PROFILE: How Roselynn Omolloh reinvented herself by working outside her comfort zone
By Patience Nyange and Esther Kiragu
Over the years, men have dominated the political space in Kenya. However, through resilience, reliability and hard work, more women are rising to this space. This week in the #KenyaWomenSeries we feature, Roselynn Omolloh, a woman with a communication and public relations background who has scaled the ladder to become Chief of Staff in the Office of the Speaker.
She is a mother of three and a great believer in the power of resilience. Her wealth of knowledge and expertise within the political sphere in Kenya is impeccable.
Roselynn explains that her career growth has been very unconventional, more angular than linear. She started as a librarian and then moved to a Public Relations Officer role in the same organisation. After working in that organisation for 12 years, she resigned from her job in October 2008 to regroup and reset. She returned to work in 2013, having reinvented herself.
So we got curious and asked what did she do with her time during this long career break?
“Well, I am glad I took the break. Everything that I am today I owe it to those five years when I took that career break. I had lost my husband and was dealing with that grief. I took the time to reflect and figure out my life. I returned to school and completed my Master’s degree. I also did all the consultancies in the world, including construction and consulting.
“Looking back today, I am reminded of the anecdote that all dots in life connect. Indeed, it is not a lie. During that period, I had a chance with my boss, who gave me an opportunity to do his campaign strategy for his first bid as Bungoma Governor. You know the story, he won by a landslide! This became my career comeback strategy. I veered totally off my previous work trajectory.
“Looking back to that period, I am also reminded of this quote by André Gide which has become my favourite: ‘Man cannot discover new oceans unless he dares to lose sight of the shore.’ To scale new heights, do things you’ve not done before. Otherwise, you can’t expect to succeed if you are unwilling to reinvent yourself and get outside your comfort zone.
“When he took office, I was appointed as a Political Advisor to the then Governor, seconded to the nascent Council of Governors Secretariat. I was recalled to the County and redesigned to Service Delivery Advisor and Secretary to the Service Delivery Unit. I was there for four years before moving to the Senate as Chief of Staff in the office of the Speaker in September 2017, a position I hold to date. Throughout my career, I have had many defining moments, but I will choose to highlight three:
➢ At the Kenya National Library Service, I was tasked to coordinate a book fundraising effort jointly with the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) and Book Aid International to raise funds to provide books to the underserved. We shot a documentary in Naivasha Maximum Prison, Kakuma and Daadab refugee camps and the North-Eastern parts of Kenya. The visits to the prison and the camps were awakening for me. I knew there and then that I should do more and be more. This led to me resigning from my job a year later to pursue some of the interventions I had crafted.
➢ At The Council of Governors (CoG) secretariat; we were new. Devolution was new, and there was no precedent, no structures and no funding. What kept us going was passion and the deep desire to deliver devolution across the 47 new counties. Being part of the founding staff of the CoG Secretariat instilled me with the devolution experience, and I am one of those you cannot convince that devolution is NOT working.
➢ The most terrifying moments were probably Governor Wambora’s first impeachment. We did not know what we needed to know; was it a legal or political process? We were anxious and afraid to lose any of the first 47 Governors. Then came the first-ever Devolution Conference; the anxiety and panic when the National Government withdrew!
I still bow to the resilience of Mrs. Jacqueline Mogeni, the firmest and decisive CEO I have ever known. From her, I learnt that once you decide, you can only move forwards. Do not apologise or change focus: move on. We had a natural come back when we pulled off the Kisumu DEVCON 2015 challenges and all.
What has helped me most in my career path? My buzz word is resilience. Bounce back no matter how far you have been flung.
1. Having worked in political offices and with politicians in Kenya, what would you describe as impediments to career development and advancement? How have you managed to overcome the same while rising through the ranks? What would be your nuggets of wisdom to women with a vision/goal to join the political space?
As opposed to what many people think, politicians are great people to work with. For me, the key has been professionalism; separating myself from politics and sticking to my work. Feelings are not important, but my professional opinion is CRUCIAL. My antenna must remain high up.
My word of advice to any woman who wishes to have a career in the political space is to learn to listen keenly and only talk when you have understood what needs to be done.
Be dependable and available: Many times you will be required to work for long hours, so do not delude yourself with “it is past working hours.” Politicians do what they need to do. They are not calling you at 10 pm to discuss the cost of Glovo delivery!
Remember, the political space is a position of service, and that is what anyone seeking this office must do- serve. If you have political aspirations, practice serving, you will go far. The political space is volatile and dynamic, and it is the same for men and women. Downplay your gender and tune up your delivery. Learn to give and take. Tune-up your negotiation skills.
Margaret Thatcher’s words should be their guiding light: “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you will achieve nothing.”
2. Organisational culture and politics by and large affect one’s career development. What is your advice to women on navigating office politics, especially at the management levels?
Be objective, firm and consistent. Let your brand be known, and do not conform to groupthink. Strive to be an achiever and let your results speak for themselves. Fortunately, I have never experienced the backlash of office politics but, I guess the best way to go about it is to stay on the service delivery path, reduce camaraderie and non-core associations in the office.
3. From your personal experience, please tell us what role has each of the following played in your career journey?
• Confidence: Deliver with confidence based on real facts. Confidence must be accompanied by mounds of knowledge, so burn the midnight oil and know your facts well.
• Networking: Your network is your net worth, especially in Government. Who you know in which office matters; who picks your calls and responds to your texts is crucial to your performance. You need consensus even on official matters. For example, before dispatching a letter, agree with an insider on the contents, so official communication becomes a formality. This expedites response and assures results.
• Positive attitude: This is very important in these streets. Tomorrow is a new day, and it is not personal. The last two years have been very volatile politically, and if you become lily-livered and negative, you can wake up with a partial stroke (God forbid)
• Proactivity: Take the initiative to deliver even that which you have not been asked to. Be two steps ahead to stay safe. When you are not on time, delivery becomes compromised.
• Work-life balance: Is this even a thing? I receive calls at odd hours, and I will never fail to pick a call or rush off to have a document signed because it is outside office hours. I maximise on breaks and rest when I can.
• Mentorship: This is very important for growth for mentors and mentees. When you are mentored, you learn more; as you mentor others, you learn too, and in the process, you extend the knowledge loop.
4. If you were to write a letter to your 25-year-old self, what are the top three lessons would you share with your younger self?
i. Be authentically you and always be and do your very best.
ii. Work hard, but always pause and smell the flowers.
iii. If you must fail, fail forward.
5. Which is your favourite book, and what are its nuggets that apply to the Kenyan professional woman?
The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple. Professionally, surround yourself with really good people. Please do not mix the professional and social pools; they easily cross-contaminate. The most successful managers are those that are secure enough to surround themselves with highly strong-willed, talented people where it matters. Do not let personal prejudices get into the way of performance.
6. If you were to choose the two most important values that shape the way you work and live, what would they be and why?
1. My faith in God enables me to surrender everything, however difficult, to Him.
2. Loyalty and passion to serve faithfully.
7. How do you describe yourself, and how do others describe you?
I am loyal to a fault. When I give, I do give my all and do not hold back. Those who know me know that I will always be present; more like saying, if I am in, I am, fully in. And if not, I am brave enough to say so from the word go.My family and friends describe me as loving and dependable.
8. If you were to re-create the political environment, globally and locally, what would be your ideal world?
In a world where the top political leadership is protected from themselves – there is a big difference between electability and governance. Yes, the latter is boring, so they must be allowed to be political without damaging the governance structures. I would want them to have someone close who is not afraid to push back against their ideas but know their way around the world’s power structures and get things done.
Any parting shot?
“Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”
Esther is a writer, editor, and communication professional in Kenya while Patience Nyange is a Chevening Scholar with a Masters Degree in International Public Relations and Global Communication Management from Cardiff University. Prior to joining Cardiff University, Patience served as an Assistant Director at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).
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