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Women in Climate Change 2 – Dr Kuthea Nguti

Dr Kuthea Nguti is a woman of many roles; she is a Marketing Consultant and a Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) researcher and trainer. She lectures in Marketing and Management at the Strathmore University Business School and is the Programme lead for their Master of Commerce Programme. She has a PhD in Marketing. Here she speaks to CCG’s Peter Allen.

How did you become involved in working with CCG?

I first got to know about CCG through the Strathmore Energy Research Centre where I was working as a gender equality and social inclusion consultant on some of the energy projects that they were running. When they held the first workshops for CCG Kenya, I got to meet and interact with some of the people who work within it, including Alycia Leonard who spoke to me about doing more research on gender equality within the energy sector and within climate change.

When the opportunity came, we applied for a grant together and were successful. So, this is the project we’re currently doing with Stephi Hirmer and a couple of other CCG team members.

It strikes me that Strathmore were very progressive in bringing someone like yourself in to look at gender equality.

It is a bit progressive as we don’t have many gender equality and social inclusion experts. When I was doing my PhD, my area of research was focussed toward gender equality and social inclusion and that led me into doing more research in that area. So when they were looking for someone in gender equality and social inclusion with experience in Kenya, I fit the bill and I was willing to do research in a different sector.

I’d done research looking at women in STEM, and the entrepreneurial training space but not in the energy sector so it was a bit of a leap. But a lot of the things in gender equality and social inclusion are actually quite transferable.

How did you come to be a specialist in GESI? What was your journey to that point?

I’m a marketer; I love marketing and always have. As I have been studying, one of the things that has grown within me is the feeling or conviction that marketing can be used for much more than making money or economic benefits.

One of the things that I chose to focus on when I was doing my doctoral studies was how marketing can be used to solve societal problems like poverty. I decided to look at gender equality, or rather women in STEM. This seemed to be a pipeline that was extremely leaky. We have all these affirmative action programmes where we are trying to get as many women as possible to do science and mathematics, but we go to the places where they’re meant to be working, and we still find that there’s a shortage of women there. Studies have shown that women tend to leave at different points.  They join the university, but only a handful of them graduate. Of those who graduate, not all of them end up working in that particular sector.  There is therefore still a shortage of women in STEM careers.

As I was doing my literature review, I realized that we don’t really have much literature from the women themselves telling us what it is that they’re going through, why it is that they’re making the choices that they’re making, what is their reality in STEM careers?  In marketing, one of the things we tend to focus on is the perspective of the customer and understanding how that perspective matters.  So I got into macrosocial marketing, which is essentially the use of marketing in solving societal problems.  That led me into gender equality and social inclusion, and I have not stopped since.

Where did your early enthusiasm come from and what first attracted you to marketing?

The creative aspect of it, the fact that every day of work would likely be different. Also, the fact that it mixes art and science. So, the art aspect would look different from situation to situation and the science part of figuring out how to sell a product. There’s some psychology in it and I find people fascinating; I’ve always wanted to know what makes people tick. 

My interest started in High School. My father worked in finance and so we got to talk a lot about the business world. He was trying to recruit me into the finance world but that did not sound interesting to me. He then told me a bit about marketing, and it sounded like a thing I’d want to do.

What is the current project about?

We’re focusing on entrepreneurs who are in the climate adaptation space. That’s people who have decided that they’re going to start businesses and sell products or provide services that somehow provide solutions related to climate change.

So, they’re either providing solar products or looking at waste management. Others are literally growing insects to deal with climate change. These entrepreneurs are coming up with solutions to deal with climate change.  From a marketing point of view, we suspected that their perspective would likely be different; also, studies have shown that entrepreneurs tend to really drive sustainability when it comes to development projects, and right now climate change is something that is being tackled globally.

So we wanted to ask: what are their perspectives? What are the opportunities that they see in the space? What are the challenges that they are pursuing and also just to know why they would choose to get into this particular space.

We are looking at entrepreneurs generally, not just female, and the data that we’re collecting so far is actually quite interesting.  It shows different kinds of motivations, different kinds of opportunities that people are seeing and different approaches to how they’re going about their businesses.

Have you managed to come across any entrepreneurs with a disability or other barriers to their social inclusion?

We are still in the middle of data analysis. We do not necessarily have entrepreneurs who have come out and told us that they are differently abled. However, several entrepreneurs are going about the creation of their businesses in an inclusive way to impact men and women and those who are vulnerable in society.  Some of the projects, for example, focus on the people who are particularly dealing with poverty, and they are ensuring that their businesses will provide employment or a source of income to help alleviate that particular condition.

In the UK, there are also very few start-ups created by people with disabilities but in some places there are programmes being set up to support them.  Does your study include neurodiversity by any chance? Often entrepreneurs have some form of it.

I think it is a factor for sure. However, in Kenya, we are still in the nascent stages of acknowledging that there is such a thing as neurodiversity. We only have a handful of people who can make the diagnosis, so we are at the stage of creating awareness.  It is a gap but it would be difficult for people to even know if they themselves are neurodiverse.

More broadly, why do you think GESI is important or relevant to working on climate change particularly?

I think that if we do embrace it, we are more likely to come up with better solutions. We all see the world differently and therefore the challenges that we perceive or even experience due to climate change, vary because of our different stations in life, because of our gender, because of our economic ability.

If we are inclusive, then it means that we will be able to deal with this huge “wicked problem” that is climate change from all angles. By hearing the different voices, we are effectively crowdsourcing the solutions. So we might be able to deal with this issue a bit faster and the solutions would likely be sustainable.  And if we were to look at inclusion based on gender solely, it doesn’t make sense to exclude 50% of the population in creating solutions and making decisions on climate change.

If someone asked, is there an economic reason to empower these previously disenfranchised groups?

I would say there is. If you look at the most vulnerable in society, the people who are poorest in society, they tend to be those people who are differently abled and they tend to be women, more often than not.  So, by empowering them economically, we are also solving some of the world’s other problems, such as gender-based violence. The truth of the matter is that this arises because of the disparity in power dynamics, and sometimes that is actually caused by economic situations. But when you empower the people who seem to be ‘dependent on’ others, then we are levelling the field. We are ensuring that they are able to stand up for themselves.

Is there an element to Gender Based Violence in which ‘powerful’ people think that the people they abuse do not do enough to support themselves and therefore only merit bad treatment?

I think to some extent there is a respect issue.  If you are not necessarily contributing in a particular situation, then you may be treated badly. Also, from the Kenyan situation or the African situation, I think sometimes it’s actually a cultural issue, meaning that there is a certain way people have been living and treating each other over time, because that is how they saw their parents or their grandparents treating each other.

And so sometimes to change the dynamics, you just need to change one thing and one of the main things in the African context is essentially in terms of how women contribute economically to society.  Women contribute a lot, especially when it comes to household labour, but that unfortunately doesn’t actually earn them an income.  But if they were to get paid, and in that way have an aspect of independence, that would change the dynamic in some way. There are certain things that need to change, but that’s not to say everything in our culture is bad, it is not.  There are certain beautiful things that we need to retain,

What would you say are the things that you want to retain in your in your society, in your culture?

One of the beautiful things is the sense of community that we have; you do not lead an isolated life. For example, when you have a child, everyone feels as though that child is theirs and so they take responsibility alongside you and they help you even in the initial stages of parenting, when things are very, very difficult. You can literally have someone take care of your child and treat them as their own.  There is love, respect and care, and that continues throughout your lifetime.

There are also benefits that come with the different groups that you would belong to.  For example, women gather together and walk with each other, so you are never really alone.  There’s such camaraderie and love.  Also, there’s a lot of accountability because of that; you can’t just live in a way that offends everyone, so that’s a way in which conflict is resolved and everyone is cared for, when it’s working well.

In the space in your head where climate change overlaps with marketing, what thoughts do you have?

This particular study is actually a beautiful example of that. Looking at these entrepreneurs and hearing them talk about their businesses, some of them have been approaching it as a social enterprise. One of the challenges that they keep talking about is, how do we find the balance between making a difference in society and making this a sustainable business venture?

Something I’ve seen from the businesses that seem to be doing well is that they have somehow found that sweet spot of having a customer-led business (understanding what people need) and providing their particular solution in a way that is sustainable in the long run. The solutions that are therefore provided by such entrepreneurs are likely to make a significant impact in enabling the society that they serve to effectively adapt to climate change.

With my marketing experience, I think that there are a lot of these entrepreneurs who could benefit from some marketing training but some of them could actually provide a master class in it because they are excellent instinctive marketers.

What advice would you offer women who are entering the workplace or trying to progress in it, when it is still so dominated by men?

This is my personal opinion, but it’s also based on the research that I did when I was looking at women in STEM, which is very male dominated: for the women who had stayed in that space for 20 plus years, many of them indicated that one of the things that helped them stay and succeed, was to be able to have a female role model or mentor who could help them see beyond their current challenges and help them navigate the particular space.

It’s also good to have peers who are going to remind you of your value and your ability and capability, because you will hear very many negative things.  So having fellow women who you’re intentionally working with and having men who are allies in your life, will help you in ensuring that you maintain your ‘why’ or your reason for doing what you’re doing.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and expertise with us, Kuthea.