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Interview: Emma Miloyo on Changing the World One Action at a Time

Article by Timothy
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Posted: October 02, 2018

Trailblazing architect, Emma Miloyo’s life is marked with enormous achievement. Not only was she the first woman to graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology with a first-class honours degree in architecture, she also went on to become the first female president of the Architectural Association of Kenya, a position she holds to date.

To the 38-year-old Partner at Design Source, Top 40 under 40 2011 and 2018 Kenya winner, Eisenhower fellow, Director and co-founder of Kiota School, success is more than achieving goals; her lifelong ambition is to inspire young women and help them break the glass ceiling that has limited their success, especially in male-dominated fields.

She talks to Damaris Agweyu about her mission to change her immediate environment and, ultimately, the world.

Were you destined to be architect?
It looks like it. I’ve always been a creative person and my dream of getting into the industry took off in Kenya high school. My art teacher, Mr. Okanga, saw potential in me and encouraged me to follow this path. This dream was cemented during one particular event when I was in form 2- we had a group of professional women who came to give us career advice- I listened to this one fabulous lady talk about her career in architecture and decided, that’s it, that’s what I want to do. I went on to join the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to study architecture.

​A typically male dominated field.
Actually this idea had never occurred to me until I landed in university and saw that less than 10% of the population that was studying architecture was female.

​Really?
Yes! There is something about having gone to an all girls’ school that just doesn’t give room to these kinds of stereotypes- when you are in class, you don’t get the idea that boys are good at this and girls are good at that. In Kenya High, we were all girls and there were girls who were good at maths while others were good at English or Physics or Biology and so on. We did not have the burden of having to compare ourselves with boys.

Did you ever feel intimidated by all that testosterone in class?
No. I just got on with it.

And now, not only are you an architect but you’re also the president of the Architectural Association of Kenya- the first female one for that matter.
Yes, I wanted to go into leadership in my industry to be a change agent.

You were a woman on a mission.
I wouldn’t say that exactly. I never joined the association with the intention of becoming its president. I just wanted to influence things around me then found myself in a position where I saw I could lead so I went for it.

And broke the glass ceiling while you were at it…
And that’s important for me- I am a big champion of gender equality. I believe everybody needs to be given the chance to sit at the table and be a part of the conversation because in such cases, we all gain- men and women alike. Taking a leadership position meant I was making it easier for the next crop of women to get to next level. I wanted them to see that it is possible because sometimes people just need to see it so that they can believe it. You cannot underestimate the value of role modelling.

​Did you have a role model of your own?
My mum. She was a part time math teacher in Kenya High school and a lecturer at the Kenya Science College- one of the only 2 women out of 20 in their maths department. She was a strong woman, a go getter; seeing her in action made me believe there was nothing I couldn’t do.

Was it difficult to become the President of the association- as a woman?
I find that most of the time if you’re…

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