Mentorship will take you places...

Emma Miloyo is the president of the Architectural Association of Kenya. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • I actively seek to connect young women professionals in built environment to each other, to young graduates and to students.
  • Through various networks such as WIRE (Women in Real Estate) and Exbomarian Education Trust Fund, I encourage my fellow female professionals to mentor others and “pay it forward”. The importance of role modeling and mentorship could not be overstated.
  • It is true that my roles keep me on my toes, given that I am also involved in the operation of a family construction business as well. Away from work however, I spend time with my family travelling and site-seeing.

What is the role of the Architectural Association of Kenya?

Established in 1967, AAK is Kenya’s leading association for professionals in the built and natural environment. It incorporates architects, quantity surveyors, town planners, engineers, environmental design consultants and construction project managers, bringing together professionals from the private and public sectors and the academia. The Association acts as a link between stakeholders in the construction industry, including policy makers, manufacturers, real estate developers and financial institutions. 

You are the first woman to chair this organisation. How do you use your position to inspire other young women to go for such powerful positions?

I actively seek to connect young women professionals in built environment to each other, to young graduates and to students. Through various networks such as WIRE (Women in Real Estate) and Exbomarian Education Trust Fund, I encourage my fellow female professionals to mentor others and “pay it forward”. The importance of role modeling and mentorship could not be overstated.

In all I do, I am very mindful of the impact my actions have on women and their perception of female leaders.  

What notable achievements has AAK had in the last 50 years?

We have initiated the automation of the Development Approval Processes in Kenya, greatly contributing to the ease of doing business. AAK has also been at the forefront in the fight against imposition of single business permits on its members. We spearheaded the signing of a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) for architectural services in East Africa under the East Africa Institute of Architects. AAK has been at the forefront of conservation of building heritage, including KICC, one of Kenya’s most iconic buildings. The “AAK Excellence in Architecture Awards” are now a highlight of the building industry, promoting and celebrating best practice in the built environment. 

What three things do you often wish you had known early in your career?

I wish I had known that ability to manage people, executing effective communication and report writing are just as important as my ability to design beautiful buildings. I also wish I had known the importance of emotional intelligence. 

Tenders for mega construction projects such as the Standard Gauge Railway are often awarded to overseas building companies. Don’t our local construction entities have the capacity to handle such giant projects?

Projects like the SGR come once in a lifetime. The last time Kenya put up a railway line was over a century ago. Very few construction firms even internationally would have such expertise and enormous capacity to undertake such a gigantic project. What is important for Kenyans though is to ensure that the locally available skills-set is fully utilised whenever we have such large scale projects, and that there is adequate technology transfer. I hope that in the near future, a Kenyan firm that can execute a project of the scale of the SGR will rise to the occasion of this mega construction phase that Kenya has embarked on. 

Being the president of a professional body must be a highly involving role. What do you do when not working?

It is true that my roles keep me on my toes, given that I am also involved in the operation of a family construction business as well. Away from work however, I spend time with my family travelling and site-seeing. I also love running and often participate in marathons. I am also a member of a book club that meets once a month, which ensures that I read a book or two every month. 

The real estate business in Kenya has grown almost tenfold in the last 15 years, yet owning a home continues to be out of reach for most Kenyans. How can you explain this trend?

The cost of land is one of the biggest impediments to home ownership. Cost of land continues to skyrocket due to the limited investment options in land, which pushes the demand higher while curtailing the supply. The cost of financing a construction project remains extremely high in Kenya, and as such, few people can afford to put up decent houses on their land. Additionally, most neighbourhoods in Kenyan urban areas are poorly-planned, inadequately serviced and sometimes even inaccessible. This lack of proper infrastructure deters potential developers. The few neigbourhoods that have adequate amenities to serve the population are highly priced. 

Architecture in Kenya is arguably a small community. Does the local industry have the capacity to absorb all the skilled labour churned out by training institutions annually?

The construction sector contributes to seven per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is also growing at a rate of 13 per cent per annum. While architecture is thriving, it is sad that only a small percentage of the industry is overseen by professionals. An example is Nairobi City County where only about 20 per cent of building constructions are approved by the City County, the rest falling to illegal constructions cartels. The industry may not be small as such, but appreciating the role of professionals in providing services will inevitably lead to the delivery of cost-effective services while promoting the construction of safe and aesthetically pleasing structures.

The role of the AAK could never be more relevant.  

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