YALI Voices Podcast: Eunice Achenda Peter on Professionalism, Good Governance, and Lending a Helping Hand

“My parents had the vision that we will not change in this poor livelihood if we do not get the right education,” says Eunice Achenda Peter from Kenya. 

Raised in Mombasa, Kenya, Eunice is now an audit manager for the Kenyan Office of the  Auditor General. She has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Nairobi, where she specialized in strategic management.

In this YALI Voices podcast, Eunice shares her passion for promoting good governance and for empowering women and youth in her community.

From a young age, Eunice has been creating new pathways. Starting by challenging gender norms, Eunice navigated “the resistance on the fact that I was a woman going to school” in her minority community.

Eunice has spent her life breaking down barriers to equal opportunity for herself and for others. Eunice’s leadership journey began as a student: “We were not trained on any leadership skills,” she says, “but you run for this [school] position and you have to solve those challenges.”

Eunice is also the only female board member of a nonprofit organization called Uniport Loans, a loan service for university students without collateral. She is also a board member for SheLeadsTech, an organization that promotes women empowerment in information technology careers.

Listen to the full podcast or read the transcript below to find out how Eunice is leading the initiative for increasing representation of women in leadership roles, government, and technology across Africa.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

 YALI Voices Podcast: EUNICE ACHENDA PETER

Transcript

EUNICE ACHENDA PETER: My name is Eunice Achenda Peter. I am from Kenya. I was born in Mombasa.

In my life my mother sensitized the importance of changing the livelihood that we were growing through. So I also discovered that I was really good in mathematics in my early years, and I put in a lot of effort in mathematics courses and science courses for a brighter future. 

I was determined, and I had seen light in education, and I knew education will give me the hope for the future. 

[MUSIC PLAYING]

♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪ 

VOICE-OVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.state.gov to stay up to date on all things YALI.

Eunice Achenda Peter is a trailblazer. Since her childhood, she’s been creating new pathways, starting with challenging the status quo in her own community and then breaking down barriers to equal opportunity for herself and those who would follow in her footsteps. Formerly an auditor with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, she is currently an audit manager in the Office of the Auditor General in Kenya, where she focuses on auditing state departments and government entities. She is also a board member of the Uniport Loans Kenya Limited, where she promotes youth empowerment, and a member of SheLeadsTech, an organization that seeks to increase the representation of women in technology leadership roles and the tech workforce.

As a young girl growing up in Mombasa, Eunice remembers that her parents recognized that the only way for their daughter out of poverty was an education, in spite of the objections of many in her community. She begins her story there.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

EUNICE: My parents had the vision that we will not change in this poor livelihood if we do not get the right education. And that was a good opportunity for me to go and get studies in high school which is of a national level, which is more or less like a prestigious education system. But it had to be away from my community, because apparently in my community at that time there was no national school. Many people didn’t like to go to school, so there was not much that was invested in terms of good and quality schools. And this particular school that I had been called was one of the top, I would say top 10 in Kenya, so meaning that the kind of quality education I would get would not be compared to any education quality that I would get around my community. 

So the resistance was both on the fact that I am a woman going to school, and that means it was an achievement in my education life, and that I am going far and away from my family. But all that comes back to the negativity aspect and the culture that the community had. So my parents, my immediate parents, were for it, that I should do it because it will change life. And I looked at that controversy between my extended family and the larger community, basically my current family, my nuclear family, and the fact that it would change my life in the future. That really inspired me. 

So I knew it was a golden opportunity. And then the other fact that when I was growing up, I would see the companies and the organizations that were around Mombasa — that is the coastal area of Kenya — were being led by people who were not from within the community. They had to come from the upper uplands, we call it highlands of Kenya, where people now are more educated, more enlightened, and more exposed. And yet, we ourselves now, the local community, are not getting a chance to be employed. The reason for that is because we do not go to school. 

So back in the day I was young, and I could hear that narrative from anyone who was speaking about other people coming to take over the organizations that are around our place is because we never had any person from the local community who was learned enough to be able to take that. So I said then, “This should be the solution.” Well, about the future when you’re young, you really don’t know how it will turn out to, but once you have seen and you have heard that this is only the route and it’s the gap that is there between the community, the minority community and the majority community, which goes to school and the minority doesn’t go to school, then you say, “Let me give it a try.” So when I went to school, I knew. We were two of us, only two ladies. It was a girls high school. Two ladies. And I knew I had to finish. Not only finish, but finish with very high marks. So that the same narrative will not be repeated. If I can have an opportunity, I change, I’ll be able to change. I wouldn’t know at that time how the change would be, but I knew it would be better, it will not be the same. 

So that was in me, that I knew I’ll have a better future, I’ll have a brighter future. I didn’t know how, but I knew that if I put in a lot of effort on my academics and education, then I would. 

VOICE-OVER: Eunice moved on to study accounting at university. But finding money to take care of her needs remained an issue for her. While doing what she calls odd jobs to help support herself, she also began to realize that doing a great job wasn’t all she would need to succeed after graduation. She wanted to make sure she left school having developed her leadership abilities as well. To that end, she decided to run for student parliament. Later, she introduces us to her work as an auditor and why this important function matters for promoting accountability, good governance, and transparency.

EUNICE: After interaction with many people, I came to notice that I had to enhance my leadership skills for me to get a job, not only work to supplement my pocket money. So I also had to run for elected positions in campus, which I did, and I was able to be elected as secretary general for the student parliament. That was in my fourth year. And then in my first through third year I was elected as representative of the accounting department. 

I had gradually started developing my leadership skills in my high school, where I became a prefect, a leader in small, small groups. But in campus I became more focused in terms of developing my leadership skills, because I knew this would be the only cutting edge in the employment market. 

So I learned on the job and the campus, because a lot of time we were not trained on any leadership skills, but then you run for this position and then you have to handle the challenges, you have to solve those challenges while you’re in office. 

So through that I was able to look at, to be able to interact with the students and also be able to try to solve the problems that were at hand at that moment. And also be able to negotiate. So the negotiating skills also came in with the administrators of the university because I was the link between the students and the administrators. 

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

EUNICE: So, in PriceWaterhouseCoopers, I was an audit associate, basically auditing companies, including not-for-profit organizations, international companies. And I also had experience to go for secondment at PriceWaterhouseCoopers Rwanda, and that means I was able to do assignments in six countries, auditing both private companies, not-for-profit, donor-funded projects, and multinational, multi-donor-funded projects, which involved six countries. That is Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, and Uganda.

Auditing a company means you have to understand the company first, and then you look at the risks that would make them not achieve the main objective, if it is to profit maximization or share value addition, or if it’s a not-for-profit organization, what is their mandate? So you look at what would make them not be able to get that. So that once you have been able to assess the risks, then those are the ones that will help you to gather evidence. So understanding the organization comes in first. 

So an auditor comes in at the level of the CEO or top management to try to understand the organization before they can understand the financial information, because the financial information is sort of the synopsis of the transactions of what happened during the year, but what happened during the year is more detailed into understanding the organization, the internal controls, the activities that they did, and the risks that they had to meet to get to achieve what they had to achieve. 

So I would say audit experience gives one greater exposure than accounting experience, because an auditor moves from one organization to another, maybe within four weeks or a month and a half, and they would have understood that organization sort of inside-out. Not only the numbers of the organization, where an accountant will only focus on keeping the records and financial information and coming up with a financial report. So, auditing entails understanding more than the numbers. 

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

EUNICE: Good financial management and good governance is important for an organization, because the financial aspect is the heartbeat of the organization. No organization would be able to exist if they can’t have money to run the operations. And then good governance is sort of solely defined, all objectives they have to do, all the mandates that they are entitled to do, so that it gives that sound principle from top-bottom that everyone is doing what they are supposed to do. So that the head — if, for example, the company’s from shareholders, they have invested, then shareholders know very well that they will get value for their shares. And even if it is a not-for-profit organization, then whoever is the donor or whoever is the founder and whoever is contributing to the organization is clear that whatever purpose to which the organization is set, it is achieving the objective. So the financial information will just come and show how much or how the money has been spent, and it will also show the kind of expenses that have been incurred to be able to implement the objectives or to achieve the mandate. So it gives one side of the company. But then governance gives the totality, testing the financial information and also looks at any other sound internal controls or the environment in which the organization is working in, and just ensuring that everything works towards the objective of why the organization exists. 

So after my experience in PriceWaterhouseCoopers Rwanda, I joined the government, that is the Office of the Auditor General Kenya. My role is an audit manager, and I’m in charge of education sector. Education sector, particularly Ministry of Education. That’s basic and tertiary and higher education. 

 I also audit state departments and donor-funded projects in education. So my role basically is to review the work of my team and also submit a report to my director, which then would finally be submitted to parliament after through the internal reviews. 

So we report to parliament as an office, as opposed to reporting to the individual government state departments or government entities. And these reports are finally submitted by the auditor general himself to parliament for the public to be able to see and the parliamentary accounts committee to discuss them and follow up on the recommendations of the audit. So that’s basically my work.

It’s important because that’s the only way we can promote accountability and good governance and transparency. It’s the government that plans and budgets for how it will spend the money, so the office of the auditor general comes as an independent office established in the Constitution to audit the funds of the government and then give a report to parliament, which is an independent arm of government. So the importance of the audit office is that it ensures there is accountability and transparency by reporting to the public. The audit reports are accessible by all public to know how the funds were spent and any recommendations that the auditor general would put, and also it helps to ensure and promote good governance, because after all this, the whole process, the follow-ups of all the audit recommendations, at the end of the day we’ll bring in better and sounder internal controls in the different institutions that have been audited, and any institution that is audited is much better than one that is not.

For my fellow YALI members who are in Kenya or any other place in Africa, they should pay attention to the auditor general’s reports, in Kenya or in their respective country, because this is when you’re able to see how accountable your government is, you’re able to see the transparency in the way government is run. You are also able to see the good governance — if it is there or if it is lacking. And you’re able to make a good judgment of the kind of leaders that are holding those institutions, the heads of the institutions or the respective individuals who are in charge of managing the finances. Where there is a need to change, you have the facts to make your decision where you can be able to rely on the reports. A lot of times the audit reports might not be a very good consumable by the public, but media houses have taken a step ahead and they do discuss the audit reports in their newspapers or television or in the radio. So this helps to interpret the information that is on the audit reports for the public. 

So for my fellow YALI members, I really urge them to take an interest, because that’s when you can be able to hold your government accountable, that’s when you can be able to know whether who’s in charge of a certain institution, whether they’re running it the way it should be or not. 

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

EUNICE: As a woman in this position I do face challenges. One, in Africa or even in Kenya, auditing is a male-dominated career, and it’s the men who are many have gone before us. And what’s added to that is even the age factor also becomes a bigger challenge, because they are older, they have, in their years they have gotten enough experience, and you just came there that day. 

And another challenge adding onto that is also a minority community. So hardly would you find a woman who is young from a minority community holding a position as an audit manager in a government office, audit office. Yes, I do face the challenge. The first thing is … one’s not believing you, they just believe you can’t do. They haven’t given you a chance to prove yourself, but they will just stereotype and say, “There’s nothing she can do. She’s still young, a woman. Who from her community has done anything? We haven’t seen.” But I do not take that negatively anyway, because throughout my life I have come to combat any negative sentiments raised to me. I take them as a moment to prove myself. It is now the time to actually prove wrong whatever negative sentiment is sent to me. As opposed to being discouraged I actually get encouraged, so I have used it as a reverse reaction. So if any negative word is said to me to really put me down, it will actually make me stronger, because then I will have something to do to prove wrong whatever has been said to me negative. 

So I try to be professional. The good thing is that I have had experience with a private audit firm, one of the big four, and it has taught me professionalism in audit, and I still hold the same standards of professionalism. Most of the time the level of my professionalism is much more above the level of those who started in government earlier on, because the standards that are put in any big four firm, it’s normally at the global international standards of professionalism. That might not be exactly the same when it comes to public service, especially in African countries. 

So I try to be professional and also to be patient and tolerant. Yes, it is true, they will have their stereotype. They have their own opinion and choice over what they want to hold about me, but what I know myself is I’m confident, and I try to learn where I can and improve myself. I grow myself by reading books and attending courses and seeking to do better. 

Any assignment I take, I make sure it is better than the previous audit assignment that I have done. So, I’m consistently growing and consistently learning, looking at it from a very positive angle, and nothing negative will put me down.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE] 

EUNICE: Other than my work as an audit manager in the office of the auditor general, I’m also a board member of a not-for-profit institution called Uniport Loans. It gives loans to university students without collateral. And it is the first in Kenya which is not a government-owned institution. So it gives loans to university students who are bright and needy without collateral so that they can finish their academics. It also not only gives them loans for their tuition; it gives them also money for upkeep. 

So once a student has been awarded the loan contract, all their school fees is paid for and all the upkeep money is paid for. And additional to that, we also have a mentorship program for all the loan recipients who can be able to get internship in the course of their study and they can also get access to training and also get a mentor who can take them through, who will prepare them for the job market. 

The essence is that it’s a win-win situation for both the loan recipient to be able to get a job and also for Uniport Loans Kenya to be able to get their loan recipient to pay, because their employment is also our concern. Since this is a loan that is expected to be paid back, we are also concerned about their employment. 

So this is one of a kind, I would say. I volunteer in it as a board member, and I put in my expertise in financial professional management, financial management, professional service unit advisory, especially the financial part of it. In this board I sit, I am the only Kenyan in the board and the only female in the board.

So in this I help in the youth empowerment, especially on motivational talks to the loan recipients and also mentoring. I mentor some of them, and I also organize within my network to recruit more mentors who can be attached to the different loan recipients who are receiving the loans. 

I’m also a member of SheLeadsTech committee, which is mainly for women empowerment in IT profession. This committee encourages women into being involved in the IT profession, especially at facilitating in conferences, facilitating in talks and public speaking for IT professionals, and also sharing their success story, how have they walked their journey so far, so that they can be able to inspire and mentor the young ones who are coming up in the IT profession. Included in that is also a mentoring component. So I also do mentor high school girls within the same SheLeadsTech committee member responsibility, because I believe that once I have mentored the girls, especially to be encouraged to pass the STEM courses — that’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses — then they will be future career professionals in the STEM industry. Rather than waiting for them at the university level, and then you find they are less, we believe as a committee that we start back at the high school level for them to have interest in the science courses, so that they grow up then and develop their interest into IT or science-related professions. So that mentorship is also included as a role in the SheLeadsTech, included additional to the role of inspiring the IT professional women in their career. 

Particularly for university students, we actually teach them public speaking and the importance of presentation, the communication skills. And this comes in part of the seminars that we do with the Uniport loan recipients. We take them through seminars twice a year to just keep them up with the skills that are required. Even preparing for interview, if it is an internship interview that they have to do, we take them through the skills of interviewing, which comes back with the mentoring programming that we have. 

VOICE-OVER: Finally, Eunice offers advice to the YALI Network on the importance of collaboration and networking. 

EUNICE: My advice to YALI Network is to collaborate with other Fellows. Make sure you have taken advantage of the alumni membership network, and network with Fellows within the country or even outside the country, especially those that you have common interests in. 

Like for example, in my experience, I’ve had to look for additional mentors to Uniport Loans, and I had to reach out to the YALI members, the YALI members that I know that are competent. Like, we were looking for a mentor who is a lawyer by profession to be able to mentor law students.

The other advice I can give is partnership. Look towards partnership with organizations that will fill in a gap or a need that you have for whatever initiative you have towards your community in solving a problem. And then share your ideas. Whatever you find you’ve been able to successfully achieve, share it with the other members, let them learn. Do not store knowledge in your head. Just share it so that it generates more and more knowledge. And then expand on how you look at things. So your exposure should be changing every day as you travel to different places, as you interact with different people, try to expand your view in looking at things. 

Don’t close your mind to what you’ve already known in your life before and sticking to your background — “This is the way we do things.” But try to expand exposure with your interactions and your visits, wherever you will go, whoever you will meet, try to expand your views. 

And then also, as you are collaborating and working with other people, be honest and, yeah, make a trustworthy name that you’ll be the one to be called to all the time. If someone remembers you, then they’re able to call on you whenever they need, and that’s how you build your strong network and market yourself. 

Many people talk of, “Who do you know will help you succeed?” But I would put it, who knows you will help you succeed. Rather than who do you know, look towards who knows you. Whenever an opportunity comes, most of them are not advertised. But whoever knows you will call on you. So that comes back to network collaborating, working together, building integrity and trustworthy friendship.

VOICE-OVER: Thank you Eunice.

Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on the YALI Voices podcast. 

Join the YALI Network at yali.state.gov and be part of something bigger. 

Our theme music is “E Go Happen,” by Grace Jerry and produced by the Presidential Precinct. 

The YALI Voices podcast is brought to you by the U.S. Department of State and is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative Network, which is funded by the U.S. government.

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