Serving Kenya’s first lady means changing lives
As director of communications and head of press for Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, the first lady of Kenya, Vivianne Ngugi ’85 never has a typical day. Ngugi might find herself planning an event, writing impact stories for the media, or even training for a marathon. But it’s the chance to change lives that she loves most.
Her position allows Ngugi to work closely on Kenyatta’s Beyond Zero initiative, which is guided by the fundamental belief that no woman will die while giving birth.
“The first lady’s Beyond Zero initiative is about improving the health and wellbeing of mothers and children,” Ngugi explains. The initiative is addressing issues such as reproductive health, maternal and child mortality, noncommunicable diseases, early child marriage, and female genital mutilation.
In January 2020, Ngugi planned and implemented the fifth edition of the Beyond Medical Safari, which is the anchor activity of Beyond Zero.
“The safaris offer free medical services to marginalized and vulnerable communities around the country,” Ngugi explains. “This event coincided with the global elimination of cervical cancer month and saw thousands of women and girls get screened for prevention and early testing of cervical cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in Kenya.”
Ngugi was recently recognized for her exemplary public service when she received the Kenyan presidential award Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear.
Her work requires her to be nimble and expect the unexpected.
“My job requires a mixed set of competencies, professionalism, maturity, as well as many doses of humility,” she says. “This even includes training for marathons!” Each year on International Women’s Day, First Lady Kenyatta hosts and runs at her Beyond Zero Half Marathon in Nairobi.
“The first lady of Kenya is the only first lady in the world who has run the London Marathon,” Ngugi says. Months ago, Ngugi began training alongside Kenyatta for the fifth edition of the marathon, held on March 8.
Although she didn’t expect marathon training to be part of her career, Ngugi always intended to have a career in public service. As an international and global studies major at Ohio Wesleyan, she thought her future career would focus on diplomacy and international relations.
“I think being exposed to multicultural living and learning gives anyone an edge,” she says of her time at OWU.
After graduating, Ngugi completed foreign service diplomat training, still intending to pursue a career in international relations. “But somehow I ended up working in communications, which I think is an essential skillset for any career,” she says.
After a variety of public and private sector jobs, Ngugi served as the head of communications for the regional office of Canada’s International Development Research Centre.
“It was a really interesting job that brought me full circle back into public service. The different professional roles for me became the building blocks that I apply in my current job.”
By Ericka Kurtz