Meet the Boss: Dr Betty Gikonyo, co-founder and CEO, Karen Hospital

From a very young age people start to demand what is not theirs, they start to expect payment for work they have not done and try to live a life out of money they have not earned. We as parents need to start arresting that from a very early age. We should go back to earlier teachings from church and school that by your sweat and your blood you shall eat. No more, no less.

7. Your future career plans?

I am actually easing off in terms of day-to-day management of the hospital. I have a very good succession plan. My deputy is in place and all things working out by June, I should be able to say there is someone who is running the show here. I want to develop the school programme. I want to leave a legacy of training the next generation of medical doctors. I feel the expansion of the hospital and satellite clinics can be handled by someone else as I focus more on medical training in a bigger way… like a university.

8. How do you relax?

I like travelling to my rural home. In my younger days I really loved gardening. I am a hands-on person. I also enjoy family gatherings. Our chairman always says you can “work rested” such that when other people think being at work at 9pm is stressful, you can work long hours because you love your job.

9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?

First and foremost, make sure that you get the knowledge and skills in the area that you are interested in. I would say that already exists among many youth. What should be addressed is how they can now go into business. One way they can do this is coming up with a project in a field they have a passion for. That passion is very important as a driving force so the first thing should be identifying where your passion is.

10. How can Africa realise its full potential?

History is important. We need to look at what has made other countries fully develop. Countries that have done really well are strong in manufacturing. We can never grow if all that we sell is manufactured elsewhere. At Karen Hospital we consume a lot of medicine, gloves… they need to be manufactured here. After all, we have the raw materials. The efforts to support young entrepreneurs should not be to encourage them to import more mitumba (second hand clothes) and bring in more Chinese goods. This value addition that is much talked about now needs to be actualised. I see Africa’s future growth in the continent’s ability to manufacture.

We should also believe in ourselves. [We should] believe that an African-made basket is good… then we will start to consume our own. The whole world is a consumer society, however, Africa consumes from outside a lot. I know we can’t be fully self-sufficient but we really need to believe in ‘made in Africa’. We should not assume that ‘made in Africa’ is poor quality. I am not saying that we should accept mediocrity. We should know that businesses have a learning curve and if we don’t give local entrepreneurs a chance, try out their product, critique them and give comments, how will they improve? We should be supportive of our own African initiatives. Africans should not be fighting each other. I am an optimist. I don’t think this is a mutant gene. We can deliberately decide that we want to support each other and accomplish that.

Dr Betty Gikonyo is the co-founder and CEO of the Karen Hospital, a Nairobi based 102-bed specialty hospital. Established in 2006, the Karen Hospital today has five satellite centres in different parts of Kenya. Recent expansion also includes the establishment of the Karen Hospital School of Nursing.

Gikonyo is a consultant paediatric cardiologist and co-founder of the Heart to Heart Foundation, a non-profit medical charity that funds curative services to children with heart ailments and raises awareness about preventing heart diseases in Kenya. Last year, she released her autobiography, The Girl Who Dared to Dream.