PROFILE: Wavi Mungala redefining her career through integrity, tenacity
By Patience Nyange
Wavi Mungala has over 15 years of experience across the hospitality, banking and public sectors in Kenya and the U.S.
She is currently the Head of Corporate Communication & Customer Experience at the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB).
Wavi is also a certified customer journey architect, PRSK member and an active member of the Institute of Customer Experience – Kenya.
She loves sunflowers, and she’s a book lover: reads at least 30 books a year. Challenge accepted.
Well, I met Wavi in my frustrations while looking for my HELB clearance certificate as a government requirement for a public service job.
In one of those devolution conferences, I went to the HELB desk and found an officer that I knew too well, so I asked: “Would you please assist me with contacts of one of the Comms persons at HELB?”
They gave me Wavi’s number. The following week, I reached out to Wavi explained my ordeal and said I was completely tired of looking for my clearance certificate.
In two days time, I had my certificate and a copy on my email. Talk about excellent customer service! Many of us have tales to tell about how hard it was before and how long it took to get HELB certificates. But not anymore. A lot has changed.
Wavi and I kept in touch, and when we finally met in person, some months later, it was love at first sight, so to speak.
We spoke and shared a lot, told her about the various communication platforms that excited and I informed her that I was happy to have her added to those groups.
She became a useful resource, and since then, she has helped 1001 people with queries on HELB.
Thanks Wavi. I am a witness that many people are impressed with your excellent customer service experience, and I take note of the beautiful sentiments after people interact with you, especially strangers.
You have genuinely transformed HELB into a more friendlier environment and made it so easy for Kenyans to access HELB services. Here are a few questions we posed to her during an interview.
What has it taken to transform HELB into what it is today? Please take us through your career journey.
Growing up, I was always fascinated by the hospitality industry, and I remember telling my folks that one day I want to work in big hotels like Serena and Sarova.
My folks have always encouraged us to do what we are passionate about as long as we excel in it. That is how I ended up with a BSc. Hotel Management from United States International University.
At USIU, I graduated top of my class with Magna Cum Laude honors. I then got an internship opportunity in the U.S. through the American Hospitality Academy and worked with the Hilton Hotels before I transitioned to the Marriott Hotels for about 5 years.
As I worked, I also studied for my MSc. Operations Management at the Friends University, KS. When I came back to Kenya from the U.S. in February 2008, it was right after the post-election violence and the hotel industry was in the doldrums due to travel advisories.
I was faced with my first career crossroads because the hospitality industry was not hiring. Matter of fact was that a lot of hotels were closed!
One day in July of 2008, as I was flipping through the newspaper, I saw a full-page advert by KCB Bank for Management Trainees.
I paused and read it over a couple of times and then asked myself; what would I lose by applying? So, I took a risk, repackaged myself and how my skill set would add value and applied for a management trainee at KCB Bank.
In my 7 years at the Bank, I worked as a Brand Marketing Manager in the Marketing Division, Customer Service Manager at the largest branch in the Retail Banking Division and Retail Service Experience Manager overseeing over 200 branches in the Customer Experience Division.
My learning curve was quite steep in the first 2 years at the bank but I was determined to go the extra mile to put in the extra hours and learn. I was also deliberate to transition to a new role every 2 years.
My experience at KCB allowed me to truly grow my brand marketing, retail banking, contact centre and customer experience skills.
As 2014 drew to a close, I started mulling over the idea of exploring my options the following year to transition to a different sector. I signed up for the Program for Management Development at the Strathmore Business School to expand my leadership skills and grow my networks.
My parents having been career civil servants, I was open to Public Service. That is how I ended up at my current job as Head of Corporate Communication and Customer Experience at the Higher Education Loans Board from October 2015.
When I joined HELB, I was tasked with setting up a new department, introducing and operationalizing a modern contact centre, and consolidating service delivery between our staff at HELB desks at the Huduma Centres and Head Office and run media and marketing campaigns to drive loan uptake and loan repayment.
I now lead a team of over 75 staff and have championed citizen service delivery with various awards as a testament to the transformation of HELB Customer Experience.
Whilst there is always room for improvement, I am immensely proud of the progress we have achieved in improving service delivery at HELB.
This is in line with our promise of empowering dreams of Kenyan youth who without HELB, would not have an opportunity to pursue higher education with the dignity they deserve.
What are some key lessons you’ve learnt in your career journey that have remained relevant and applicable to date?
One of my favourite quotes is by Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.” There is a tendency to focus on New Year goals that are typically unachievable.
In 2008, I chose to work with 5-year plans for my career where I would challenge myself to learn a whole new skill set and possibly even in a different sector, where possible, and seek relevant certification in addition to on-the-job experience.
My key lessons therefore are:
- Your career is your responsibility, do not look to your boss or HR to map your career path. That is a recipe for frustration and epic disappointment. You need to be alive to the fact that as long as your employer has paid your dues as per what you signed on the dotted line; then they owe you nothing else!
- Deliberately cultivate a learning spirit and be willing to take risks [especially when younger] to try out new roles and careers. It will challenge you and keep work exciting.
- In 2013, my former boss Micheu Njiru (the current Director of Customer Experience at KCB Bank) introduced me to Top of Mind Awareness [TOMA]. A simple but powerful reminder that whatever projects you run, whatever initiatives you introduce or operationalize, there must be at least one  or two  every single year that must be significant and impactful to the point that it gives you TOMA and is worth including in your career profile. I still subscribe to that to-date.
- Deliberately work on identifying and cultivating your relevant transferrable skills. This will help transition in the event of depression in a specific sector or with the necessary lateral industry moves that allow for growth trajectories. I now have solid Brand Marketing skills, PR & Communication skills in addition to my Customer Experience foundational skills. In the next couple of years, I plan to learn about Citizenship & Sustainability affairs.
What do you consider to be some of your significant achievements in your career journey, and what are the events around them?
My recent major achievements are: (1) My role in transforming HELB Communication and Customer Experience worthy of awards as follows:
Best in Reputation & Crisis Management [PRSK Awards, 2019]; Digital Brand of the Year for the #TwendeTulipeHELB Campaign [Digital Media Awards, 2019]; Best Communication Strategy [Institute of Customer Experience Kenya – Customer Service Week Awards, 2016 & 2017] and Best Brand in the Public Sector [Social Media Awards – SOMA, 2016].
Secondly, participation in Committees and Panels such as the 2018 and 2019 Zuri Awards; the 2020 Integrated Marketing Committee for the Kenya Export Promotion & Branding Council and most recently as a member of the PRSK Crisis Communication Committee.
As a senior management woman where your contribution makes a difference in decision making, what does this role mean for you, especially for other women and younger girls watching you?
When I look back at my career, I have had a balance of both male and female bosses. Some of whom were instrumental in shaping my view of work and what it takes to succeed.
At the beginning of my career, the focus was to understand what was expected of me, go above and beyond and execute with military precision. As I got into management at the age of 26, I had to begin to transition towards fostering winning teams.
The balance between team performance management and motivation is crucial because only then would I be able to grow in my career.
As I got into senior management in my mid 30s, the focus moved from operational to strategic outlook while still ensuring that the approved strategy is operationalized through the team that I lead.
Therefore, even in a Communication & Customer Experience role, I must be able to speak the language of business at senior management and board meetings and add tangible value in the achievement of organizational goals and targets.
If you were to choose two values that are most important to you that you live by and that shape the way you work and live, what would they be and why?
Integrity and tenacity. When I told my dad that I would be joining public service, he sat me down and gave me some advice about having retired as a senior civil servant.
He reminded me not to be greedy, to always be grateful for what I got remunerated and serve with integrity as this would give me peace of mind even when temptations or false accusations came my way.
Tenacity is defined as ‘persistent determination.’ As a tenacious person, I commit to three things: (1) I take personal responsibility for my success and will put in the effort required to succeed; (2) I set stretch goals, and then do whatever it takes to achieve them; (3) In life, I appreciate that stuff happens and I acknowledge that I will encounter problems and setbacks along the way.
Out of curiosity, we asked, what are you known for being great at? How do others describe you?
Professionally, I am known for my leadership, organizational and execution skills as well as fostering winning teams.
I am a big believer in giving audiences the right information in a clear and timely manner. I am also inclined to seek solutions to move forward in positive ways.
I am especially keen to provide as best a working environment as I can for my teams, and that is why I championed for mother’s rooms at HELB in 2018 to allow for lactating mothers to express, safely store their milk and remain productive at work.
My friends and family will tell you that I am fun, loyal and dependable.
The writer, Patience Nyange, is a journalist and a Chevening Scholar alumnus from Cardiff University. She previously served as an Assistant Director at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).