Wanji Ng’ang’a is Shell Foundation’s Regional Manager in East Africa. Her work involves supporting entrepreneurs solving for clean energy and new technologies on the continent whose efforts provide essential services to lower-income communities. Shell Foundation’s mission is to support a portfolio of emerging social enterprises at various growth stages and accelerate their potential to impact millions of low-income consumers. Through funding, mentorship and networking opportunities, social enterprises like Aceleron and Absolute Energy have received the support necessary to help scale their business models. These social enterprises strive to address root causes for impact by filling in gaps that their local governments have not been able to meet and by providing more efficient, alternate solutions to problems. Within a few years, these social enterprises will grow to meet the needs of millions of consumers and meaningfully impact their lives. For Wanji, finding meaning and purpose has not been an easy path - but an undertaking she was willing to take a risk on.
Wanji graduated from the United States International University-Africa (USIU) with a Bachelors in International Business Administration. As a child, her mind wandered as she dreamt of a future as a therapist, as a pilot leading a crew - amongst many other professions. Having excelled at university, and with an aptitude for Math she went on to work in the banking sector, fulfilling the expectation her family had that she would work in a familiar and recognizable field. It all made sense, banking was a safe and stable career - but within two years Wanji came to realize it was not the right fit for her. She struggled with the thought of venturing into the unknown and tried out a number of things to see what she was passionate about. She worked on a political campaign, tried her hand out at a new business and wrote out a list about the things she wanted in her next job. Wanji reflects that this was incredibly important and urges us to not be afraid to try out as many things as possible as we journey through life. It took some time, but Wanji ultimately saw a gap in off-grid energy that piqued her interest and with that she took the leap of faith.
At the time, off-grid energy was a largely unknown and underutilized resource. In Kenya, a significant number of rural-communities had been left out of the national electricity grid leaving much room for private companies and ventures to supply electricity through alternative energy sources. Working in a new field set Wanji on the path to living a purposeful life as the impact of her work became clear. There are a few lessons she has learned along the way:
Make courageous choices even when the path does not seem clear. Wanji took a gamble venturing into an unknown field but insists that in life one must have the tenacity of a bull dog! As you chart your own path, you have the opportunity to define your own success and not let fear or negative self-talk hold you back. Wanji’s experience embodies one of our core values, dream big and work hard!
Your vision can always evolve. Don’t be too fixated on a particular path or goal if it is not panning out, know that there is freedom in changing your mind and renegotiating your goals and visions as you continue to build a meaningful life. Wanji started off providing clean energy to consumers, today she focuses on providing instruments to entrepreneurs who need support. Wanji is open to the immense possibilities in life and doesn't follow a rigid roadmap.
Be ever curious and willing to learn. Wanji strives to learn from the experiences of others and gain knowledge from those who have found solutions to problems.
Entrepreneurs on the continent face a myriad of challenges; from lack of consumer knowledge on products, to lack of government support to being risk averse. Entrepreneurs in the sector do not work in an enabling environment but through it all, Wanji has seen initiatives like Tugende grow into viable social enterprises. Wanji's days in the field interacting with driven and innovative entrepreneurs, watching their ideas blossom into solutions-focused businesses signals that she has found a space for impactful work.
Wanji’s journey is an inspiring example of what finding meaning and purpose can look like. It is not an easy path and the way may not always seem clear but there is fulfillment that comes with impacting so many people’s lives! We hope that each of you, on your own journeys, will find meaning and purpose in what you do.