“I embraced my wings and continued to soar, to explore and experience the skies, between the shrouds of life,” Ms. Evalin Karijo.

Meet our Mountain Bird; Y-ACT Director’s leadership journey, love for rugged nature and winning the Top35Under35 Award.

An attempt to describe Ms. Evalin Karijo in one word would simply be a futile effort, for none could adequately describe the force that she is. But what we do know for sure, is that she is a brilliant leader, a trailblazer and a shining light for young people. She is also a thrill seeker who enjoys living on the edge. She jokingly offers that this could be what fuels her passion for mountain climbing and appreciation for the ruggedness of nature. Ms. Evalin is no stranger to beating the odds, having recently joined the elite few who can claim to have reached the summit of the daunting Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Thus, it is no surprise that she bagged the highly coveted Top 35 Under 35, Youth of the Year Award in the Health Services and Projects Category unveiled during the Presidential celebrations of the recent International Youth Day. Ms. Karijo is recognized for exemplifying youth leadership in the country, steering Y-ACT’s youth-led movement to becoming one of the most influential movements of youth-led advocacy in Kenya since its inception in 2017.

Ms. Evalin maintains that her journey did not start out as youth leadership, seeing as her first management role had nothing to do with being a youth leader. She landed her first leadership stint when her boss took a brief study leave and she’s never looked back since, leading complex health projects focusing on women, adolescents and children. Coincidentally, the concept of youth leadership came to life for her when she joined Y-ACT, the youth-focused initiative of Amref Health Africa as the Project Director.

While she credits self-awareness to her exponential career development, she has faced scepticism from others who wondered how she’s achieved so much in such little time. The feeling of being the odd one out is definitely not uncommon to her, seeing as she has borne the weight of representing the youth demographic, the perception of whom would be contributed to by her failure or success. To counter that, she worked extremely hard, and succeeded. Further, she has had to deal with societal expectations of what the trajectory of a woman’s life should look like, with some believing that she moved up the career ladder too fast. Being the first of many is also a hill to climb on its own, but Ms. Evalin views it as an opportunity to prove to young people that they can achieve anything they set out to do.

Ms. Karijo who has led multiple teams simultaneously attributes her success in leadership to the ability to lead with humility and to accommodate the differences among her team members to bring out the very best in them.  She believes that there is no formula for youth leadership, and maintains that there is power in appreciating that everyone’s journey is different. She envisions a future where the perception of youth leadership changes, where their leadership is fully embraced, and young people are acknowledged for their ingenuity and capabilities outside of their age. This will be achieved by appreciating the value of young people in driving economies, technology, innovation and education without tokenistic appointments, which will in turn empower them to take up roles at key decision-making levels. This will no doubt inspire other young people to move beyond the current norms and barriers, allowing them to take up their rightful place in society.

She has always been driven by her desire to excel and to try out things beyond her domain and has been known to take up new and unfamiliar roles in the pursuit of excellence. Interesting to note is that Ms. Evalin (and her identical twin sister) were once performing artists at the Kenyatta University Travelling Theatre; specifically, dancers. This instilled within her discipline and endurance, seeing as she did this purely for the passion she had for the performing arts, all of which she has been able to apply to her career.

While she vehemently declares that she is no bookworm, Ms. Evalin quotes the book “Lean In’’ by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, as having been impactful in her decision-making and highly recommends it. She notes that reading has often reinforced the experiences she has had, resonating with different aspects of her career.

In conclusion, Evalin urges that, “When given opportunity in a promising space, look at the bigger picture. What you can do within that space, will determine your destiny.” Opportunities are fleeting and she hopes to be ready when they present themselves. As such, she is constantly making efforts to better herself, whether it is by taking up new roles while pursuing excellence in her current responsibilities or acquiring new skills, to ensure that she is ready for what life brings her way!

Ms. Karijo has undoubtedly received much recognition for the outstanding work she has done in the development sector and this latest achievement is just another feather in her cap. All eyes are on this brilliant leader who leads with grace and purpose all the while championing gender equality, youth leadership and a better future for all. Hats off to you, Evalin! We are proud to follow in your footsteps!

                                                                                                                      Written by B. Nyamwenge Okech

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