Ruth Okal,
Income Real Estate Investment Trust (I-REIT)

A lady of many wins under her belt, Ruth Okal of ILAM Fahari is a great inspiration to women in the industry. A pioneer in the creation and management of the first listed Income Real Estate Investment Trust (I-REIT) in Kenya, her career spanning 17 years is one for the books!

  1. Why did you choose to work in real estate and what do you like most about your job?

I chose to study real estate based on advice from my secondary school teacher who believed that my strengths in social sciences were well aligned with the profession.

I later developed a great passion for this sector because it is quite fascinating and gives me an opportunity to have an impact on other people’s lives, directly. Whenever I visit or tour any property, I get thrilled and begin to imagine how to transform them in order to create value through well-calculated upgrades.

I like that my job has accorded me the privilege to serve in a number of opportunities, such as feasibility studies and development advisory, valuation, property management, real estate investing, REIT Management, corporate real estate and property leasing and sales. I like to believe that this has brought great value professionally to me and the organizations that I have worked with.

I also enjoy the versatility of the real estate industry. After working in this industry for over 17 years, I still cannot recall a day I was bored! No day is the same as the last one. New trends, new opportunities & challenges, meeting different people, keep me going. I have to remain constantly in touch with many changes for example in property law, contracting, economics and financial trends. Real estate is one of the largest investments that people are likely to make in their life, the gratification that comes with knowing that I helped someone achieve a milestone in their life is unmatched!

  1. Is there a perception out there about what women in real estate are like?

Well, there is! We are seen as assertive. That has not always been the case. For a long time, the profession was perceived to be a man’s world, as were most other fields.

In fact, when I started out in the sector, I used to find myself amongst many men, especially in site meetings or investment engagements. There are times when my voice would be overpowered. I quickly discovered that I needed to toughen up without losing professionalism.

This is not the case just within the desk-side of things. Some jobs within the industry that were a preserve of men such as operating heavy machinery or construction work are slowly falling within what women feel confident doing.

  1. Which women inspire you the most?

Dr. Anna Tibaujuka  – Göteborg Award winner for sustainable development.  I admire her achievements in increasing global awareness of poverty and social injustice, especially among the world’s one billion slum dwellers and others living in substandard housing. Her commitment to improving the lives of disadvantaged youth is noble.

She is a former under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). She was the second-highest-ranking African woman in the UN system until her resignation in 2010 to run for political office in Tanzania. She is an MP and has served as the Minister of Lands, Housing and Human Settlement Developments from 2010 to 2014.

Carla Harris – The vice-chairman and managing director at Morgan Stanley and former chair of the National Women’s Business Council. Wall Street is tough, I admire Carlas achievements and her ability to share her wisdom and secrets of success with so much clarity, power and inspiration.

Mitchelle Obama- The former FLOTUS. I admire her audacity and her willingness to share her life story, accomplishments and above all, being a powerful advocate for women and girls around the world helping them to find their voices.

4.What do you think about the future of women in the real estate industry in Kenya?

The future of women in real estate is great. With more ladies taking up training and interest in different sub-sectors such as architecture, engineering, surveying, planning, valuation and design just to mention a few, there is an opportunity for women to be adequately represented.

5.Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have been privileged to champion the setting up and management of the first listed Income Real Estate Investment Trust (I-REIT) in Kenya.  ILAM Fahari I-REIT (formerly STANLIB Fahari I-REIT) was Kenya’s first listed real estate investment Trust in November 2015. The I-REIT provides an instrument for investing in the real estate market which offers both liquidity and a stable long-term and growing income stream. Though still a nascent sector, there is a significant opportunity for growth in this sector as it gains milestones in investor education. There is a continued quest to find alternatives that address the challenges of traditional real estate ownership, which REIT suites very well.

I am excited about this trailblazing product because of what options it gives people. Many of us can now “own” real estate! The I-REIT truly provides investors with access to a diversified portfolio as well as offer developers potential exit from their projects upon completion and stabilization.

6.On international women’s day, what’s a very practical tip for women just starting their real estate careers?

Go forth and build people, things and a better world. Believe in your capabilities but always be willing to learn from othersreal estate is versatile and there are new opportunities, trends, innovations and challenges every day. Listen more to those who have gone before you, engage in constructive debates and chose to go with the most optimal ideas. If you make a mistake along the way, let it inform your next move as you re-position for success.