Two things stand about Babara Mula Omwayi, CEO of Spark Communications and Patron of Spark Empower. First and foremost is the fact that three-quarters of her team are Gen-Z. In her own words, she claims, they put her on her toes.
“They are not only liberal but are also about creating experiences, and leading them requires one to keep up with their energies,” Babara says.
Secondly, growing up, the Lwak Girls Alumni wanted to be a pathologist. But that dream never saw the light of day, and the trained journalist veered off to become one of the youngest CEOs to watch in the marketing field in East Africa.
Despite being in the market for less than ten years, Spark Communications, an innovative marketing firm aimed at top-quality and fine marketing solutions, has brushed shoulders with some top brands in the industry namely, Airtel, SBM Bank, LG Electronics, Bosch, and MultiChoice Group. What’s more, Babara is proud to be associated with Championing the growth and visibility of the Samsung brand across East Africa when she was General Manager at Interactive Communications Ltd.
“I was hired as the GM for Kenya but was able to open up the market in Uganda and Rwanda,” she said in a past interview with Everyday Woman, adding that, additionally, she grew the workforce from three employees in Kenya to 300 in East Africa.
A few years later, Babara joined the thin list of women in C-Suites in Kenya, starting her own company and navigating through the COVID-19 Pandemic. A survey by IBM (NYSE: IBM) Institute for Business Value (IBV) and Chief Study indicates that in Kenya, the number of women at the C-suite level is at 11 percent and board level at 10 percent. These numbers got Babara worried, particularly judging from the calibre of young women who show up for interviews at Spark Communications.
“I noticed there was a lapse. Many fresh graduates were struggling to fit into the job market. Some even had Master’s Degrees but could not express themselves,” she says, adding that this reality birthed an idea: Spark Empower, a mentorship program that elevates young people, transforms their lives, and creates an enabling environment for them to thrive. The mentorship program provides an avenue for personal growth and career development. The end goal is to create “A Community of Influence.”
Community of Influence
One of the core objectives of Spark Empower is to foster a community of influence. The program aims to empower young mentees not only to succeed but also to positively impact their communities. The mentorship program goes beyond traditional mentorship by incorporating the concept of shadow mentorship.
This approach allows mentees to spend a week closely observing and learning from professionals in their desired fields. It provides invaluable insights into the day-to-day realities of a career, helping mentees make informed decisions about their future paths.
In terms of recruitment, the selection process involves a rigorous review of applications, bearing in mind the genuine need and commitment to the course. While the program currently accommodates a limited number of mentees per cohort due to financial constraints, it aspires to expand to the 47 counties in Kenya and eventually, outside the country. This can only be made possible with the support of like-minded partners.
Since its inception in 2016, Spark Empower has impacted hundreds of university graduates, who have now joined the job market. About 80 percent of the 2022 Cohort has been absorbed into the job market, a feat which Patron Babara does not take lightly. Initially, the program targeted female mentees but in 2023, Spark Empower opened its doors to the boy child. And from absorbing 10 mentees, annually, the numbers have grown to 20 mentees, with the quality of mentors and speakers getting richer by the day.
In the recent past, the program has hosted industry leaders including Mary Thuo, CEO of CityScape Trends Ltd, Makena Kiara, Head of Marketing Kenchic, Natalie Ngatia, MD Saharan Africa, Founder of PassionProfit, Frida Owinga, among others.
“One day Steve Harvey will be our guest on Spark Empower,” Babara says, for his humor and the valuable life lessons he imparts.
Locally, she envisions hosting surprise guest artists, such as Sauti Sol and Content Creator Moya David to entertain and inspire the youthful graduates. Furthermore, she expresses fascination with the K-pop group Black Pink, highlighting their understanding of the music business and their potential to motivate and entertain the youth.
Apart from formal mentorship sessions, Spark Empower organizes informal gatherings, team-building exercises, and one-on-one interactions between mentees and mentors. These activities help foster a sense of community among participants, creating a supportive environment where mentees can share, learn, and grow together.
Mentees are provided with opportunities to engage with sustainable development goals (SDGs) and collaborate with organizations such as the UN Global Compact.
Contrary to popular belief, Babara believes that young people are open to mentorship.
“They yearn for guidance and support to navigate the complex transition from academia to the professional world yet, society often fails to recognize and celebrate their achievements,” she says. As an employer of Gen-Zs, she advocates for mutual understanding.
Challenges facing the youth
Barbara acknowledges the fact that the youth face significant challenges. Unemployment remains a pressing issue, leading to despair and, in some tragic cases, even suicide. The burden of academic fees and limited opportunities add to their struggles.
Moreover, mental health issues, particularly depression, are becoming increasingly common among young people. Societal and parental pressures, as well as the constant barrage of social media and peer pressure, contribute to their emotional distress. Additionally, drug addiction is a harsh reality that many youths grapple with. To address these challenges, Barbara emphasizes the need for a multi-faceted approach. She believes that mentorship, while vital, is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Young people must be encouraged to focus on their goals and potential,” she argues, and to succeed, “The youth must identify their aspirations, begin the journey to self-discovery, be disciplined, and work hard.”
Beneficiary of mentorship
Barbara, a beneficiary of mentorship, recalls learning hard work and entrepreneurship from her late mother who was a banker and a farmer. Born and raised in Kisumu, the ‘farm girl’ never went on holiday as they would toil and moil on the farm during holidays. Her business acumen, she says is inspired by her mother.
Other people who have walked the journey with Babara include Dr Patricia Murugami Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Breakthrough Leadership Transformation, Phil Knight, Founder and former CEO of shoe giant, Nike through his book: Shoe Dog, Founder of PassionProfit, and Frida Owinga, among others.
Besides the actual mentorship, she has equipped herself with some skills that are necessary for women in C-Suites. These include people management skills, how to lead with impact, how to lead when serving, and how to leave a legacy. Other skills include being an intentional leader who focuses on people as well as profits.
To excel as a woman CEO, Babara took up classes in Breakthrough Mastery Circle: To work on her skills as a woman. She also enrolled in the Women in Leadership Course from the Strathmore Business School.
“Mentors have opened doors, created opportunities, given free advice, and corrected as well as reprimanded me,” she says. “When you walk with people, you go far. I walk with people who have gone ahead of me.”
She has benefited from numerous mentors, each contributing to her personal and professional growth. Her mentors have provided her with direction, clarity, and valuable insights, underscoring the importance of mentorship in one’s journey to success. As Spark Empower continues to grow and expand, Babara’s vision will embody the spirit of collective effort and mentorship, ultimately shaping the future of Kenya’s youth.