Vivian Ombwayo
Head of Research and Valuation, Broll Kenya

“From a small-town girl with big dreams whose career in real estate was pure happenstance to a celebrated property valuer with over 9 years’ experience, Vivian Ombwayo is testament that consistent hard work leads to success. Learn more about Vivian’s inspiring story as KPDA joins the world in celebrating women whose lives and careers model strength, courage and resilience.”

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

Actually, I studied my undergrad at the University of Nairobi’s BA Land Economics by chance. I went to a village school known as Musanda Secondary School and was so excited to come to Nairobi after my last exam which led me to pack and leave even before applying for university. My then Geography teacher, Mr. Imbosa whom I am greatly indebted to, went ahead and helped me fill out my university application of which I later received an admission letter to study BA Land Economics. I had no idea what to expect as I was only aware of four professions i.e. Medicine, Engineering (not so much the various disciplines), Teaching (Education) and joining the army. I later joined the University of Nairobi to start my course and I enjoyed every aspect of it from Introduction to Architecture, walking around with a T-square- It felt quite fancy at that time, to the legal aspects involved and finally the cherry on the cake-Theory of Structures (99% of the class used to fail this, me included).

What I enjoyed most from this was the all-encompassing aspect of it. I was introduced to other real estate related disciples like architecture, quantity surveying, construction management and design. My degree in Land Economics has also offered me with a vast array of opportunities such as specializing in valuations, client advisory, property management and agency.

Interestingly, Land Economics is both a science and an art, the best of both worlds which came as a happy accident!

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

It would not be right for me to share the perception of all women in real estate, but what I can share is my experience. I have encountered patriarchy, misogyny and other forms of bigotry from being assessed on unrelated matters other than my merit such as relationship status to the extent of whether I have children or not. My professional advice has in some instances been dismissed from time to time because I am a “small girl”, so the assumption is that I am not competent. I remember once after making a presentation to a particular board, one of the members followed me outside to tell me that the other board members would be more receptive to my professional advise if it came from an older male person.

  1. Which women inspire you the most?

I am inspired by all the African women who have broken the glass ceiling for me. I might be biased here but the women that come to my mind are those that have had an impact on shaping my career. Bernadette Gitari, some of you might know her from Lloyd Masika, or Knight Frank or RICS. She has taught me so much but the one lesson that really stuck with me is what she herself learnt very early in her career, “all you have Vivian, is your name, protect it with everything you have”. This has been my anchor relating to my ethics, coming from a woman who managed to build up from nothing over and over again. My second inspiration is Ruth Okal of ILAM Fahari I-REIT, a pioneer in one of the existing REITs in the country, who has proven constantly that it is indeed possible to achieve one’s dreams and aspirations during your lifetime.

What resonates strongly with me about these two phenomenal women is their past- they both had a humble past, just like mine, but they still made something of themselves. I aspire to be just a fraction of who they are and what they have accomplished.

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

The future of women is limitless and so brilliant. Women are becoming more knowledgeable, innovative, creative, exposed and are keen on taking risks. There are men in the real estate profession coupled with women whose objective is to change the industry for the best, where merit is considered more than anything else.

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

Yes, I am working on exciting projects both in Kenya and Malawi that will offer investment opportunities to investors who are seeking to not only maximize on their returns but also to reap off social benefits.

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

Be competent, ethical, bold, firm and know your worth all while practicing empathy. One lesson I learnt is that the boardroom is not a place for tears. Set goals (short-, medium-, long-term), be willing and ready to learn. Actually, purpose to learn something new every day. Be open minded about where and who you can learn from, remembering that you can either learn, what to do or what not to do.

Finally, you only have your name, safeguard it!