I got to know Anne through her sister Grace, who is another strong woman in STEM. Here is our interview about her scientific journey:
Nice to have you onboard Anne. Please give us your full name.
This is interesting. Ha ha ha. I grew up being called Anna Akoth. My childhood friends still call me Anna and so do some of my siblings. My primary school Leaving certificate bears the names Anna Akoth Atieno – Atieno being my surname. Then I went to high school and decided I’ll be called Anne without consulting anyone. Ha ha ha ha. I think this was adolescence at work. Ha ha ha (sorry, I laugh too much). I also realized that dad’s death certificate had Misere as his name and not Atieno. Some of my siblings were still using Atieno but I chose to go with Misere. So I became Anne Akoth Misere. Later on, I stumbled on my birth certificate and it read “Hannah Akoth!”. So at birth my mum named me Hannah, people decided to be calling me Anna, and I named myself Anne. The only constant in my name has been Akoth. Anyway, the Government of Kenya knows me as Anne Akoth Misere.
We shall call you Anne *smile*. What is your current occupation?
Since July 2013 I have been working as a management consultant. Previously I worked for a German consulting company as a Business Analyst, then four years later I moved to advisory services practice with one of the Big 4 Audit firms in the world, Ernst & Young LLP (EY) as a Senior Consultant. In EY I work within a sub-service line called Performance Improvement (PI). PI basically helps organizations solve challenges and issues that are prevalent as businesses seek to transform themselves in the digital age. We work with organizations to reimagine or transform their business purpose and model; create growth; manage cost and efficiency; respond to market pressures and regulation; and resolve operational challenges. My focus is on Strategy and Customer. Aside from work I’m a full-time wife and mother.
How has your life journey been like so far?
I grew up in rural Kenya; an area called Kathomo in Siaya County. I went to a village primary school called Apuoyo Primary School. I loved school, I was always a top student. After primary school, I went to high school (a full story in between that I will talk about later on) at Ng’iya Girls High School, one of the best schools in the region. I did very well and was admitted to Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya to pursue a Bachelors’ degree under the Government Sponsored program. That meant going through the four years of college with the help of a loan from the government, Higher Education Loans Board (HELB). I hear some people refuse to pay back this loan even when they can afford it and my heart bleeds. Winnie for some of us, without this loan we would have never stepped into the gates of a university. Anyway, that was that. I did a Bachelor of Education degree; Physics major and Mathematics minor. Again, I did very well and graduated with a First-Class Honours in December 2011. By this time I had gotten hired as a high school teacher at Maseno School to teach Physics and Mathematics.
A year before, my sister’s friend, Nancy Odhiambo, had gotten a scholarship to go to African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) for a post graduate program in Mathematical Sciences. So when AIMS opened its application for new students, she sent the opportunity to us, my sister (Grace) and I applied and as fate would have it, we both got in. Grace was admitted at AIMS campus in Ghana and I went to South Africa. So we both graduated with MSc. Mathematical Sciences in 2013 from AIMS. I was a bit conflicted at the time and was not sure whether to go on and pursue a PhD or come back home and look for a job after graduating. My then boyfriend, now my husband, had said, “you know what, in the last months of the program, apply for both, get the opportunities then you’ll decide once you’ve seen the options you have”. I applied for both scholarships and jobs. By the end of June 2013 I had 2 options: either do another master’s degree in physics on a scholarship in South Africa or take up a 6-month internship opportunity as a Business Analyst with the German company I mentioned earlier. I chose the internship, came back home, started working. After the six months, they gave me a two-year contract that was renewed for another two years. Four years later I moved to my current employer.
Last year, 2019 in December I graduated with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Nairobi. My sister, Grace, thinks that I’m very daring having switched from STEM to business, ha ha ha ha. But I normally say that if someone can excel in Mathematics or the physical sciences, they can excel in anything they put their heart and mind to. Today, I see myself as a mathematician who morphed into a management consultant. Ha ha ha. Now I’m at a point where I’m looking at marrying Mathematics and Business and I see Business Analytics as a sweet spot. I consider myself fortunate enough to have experienced the best of both the world of Mathematics and that of Business.
Let’s talk about the challenges you have faced.
My biggest challenge back in the village was growing up as an orphan. My dad died when I was 10 years old, and 2 years later mum followed. When mum died, life completely changed. I was in Grade 7, one year away from finishing primary school. Life was hard. We joke with my siblings that we literally raised each other up. That we were never raised up, but we grew up. You go through life, make your own mistakes, fall, dust yourself up and continue with life. Funny enough, we never considered ours as suffering, it was life and so we never paid much attention to the suffering. We were poor but very happy because at least we had each other.
After finishing primary school, we could not raise school fees for me to go to high school. I stayed home while my peers went to school. My late brother proposed that I could go do a tailoring course in a polytechnic. This was to be paid for by the District Education Office because I was the best girl in the division I think. I was open to it, it was better than staying at home. One day I received information from one of my primary school teachers (Mr. PJ, God bless him) that they had seen an advert on one of the local newspapers of an organisation that was giving high school scholarships to bright and needy students and that I should apply. The following day, I was in my former primary school, applying for Jomo Kenyatta Foundation (JKF) Scholarship. Months later, I received information through our village elder that the scholarship had gone through (I’m sure you are already judging the level of advancement in my village, ha ha ha). The following week, I reported to Form 1, with nothing else but hope for a better tomorrow. It helped that my sister, Grace, was in the same school and was a top student. The school principal accepted me without even all the admission requirements. I reported to school 5 months later after my peers had started. It was very tough but Grace held my hand. As other Form 1s were going to bed at night, I would go to Grace’s class to study for additional 2-3 hours in order to catch up. Despite her own demanding class work, Grace coached me until I was comfortable with nearly all the subjects especially Maths and the sciences. For the subjects she wasn’t comfortable with, she talked to her friends who were good at them and they taught me. The extra effort paid off – one year later, I was at the top of my class and there was no looking back.
We would be in school without even the basic of necessities like sanitary pads, leave alone pocket money. But nobody could tell. We were contented with whatever little our late brother and later our elder sisters, Christabel and Alice, could manage to get to keep us in school. Good thing, school fees was taken care of, JKF paid for my school fees for the four years. Grace had also gotten support from another organization.
Reality of finishing high school scared me, it would mean going back to the village. The nearly two years I had to wait before going to campus were not rosy either. I contemplated getting married off to try and “run” away from poverty. Ha ha ha. I did teach in a local high school earning about $25 a month to make a living, I sold grocery in the market, I sold illicit brew (chang’aa) to put food on the table. I talk about these things and I’m not ashamed of any of them because they made me who I am. Today, I look back and I see God. I see my life as having been shaped by God, Education and Discipline.
The challenges I face now as an adult, I don’t see them as challenges but rather as blessings. When I was doing my MBA I was juggling being a mother, wife, student and also a full-time employee. It has not been easy, but it helps that I have a very supportive and involved husband. When I feel I’m not being a good mother, he steps in and says he is an equal parent and that him and the children should never be an excuse for me to not pursue my dreams. He is the most selfless person I know. In 2016 I was away for a whole month for work and he stayed with our daughter who was 13 months then. Last year I had gotten a chance with our company to go for a one-week training in South Africa. Around that time, baby had been unwell and we were admitted for one week in hospital. I wanted to decline the offer on grounds of the baby’s sickness and, Winnie, he forced me to take it up and he remained with a nine-month old baby. Balancing career and family without this kind of support as a woman is hard.
Wooow! That’s A LOT! God bless your husband.
How about your daily inspirations?
Different things have inspired me at different stages of my life. First my past inspires me. I know if you were me, you wouldn’t want to go back to where I came from. Second are the people who believe in me, when you are constantly told you are the best, you don’t want to disappoint these people. I have friends and younger people who deeply believe in me. My husband for instance believes that I’m a superwoman. Ha ha ha. He believes there is nothing I can’t do. And that inspires me. I also get inspiration from my children. I want them to have a better life than the one I had. They also inspire me to be the best version of myself. I can’t do something I would never want my children to do in future.
You must have had some awards and achievements along the way;
I hope you have been able to pick some of my awards and achievements in my story above. Ha ha ha. First, the JKF scholarship was a big win for me – it literally changed my life. In the University I was ranked the best student for the four years cumulatively and on the graduation day, I addressed the congregation. They gave me a certificate, I tried following up for a scholarship but that never came. Ha ha ha. While teaching at Maseno School, at some point I was recognised as the teacher of the term by the school principal because of my dedication to the students. I think part of this was because I know what education can do to someone’s life. I honestly gave the students my all. I’m working on something around education that is not ready to be shared out yet, but hey, watch this space. Ha ha ha. I’m a strong believer in education. Then came the AIMS scholarship in 2012. Now that you asked, I think I should be more intentional and pursue additional awards and make this list longer. Ha ha ha
Who is Anne outside work?
I love music. Music helps me to unwind. I use music in the background when I need to cancel all outside noise and focus on something. Also, I’m an indoor person. That comes with doing things just around my house. I consider myself a home maker by birth. I love home making and all activities that come with it. Over the weekends you’ll find me trying out a new recipe, organizing, decorating, sewing, cleaning etc.
A quote or word of encouragement maybe?
Wah! This is a tough one. My advice to people out there is that first whatever you do, give it your all. Of course God is watching but you never know who else is watching and the kind of doors what you do could open for you. Two, treat people well, people are the angels God put on your path to help you reach your destiny. Lastly, people should be open minded. When opportunities come, just grab them and figure out later. In consulting we say when a client asks if you can do something, say yes then go and figure it out. I think this also applies to life. Ha ha ha ha
Thank you very much Anne for taking your time to do this and for being so open about your life.