In Daughter of Africa: An Autobiography, Kenya’s corporate communications pioneer Gina Din tells the story of her ascent to the top with verve and honesty. Review by Stephen Williams.
Gina Din, a Kenyan of Asian heritage, is something of a public relations pioneer, a discipline that was hardly known in this East African country a decade or so ago. In Daughter of Africa: An Autobiography she tells her own story with verve and honesty
Although public relations is not a widely appreciated profession (indeed Din prefers to describe her company’s activities as ‘corporate communications’), there is little doubt that PR plays an important role in today’s business world.
Her incredible story begins when, as a young woman – having studied at the London School of Journalism and contributed to The Standard newspaper and other local journals – she took advantage of a family connection to secure a foothold with Barclays, the British bank that was, and still is, a powerhouse in the Kenyan economy.
It was just at the moment when Barclays was to about to go public, launching an IPO to be quoted on the Nairobi stock exchange.
Beginning at the bottom, she proved her metal by climbing the corporate ladder to eventually sit on Barclays’ Kenyan subsidiary’s management committee.
Her insight proved invaluable as the bank struggled to modernise its image from that of a fusty colonial bank to an institution more relevant to the times and the country it served.
The Barclays post provided a springboard to her determination to launch her own company, Gina Din Corporate Relations (GDCR). It was a bold move, but underpinned by Barclays’ decision to retain her services as an independent consultant she built a portfolio of blue chip clients.
Helping to build M-Pesa
Like Barclays Kenya, Safaricom was a Kenyan subsidiary of a major British company, in this case Vodacom, which had been awarded Kenya’s first mobile telephone licence.
Din outlines the tensions that arose in her relationship with Michael Joseph, Safaricom’s chief executive, as she tried to persuade him to focus on the general public as his target market, rather than just the country’s business elite Thanks to the development of pre-paid scratch-card technology, mobile operators could avoid the necessity of credit references in order to establish accounts.
But Safaricom’s greatest technological advance was creating the M-Pesa app that essentially made every mobile phone a banking tool. Din writes: “M-Pesa was a financial revolution, and became a globally recognised success story. Not only did it give the ordinary man and woman access to to money at all times, it also stimulated micro-entrepreneurship . Especially women-led microenterprises.”
She describes her involvement in M-Pesa as being “intensely satisfying”.
Nevertheless, her company experienced a number of troubling episodes. Perhaps her greatest challenge was in dealing with the public relations surrounding the tragic crash of Kenya Airways Flight 507 shortly after takeoff from Doula airport in Cameroon, with the loss of 108 passengers and six crew members.
This terrible crash had a deeply personal aspect as Din was married to a KQ pilot herself. Her husband, Chris Kariuki, was part of the Kenya Airways family and deeply affected by this loss.
However, her professionalism pulled her through as she dealt with the pain and suffering of the passengers’ families and friends drawn from 26 countries across the continent and the world.
In Din’s own words: “The days ahead were a blur. We had to deal with the families, the press, and the staff. The whole country was in mourning. Flags flew at half mast.”
However, the spirit of this book is, generally upbeat. Forty pages of photos illustrate just how extensive Din’s social circle and contacts grew to be; from Kenya’s President Arap Moi to US President Barrack Obama, from the Reverend Jesse Jackson to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mutukudzi, and even New African’s managing director, Omar Ben Yedder – her circle of friends and acquaintances is extraordinary.
As is her narrative, describing how her business gained credibility and traction. She tells how she fostered a loyal team around her, how her staff worked cooperatively for a shared goal. This was recognised in 2013 when she was named as one of New African‘s as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans of the year.