone, but the pulse of what made your heart beat lives on.
The dance goes on…
Sylvia Mulinge is the Chief Customer Officer, Safaricom PLC