Wanji Ng’ang’a: Don’t be afraid to be different and non-traditional

Wanji Ng'ang'a

Wanji Ng'ang'a is the Regional Manager (East Africa) at Shell Foundation.

Photo credit: Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • I was raised by a family of very driven and studious women who ignited a fire in my belly to aspire to do more and be more.
  • I am a big believer in the transformational power of entrepreneurship, not just for the entrepreneurs but also for the community.

Wanji Ng'ang'a is the Regional Manager (East Africa) at Shell Foundation. The mother of one holds a degree in Finance from United States International University (USIU).

She recently graduated from the University of Oxford's Said Business School and is currently undergoing a Climate Finance program in Frankfurt's School of Management.

The 35-year-old shares her career path with the Sunday Nation.

Briefly tell us about yourself.

I am a mother to an eight-year-old son and a lover of life. I enjoy the outdoors and have recently taken up hiking as a way to discover the endless beauty of our country. I love travelling and I'm always intrigued by various cultures I interact with and collect memorable treasures during my wanderlust. I'm also an avid reader whose aspiration to gain expansive knowledge is quenched when I immerse myself in books.  

Tell us about your childhood and family life.

I was raised in Mombasa, which at the time was a small town. I was brought up in a single-parent home. My mother had a work ethic comparable to none. As a result, I started working from an early age. I worked in multiple convenience stores as a receptionist, in a school as an assistant teacher between high school and university. I appreciate hard work and put a value on people who work hard. 

Educational background.

I undertook my undergraduate degree at United States International University, with a speciality in finance. I recently graduated from the University of Oxford's Said Business School, and I'm currently undergoing a Climate Finance program in Frankfurt's School of Management.

Share with us your career journey.

Post university, I started working with a bank in their clearing department. My role was to take cheques to the Central Bank of Kenya for exchange and process them throughout the day. Before joining the bank, I dreamt of becoming a banker. However, after a few years and rotations in various departments, I felt the need to work closely with customers, especially the underserved customers. 

I pivoted five years later to work in a nascent sector at the time, off-grid energy. I worked with a manufacturer of off-grid solar products whose ambition at the time was to deliver clean energy sources to rural populations that did not have access to electricity.

Ten years later, I have changed roles multiple times across territories and organisations. I have gained an in-depth understanding of renewable energy and positioning energy products therein for rural off-grid populations in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.

Currently, I'm the Regional Lead (East Africa) of Shell Foundation. We provide patient support to early-stage entrepreneurs in clean energy and mobility. We have developed a high-touch support model to create a lasting impact at scale.

Within Shell Foundation, I lead their activities in East Africa, support entrepreneurs in our portfolio, and understand new ventures in clean energy and e-mobility, challenges therein and curate funding structures that would unlock those challenges.

Through my journey I've enjoyed the ride. Even in instances where the season ended, I have found elements that gave me joy and I focused on that. I have also evolved. As a banker, for example, unsatisfied in my career, I pivoted into a career in off-grid energy.

How has been your career progression been over the years?

Taking big risks, researching on roles I want, pitching myself consistently to organisations I admire. Also remaining curious, reading, endlessly investing in my education. I still have courses I want to take up. I'm a consistent consumer of information in my field. I have learnt to be bold in every room I am in, ask questions and challenge opinions. I will not leave a room without my voice being heard.

What has been a key driver of your career growth?

I don't play safe. I'm comfortable in being different and pursuing the non-traditional. Unconventional is great! I also believe we all should carry a bulldog's tenacity. I chase fearlessly what I want, and I'm happy to put in the work. But most importantly, I'm spiritual. So definitely prayers have had a lot to do with my growth. 

Anyone who played an important role in your career growth?

I was raised by a family of very driven and studious women who ignited a fire in my belly to aspire to do more and be more. I have a sister I look up to, who is constantly pushing the envelope in her own career. I also have a circle of friends that inspire my ambition. Lastly, I have had some stellar bosses during my career that have been phenomenal in shaping my career growth.

Key decisions you might have taken along your career?

The decision to pivot my career has been fundamental in my growth. Working in the off-grid sector, from its infancy, has allowed me a front-row seat in a growing sector, creating expertise that has been invaluable for me. I have learnt to trust my gut and decisions, even when they lead me against the grain.

What would you tell your younger self?

Every experience that you have gone through is integral in shaping the woman you will become, especially the painful experiences. Be bold and change. Change often. Change fast. Stay curious, learn, and unlearn constantly. It all works out."

What would you advise the youth in Kenya and Africa today?

I am a big believer in the transformational power of entrepreneurship, not just for the entrepreneurs but also for the community.I would like to see more Africans, especially the youth, becoming entrepreneurs in the unconventional spaces. Clean energy, and mobility - the two industries I am focused on - solve many African problems. However, the entrepreneurs solving these problems tend not to be from the continent. I would also want to see Africans investing in entrepreneurs in 'non-traditional' spaces. I would like to see us move from investing in land and investing in energy, agriculture, or mobility companies.

Future plans?

I intend to continue working with entrepreneurs, financing them to scale their businesses in the short-term. In the mid-term, I look forward to delving deeper into climate change and the changing fields of investments resulting from climate policy needs. I look forward to exploring how renewable energy investments can mitigate climate change and appropriate instruments to drive this.

What do you do with your free time?

I prioritise spending time with my family and friends, as well as spending time alone. I live for long walks, and I try to get away to the beach as often as I can. I love reading, working out and a good swim.

What is your biggest fear?

The one cliché fear parents have is death. With an eight-year-old son, I'd especially love to be around for a while and watch him become a solid young man.

What have you learnt from the pandemic? 

I always knew life is fickle, but the pandemic reminded me in the strangest of ways. I have learnt that humans are quick to adapt, and we should use that muscle more. I have learnt that, above all, to prioritise health and find the beauty in the journey.

What is your greatest regret?

I don't have regrets. I take all my regrets as lessons.

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