Dr. William Otiende Ogara is the executive director of consultancy and research at CORAT Africa. He also serves as a non-executive board member of the Central Bank of Kenya and is an author of several books on organizational development and leadership. He talks to EDNA GICOVI about his humble upbringing, exceptional career and love for family life.
Dr. William Ogara Otiende is a lesson in humility. He warmly welcomed me to the spacious lounge at the United Kenya Club in Nairobi where this interview took place. He took time to find out how I was doing and insisted that I should have a biting before embarking on the interview. These were not gestures I expected from such a busy man. I expected we would quickly get on with the business that had brought us here, but Dr. Otiende was calm and unhurried. He spoke slowly and deliberately, with a ready answer for every question I posed.
Born 56 years ago in a strict Christian family, William is the second of nine children. He grew up in Bondo in Siaya County, not too far from the shores of Lake Victoria. His mother was a fishmonger and his father a missionary.
Initially, his family lived in Uganda, where his father had started an Anglican congregation under a tree. This later became a primary school. After some years, the family returned to Kenya after having spent some time looking for financial support to educate him and his siblings. When William turned seven, he returned to Kenya and was initially brought up by his elderly grandmother, whose role in his life he appreciates to date. William treasures those moments with his grandmother. “She nurtured in me values that continue to guide me to this day. We didn’t have much and lived a very simple life and this taught me to appreciate every gift in life,” says William. His mother is still alive and well and continues to play an active role in the church. His father however passed away 12 years ago after battling prostate cancer. William and his family have since committed themselves to putting up the Paulo Foundation to continue the ideals that his father stood for.
William didn’t perform well at his final primary school examination and missed joining a national school. He joined Nyangoma Secondary, a community secondary school. He worked very hard to emerge with excellent grades at the fourth form exams and gained admission to the prestigious Maseno High School for his ‘A’ levels. Maseno High School made William the scholar and leader he is today. “The school built my confidence and nurtured me to be a leader. I was a dormitory prefect, a revered position at the time, in addition to being a library prefect and secretary of the Christian Union,” he says.
After excellent grades at ‘A’ levels, he was admitted to the University of Nairobi in 1977 where he pursued a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting. He continued to further his education after graduating from the University of Nairobi. He did an MBA in Strategic Management at the Brunel University, UK, graduating in 1995, and a PhD in Organizational Change and Renewal at the La Salle University, USA, graduating in 1998.
A remarkable career…
He worked in auditing for 10 years before going into consultancy. He started out at Coopers and Lybrand, now PricewaterhouseCoopers, from where he earned his professional qualifications as a Certified Public Accountant. He worked at Coopers as an auditor for three years before moving to Carr Stanyer Sims and Co where he worked as an audit manager for eight years then moved on.
He joined Christian Organizations Research and Advisory Trust (CORAT) for Africa, a Pan-African not-for-profit Christian Organization that seeks to enable churches and church-related organizations in Africa improve their leadership, management and accountability capabilities in a Christian and professional way. He has worked with CORAT for a number of years, starting out as a finance and management consultant, and then later on becoming executive director in charge of consultancy and research, a position he holds to date.
He is currently responsible for a portfolio of research and consultancy assignments in Africa that include accompanying NGOs through processes of change and renewal, leadership development and facilitating consultations with the organization’s partners.
A specialist in organizational development, William has wide exposure and experience in both financial and human resource management for NGOs, the private sector and faith-based organizations. He has facilitated many workshops, projects and strategic plans for several national and international organizations. He has close to 22 years of experience in facilitating sessions on strategic planning, executive mentoring and coaching support for both young and seasoned leaders.
“I believe in renewal,” says William. “It’s partly why I did my doctorate in organizational renewal. I believe that any organization worth its salt must learn to renew and reinvent itself. This applies also to families and individuals. Renewal does not come on it’s own. God is the one who renews us,” he says, quoting one of his favourite Bible verses Isaiah 43:19: “See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
In 2006, William received a presidential appointment as a non-executive director of the Central Bank of Kenya Board where he also served as the chair of the Audit and Risk Committee of the bank, a position he held until September 2011. He was reappointed for a second term in March 2011. “It was a great honour and I was greatly humbled by the appointment. I appreciate and thank God for it,” he says. He is also the Honorary Treasurer and Strategy Advisor to the Anglican Church of Kenya and has until recently continued to provide his expertise on volunteer basis on two boards of international development agencies in Canada and the USA.
William has authored several publications in different disciplines. His most recent is Succession Management – A Beacon for Learning Organizations, published in 2010. His other works include Youth and Leadership – An Intentional Listening Process and Reinventing Volunteerism – Scaling up Churches Role in Development.
“My interactions and exposure have imbued me with confidence in several areas and I have learned the value of humility and professionalism in my work. I have also learnt not to accept mediocrity in any area of my life,” says William. He has traveled to over 56 countries in the course of his work and has learnt to love and appreciate his country, Kenya, which he says is endowed with so much and has great potential.
William values the youth and strongly believes in nurturing and building the younger generation, an ideal he discusses at length in his book Succession Management – A Beacon for Learning Organizations. He believes that leadership is a shared responsibility and not a monopoly of one group.
“We have to nurture and grow the young generation. On the other hand, we cannot push the elders away. We have to grow and nurture them as well but also remind them that they need to nurture others so that leadership is shared,” he says. He continues to be actively involved in mentoring and coaching the younger generation both professionally and socially, including at his church.
Marriage is enjoyable…
William met Anna in 1977 when they were students at the University of Nairobi. Anna was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education. “When I first saw her, my heart skipped a beat. She is a beautiful woman,” he says smiling. They got married in 1982.
“Marriage is still enjoyable,” he says. The couple celebrated their 30th marriage anniversary in April 2012. “My wife has played a key role in my life, being always loving and supportive. She’s been such a blessing in my life. I don’t think I’d be where I am if it wasn’t for her being there for me. Many people joke that whenever they see her, they see me. We’re always together and still enjoy each others’ company very much,” he says of his wife.
William also says their marriage has remained strong because he and his wife recognise God as the centre of their marriage. “During our first session of premarital counseling before we got married, a priest demonstrated this by drawing a triangle, whose apex was God. He told us that the more we moved towards Christ, the more we would move towards each other. When we put Christ at the centre of our marriage, other things fall into place,” he says. He has continued to see the wise words of the priest in action for the time he and his wife have been together.
Forgiveness is another thing that has strengthened their union. “I sometimes wrong Anna and she also does the same but we both recognize we need each other and so we live a life of forgiveness,” he says, adding that being there for each other during low moments has also brought them much closer. “In summary, the centrality of Christ in our marriage, living a life of forgiveness and the losses we have both experienced and gone through together, are among the key things that have kept us together,” he says.
William and Anna have four children – Josephine, Noah, David and Lynda – all young adults. The children have given themselves to serving God in various ways, with Noah and David taking a leading role in the popular Adawnage Band. Their oldest daughter Josephine is happily married while their youngest Lynda is at the university. William drew a lot of his lessons on parenting from his own parents. He says his parents were both very loving but never hesitated to discipline him and his siblings as they grew up. He believes this discipline went a long way in moulding him into who he is today. Nevertheless, he recognised the fact that he could not employ the exact methods on his own children as times and circumstances were different.
He admits that there are things he and his wife could have done differently as their own children grew up but is nonetheless proud of the outstanding individuals they have all grown to be. “As our children grew up, we instilled in them important values including generosity, humility, integrity and hard work. We revisit these lessons now and then, even now that they are grown up. We learnt these values from our own parents and believe that they are a heritage our children can carry into their own families,” he says
An exemplary family man, William tries his best not to spend a lot of time away from his family in the midst of his many travels and busy schedule. “I find it difficult to be away from them,” he says. Even when he travels, he makes up for his time away and ensures that he regularly spends quality time with them, something he finds very enriching. He understands the importance of nurturing relationships and says that relationships do not grow by default. “We have to be very deliberate in our relationships. They need to be cherished and worked on continuously,” he says in conclusion.
Published on March 2013