The high levels of exposure to firewood and fuel leave women most affected by air pollution through cooking. Today we bring a woman who is fighting this effect through her work in clean cooking.
Hi Ketty, thank you for joining us today and for trusting us to do a good job with your story
Hi, Winnie! It is an honour to be invited here today. What you do is awesome.
Kindly introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Ketty Odero from Kenya. I am currently the Senior Research and Development Analyst for a clean cookstove company in Kenya, probably the largest in Africa, called BURN Manufacturing. My role involves research and development for clean cooking products, trying to give our consumers modern cookstoves that are cost-effective and efficient. We aim at reducing indoor air pollution for our customers. So I research our company’s products.
What you do doesn’t sound ordinary for an African child! How did you join the world of clean energy?
I come from the western part of Kenya, which is a very hot area around Lake Victoria. You know how it is while growing up; we always think of becoming Surgeons, Medical Doctors, Engineers,…haha. It’s either what your parents want you to become or what you have seen people around you become.
Going through primary, I was a very bright student! Growing up as a daughter of a Teacher left me with not so many options other than taking extra classes after school. My father helped me very much when it came to mathematics, numbers, and calculations. This increased my passion for the subject, hence my good performance during my national primary examinations.
I joined a national school for my high school and continued performing well in my science subjects. Joining university, I wanted to study engineering but my points didn’t allow me to do that. So I was redirected to Analytical Chemistry for my first degree. This is where I was introduced to environmental-related courses here and there and I happened to enjoy them.
After my bachelor’s degree, I was looking for companies that could allow me to make an impact on people’s lives. I didn’t want to follow my chemistry path because that would keep me in a laboratory, far away from people. When I got an opportunity to do an internship at BURN, I took it with everything in me. I had no idea about what clean cooking was but the fact that they were making an impact, I was happy to join. You know we are used to having stoves produced by local artisans. So, finding a whole manufacturing plant dealing in stoves for clean cooking was mind-blowing to me.
BURN is an American company but everything done is for Africa, by Africans. The company is full of people who are passionate about improving people’s lives. The fact that I get an opportunity to make my contribution through this company is rewarding to me.
This being a novel field in Africa, what has been your most challenging period?
The biggest challenge is mentorship! As you mentioned, this is a new field for us Africans, so, finding people to guide you on this journey is hard at the moment. The situation gets worse with us women; we most times find no other women in meetings and other important gatherings. Another example is the age group. My company is mainly filled with youths, so finding a young colleague who has experience in clean cooking is almost impossible.
Another thing is that when you are working in a male-dominated field, you have to be able to have a voice and make sure that it is heard. People keep assuming that there are some things you can’t do because of your gender.
My other challenge was finding my foot in the clean cooking sector. This was my very first job out of school. The beginning was not so easy but I later got the grip of everything.
The beginning of your career was very sketchy; what helped you to not give up at that time?
It was indeed very sketchy but it came with motivation as well. My biggest inspiration was knowing that what I was working on would impact women’s lives mostly. You know in Africa it’s mainly women who do the cooking. So helping them have better ways of doing the cooking is a good improvement in their lives. The time that was initially allocated to fetching firewood can now be used to read books and study. Every time I wake up, I know I am going to contribute to something that’s going to make a woman’s life better. That’s my biggest inspiration; that’s why I never gave up.
My other reason is to be able to pay the bills, the money factor in it, haha. Yes, I want to be successful. I have been brought up by successful, strong women; people who never gave up on life despite the challenges they faced. That’s exactly how I want to be too. I also want to be a figure of reference for young girls because of the impact I will have created through my work.
Let’s talk about your prestigious moments along this journey
I have received some recognition, like, my recent employer of the month recognition at work, as a result of my research about the products we sell. I was able to remotely organize this research with the commercial team in Senegal. Also, the programs – durability programs – that I run contributed to the recognition. Through these programs, we monitor the lives and durability of our stoves because we don’t want to deliver substandard products to our customers.
I was also privileged to join the Women in Clean Cooking mentorship program. I have been immensely impacted in various ways through this program.
Who are you outside work?
You will find me on trails, I love nature and hiking. My other pastime nowadays is to meet with my friends have fun and just discuss the good and the bad in our jobs and life in general.
Since COVID I have been a homebody, mostly reading books, articles, and blogs. I read a lot from climate change, fashion trends to finance, which helps me in my financial discipline haha. I also love reading articles and watching videos on agriculture, I think maybe I will be a farmer, one never knows. For books, my current one is Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which I feel I have spent a lifetime reading but hope will finish soon.
I also partake in economic empowerment for the youth through Invest Young Initiative which I co-founded and am the coordinator of the savings and loan disbursement platform. We aim to foster a savings and investment culture among the youth for financial independence. At this rate, I think I should be in finance. That sums up my out-of-work activities, after all, they say “all work without play makes Jack a dull boy”.
What’s your favorite quote?
I have many but if I were to pick one that would be from Maya Angelou, I know why the Caged Bird Sing, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”.
What is your word of encouragement for a young girl in STEM?
To never give up but also understand that life has challenges and is not always linear. To be able to understand that to achieve our dreams, one needs perseverance, discipline. I also think coming out of one’s comfort zone and putting oneself out there. Finally, quoting from Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.
Thank you, Ketty, for sharing part of your life with us and the entire world. You are one of the people doing noble things for the good of our home – earth. May you continue winning at this!
Wow, Ketty this is mind blowing. Fantastic piece.