Elizabeth Irungu, CFA: The Power of Intellect, Confidence and Sheer Determination.
Elizabeth Irungu shares her incredible journey of facing all the odds, undertaking new challenges, pursuing CFA, and becoming a woman of excellence along the course.
I come from a humble background, having spent the majority of my childhood in Central Kenya. As I grew up in years, my love for education grew as well. With the support of a father who was an educator, I embarked upon a career journey that is both beautiful and challenging.
I am utterly grateful to the Almighty for giving me a brilliant mind, which helped me get into one of the top public universities in Kenya. Even though I had always wanted to get a degree in science, I studied economics in college. I was discouraged but later ended up falling in love with it. I went on to pursue CFA and became the third woman in Kenya to hold charterholder status in 2008. An event was organized in honor of me being the only graduate that year, with newspapers describing me as “a woman of excellence.” Even today, it feels surreal.
I feel that most of the time, being a perfectionist makes all the difference. Though there are a few drawbacks, I have come to realize over the years that unless you strive for excellence, you will always be mediocre.
In one of my jobs, I was promoted to the post of Chief Investment Officer within one year. I later transitioned to a completely different field of business: development and client relations. As someone who had dealt with numbers all her life, I was uncertain about making the leap. But seeing my boss’ faith in me, I said to myself, “If someone else sees potential in me, why shouldn’t I?” Five years in, I realized that it was the best decision I ever made to accept a job offer that involved simply telling people what we really believe in.
I had direct experience of poverty while growing up, and a dearth of opportunities made me realize the significance of always being on your A-game. Being a part of a community that had values like integrity at its core played a huge role in shaping my personality.
After 15 years of experience in East Africa, I am ready to expand my horizons and reach people across the pan-African space. I have a personal goal to help students globally, especially girls, navigate careers in finance and investment.
I am passionate about investment, finance, and women. I feel that the women of our world have been left miles behind simply because financial freedom never came easy for them.
Many women in Kenya fall victim to an endless cycle of spending money instantly rather than working towards multiplying it. I wish to help them see the bigger picture and add more value to money by breaking free. I do this by talking to female owners of microbusinesses and making them aware of various ways to invest money and run their businesses professionally e.g. by keeping proper financial records.
One of the most significant barriers to female leadership in present times is self-doubt. It is important to realize that when the world fails to believe in you, confidence in your abilities goes a long way in helping you climb the ladder of success. In contrast, women who don’t realize the importance of education and grow up without having the innate desire to tap into their potential are the obstacles to their own growth.
After graduating, I got a chance to work in the office of the President. Two years in, I decided to quit as I was pursuing my CFA and wished to change my job before I fell onto a bandwagon of low productivity and poor service delivery. Switching to the private sector invited many surprised and doubtful glances my way, but I was resolute. Landing an international assignment in 2009 finally gave my father reassurance that I was doing what was right for me.
The biggest challenge I faced in my career was not having things handed down to me on a platter. Lack of career mentors also hampered the growth path to a large extent. The vicious cycle of poverty in my community is something I sought to end. But being versatile to navigate among careers is something that helped me develop into a stronger and learned individual.
I balance investing in others with investing in myself by making sure that I always have a book to read. Doing the CFA program was challenging, and I let go of all my social commitments to become a charterholder. After all, you need to step out of your comfort zone if you wish to achieve great heights!
My advice to young people is to break barriers, go beyond, and volunteer more. Do not hesitate to pursue opportunities. To make sure that you have no regrets when you’re 50, it is paramount to kick your fears in the gut today and take each step forward with conviction.