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Fiona Asonga

Fiona Asonga: Leading the Charge for ICT Innovation in Africa

Shaping the Future of ICT!

The Information Technology sector has been a transformative force in the global economy, driving innovation and change across various industries. It has been a catalyst for societal development, offering solutions to complex problems and creating opportunities for growth and advancement. From managing data to enhancing communication networks, IT plays a pivotal role in streamlining processes, improving decision-making, and fostering global collaboration.

The IT sector has seen remarkable individuals who have contributed significantly to its evolution and impact; one such individual is Fiona Asonga. Fiona’s journey, marked by a transition from the realms of finance to the growing sector of information technology, symbolizes the transformative potential of unwavering determination.

As the CEO of TESPOK, her profound dedication to personal growth, professional excellence, and innovation underscores her broader vision of societal transformation, embodying the ethos of leadership and mentorship.

TESPOK, under Fiona’s leadership, has emerged as a pioneer in advocating for the legal protection of ICT infrastructure and nurturing stakeholder satisfaction through multistakeholder engagement. With Fiona’s keen focus on diversity and inclusivity, TESPOK is catalyzing transformative change across the continent.

Let’s explore the transformative journey of Fiona into the field of information technology:

A Transition from Investment Advisor to Tech Leader

Fiona began her career as a Sales and Marketing agent for BAT Kenya and Kenya Breweries through Take-Two Communications Limited while still a college student. As she was nearing the completion of her degree in Finance, she had the opportunity to work as an investment advisor at Dry Associates Investment Advisors. It was during this time that she realized she wanted to expand her knowledge beyond her International Business Finance degree.

The IT sector was gaining momentum, and there was widespread concern about the Y2K bug that could potentially disrupt systems. This marked the beginning of her journey into the field of information technology.

After graduating in June 2000, Fiona took some time off to rest and began learning about technology. She volunteered at St. Paul’s University Chapel as an assistant editor of the Afrika Yetu Magazine of the Society of Jesus and Friends of St. Paul’s Vineyard Magazine. As she reviewed articles from various writers, she was exposed to societal issues, trends, and available solutions. Information and communication technology were referenced in many ways.

She asked a friend who was already working in the sector if he could help her learn more about ICT. He asked her if she was willing to intern again, but for a longer period so that she could learn hands-on, and she agreed. In January 2005, she was interviewed and accepted as an intern with Seven Seas Technologies, where she began her ICT career. At Seven Seas Technologies, the proprietor, Mr. Mike Macharia, had developed a career growth program that his team would run through with clear deliverables at every stage in partnership with various vendors.

Fiona started off on the Cisco Networks track and had to get her Cisco certification before she could move into other roles. During her time at Seven Seas Technologies, she held the position of Client Relationship Manager for accounts in Kenya and Uganda. At the end of a one-year period, she had received Cisco certification and IBM training. She then moved on to TESPOK as an office administrator.

The role TESPOK was seeking to fill was for an individual who could handle both the business side and the technical side of the office. The organization started in 1999 with only one staff member, an administrator, and acquired a technical staff to establish the Kenya Internet Exchange Point. The technical staff, led by Nicholas, made sure to train Fiona in hands-on support for KIXP to address issues when he had to be out of the office.

This provided her with the opportunity to become more technically proficient as she stepped in to support his role with the help of the technical team of volunteers supporting the service. Michuki Mwangi, the then Chief Executive Officer of KENIC, would run her through the network checks, which helped develop her technical support skills for KIXP peering members.

In 2008, the TESPOK Board, led by Jonathan Somen, began the process of recruiting a Chief Executive Officer. Fiona had various sessions with the CEOs of the industry on various policy and regulatory matters, and it was at one of these sessions that Richard Bell saw her potential and recommended her for the CEO position. In view of the size of the membership, the board was looking for someone who was willing to grow with the organization, as its revenue streams were still very low.

In July 2009, at the TESPOK Annual General Meeting, Jonathan announced that the Board had agreed to have Fiona as the interim CEO for a one-year period, after which she would be confirmed. In July 2010, following a board review of her one-year performance, she was confirmed as the TESPOK Chief Executive Officer.

Fiona’s career journey has led her to where she is today through the guidance and support of others. She has had board members who have spent time mentoring her in negotiation, critical thinking, leadership, and communication. TESPOK has invested in her by skilling her not just with technical networking skills but also in cybersecurity, policy development and implementation, brand management, and strategic management.

These skills come in handy when she offers support to TESPOK members, especially the start-ups in these areas. In 2023, she became the chairperson of the IPV6 Kenya Chapter.

Leading Operations and Nurturing Growth in the ICT Sector

Fiona provides leadership manages, and oversees the day-to-day operations of the secretariat. She is also responsible for building the organization’s human capacity and ensuring statutory compliance. Her role requires her to maintain a continuous flow of information between the Board, the Committees, Members, Government, and Industry Stakeholders at large while ensuring the association’s mandate to its members is effectively addressed.

A large portion of her time is spent engaging members in the development of key industry policy issues based on an industry-wide focus on key items and then sub-sector-specific items. She ensures there is consensus on policy or regulatory issues from the private sector side. Fiona is also expected to work with stakeholders to identify opportunities and risks arising from various ICT policy and regulatory developments across the region and their impact on investment in the sector.

She is expected to participate in and coordinate the organization of shows, exhibitions, seminars, meetings, and other forums relevant to the growth of the Association. The main objectives of TESPOK that Fiona oversees are Institutional sustainability, Member satisfaction, Organizational growth, Innovation, research, and technology.

Empowering Women in STEM

With a first degree in Finance, Fiona joined the ICT sector out of passion. In 1997, she won an AISEC global essay writing competition in which she touched on the power of information technology to change lives. She is passionate about driving social change and impacting lives through inclusion and diversity in ICT.

When she joined the ICT sector, she would often find herself the only woman in a meeting. This challenged her to mentor more women to take up STEM subjects and pursue IT-related careers. She has followed up on girls who have taken STEM subjects, and many of them start their careers as technical resources but end up in customer service. In her office, she has employed women in the IT department to lead by example.

She is working with women entrepreneurs and business leaders to facilitate idea sharing that enables them to run their businesses better. She also works with partners who support young graduates and mentor them in their career growth.

Effective Management

Fiona has a strategy approved by the board of directors that is developed in collaboration with the staff. Each member of the team understands their KPIs and long-term and short-term goals from the strategic plan. Every Friday afternoon, the team reviews the week and has brainstorming sessions on areas that require attention, then plans for the next week’s activities and goals.

She breaks down the long-term goals of her team into smaller, manageable milestones that she then delegates to different teams. They then continuously reassess long-term goals in light of shifting market dynamics, emerging trends, and new opportunities or challenges.

Enhancing Employee Skills and Knowledge

At TESPOK, there is a strong focus on ensuring the comfort of the staff in various ways. This includes offering training to enhance the skills and knowledge of the employees, as well as providing opportunities for skill progression based on their performance and potential. The team members have clear career paths and advancement opportunities within the organization.

In addition, TESPOK has a recognition and reward program that is monetary and is given every year. This serves as an expression of appreciation for the employees’ contributions and achievements in the organization.

TESPOK also prioritizes employee engagement and well-being. They strive to create a positive work environment and offer programs such as wellness initiatives, flexible work arrangements, and meal vouchers.

Valuing Diversity in Leadership Positions

At TESPOK, an inclusive workplace culture is fostered where every employee feels valued, respected, and empowered. It is recognized that various tasks can be undertaken using several diverse approaches. Open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect among staff members are encouraged.

There is also a focus on ensuring diversity in leadership positions within the organization, balancing gender, age, and academic backgrounds. As a membership organization, the team is encouraged to tackle every issue brought forward by the members without bias, acknowledging that the problems are as unique as the various approaches to business.

Advocating for the Legal Protection of ICT Infrastructure

Despite the growing critical role of the ICT sector in Kenya, there is no legal mechanism to protect ICT infrastructure in comparison to other critical infrastructure, such as power. TESPOK would like ICT infrastructure to be recognized as a utility and benefit from the protection offered to other utilities.

Both the private sector and government experience a lot of loss when their ICT infrastructure is damaged, mostly through fiber cuts and mass destruction. The government is driving a digital economy agenda, and digital infrastructure is a key component of its success.

Secondly, TESPOK is experiencing the operationalization of the Kenya Data Protection Act. This requires them to provide feedback on the implementation of the act to the office of the Data Protection Commissioner as well as prepare policy papers on the gaps. To address this, TESPOK has introduced, with the help of a partner, a new service to their members to help them check on their level of data protection compliance.

Thirdly, there is a rise in cyber threats and cybercrime, with an ongoing effort to build robust cybersecurity policies and frameworks to safeguard digital infrastructure, networks, and sensitive information. This is a clarification call from TESPOK on behalf of the industry for multistakeholder collaboration on matters of cybersecurity.

On behalf of TESPOK, Fiona is seeking representation of the private sector in the National Cybersecurity Co-ordination Committee, which currently only consists of government agency representation.

Ensuring Stakeholder Satisfaction

Multistakeholder engagement and collaboration form the foundation on which TESPOK has managed to gain visibility and recognition as an all-inclusive industry body. At the beginning of every year, there is a board of directors retreat to review the strategic performance of the organization. This usually brings in the heads of departments who own the strategic areas and the board of directors, who provide oversight, to have a conversation on matters of stakeholder identification and mapping, amongst others.

While staff are left to work on the proposed changes in the strategy as a result of SWOT and PESTLE reviews, the Board of Directors will have a training session on an earlier identified area of choice. The Board of Directors is represented by the member organizations, and they get to provide the first immediate feedback.

TESPOK also undertakes a membership survey on a quarterly basis as a tool for feedback from the members with a target net promoter score of 70%, as well as collecting feedback on areas for improvement. For each activity, whether a training session, advocacy session, or networking session, the participants undertake a survey for feedback. This feedback mechanism is critical in ensuring that stakeholder identification is correct, members’ issues are well addressed, and the industry can benefit from the actions taken on behalf of the members.

Breaking Barriers in a Male-Dominated Career

Being a woman in a male-dominated career has been one of the challenges Fiona faces. She took this as an opportunity to break barriers and rise through the ranks with the purpose of making a meaningful impact in the ICT sector. She surrounds herself with supportive mentors and allies who provide guidance. Being a member of the women in boards group, where experiences are shared and learned from each other, has helped her navigate some challenges.

She has also faced challenges of ethics and politics at the board level when member representatives have their own interests that they want her to personally address. However, these interests are likely not to benefit the rest of the membership, and sometimes not even the members they represent.

She has an agreement with the members to address issues that are common to all service providers and a capable team that can address members’ issues. She has had to put a process in place that requires her to take on the issues her team will escalate to her due to their complexity. She maintains clear procedures and processes that ensure professionalism and keep out politics and unethical behavior.

Transforming Connectivity in Kenya

In the coming years, the ICT sector in Kenya is expected to continue evolving in several key areas as governments and the private sector in the region deploy ICT for development. These areas include, but are not limited to:

  • IPV6: This is the latest version of the Internet Protocol (IP). The global user base is expected to increase and be fully adopted in the country. As more governments in the region roll out their digital economy strategies, they will need more IP addresses to serve the citizens.
  • ICT Infrastructure: In the coming years, investments in ICT infrastructure, including broadband networks and data centers, will continue to expand to support the growing demand for digital services in the region. The rollout of 5G technology is expected to revolutionize connectivity in Kenya, offering faster internet speeds.
  • Internet Penetration: As reported by the World Bank, there are 22.71 million internet users in Kenya, where internet penetration stands at 40.8 percent. In the coming years, penetration is expected to increase, with more internet users, especially in rural areas.
  • Innovation: More start-ups and innovation are expected to happen on the continent. Kenya is already a hub for ICT innovation, with a high increase in the number of regional startups that come to get their initial ideas developed at the Kenyan innovation hubs. The youth are keen on developing apps that solve African problems first by addressing unique challenges.

Guiding Principles for Aspiring Tech Leaders

Fiona offers advice to aspiring leaders, particularly women, in the technology sector. She emphasizes the importance of self-belief and confidence in one’s abilities. She encourages building a support network by surrounding herself with supportive colleagues and mentors and seeking out women’s networks or affinity groups within the industry for support.

She advocates for supporting others so that they, in turn, can offer support. She urges not to be afraid to voice ideas, opinions, and contributions in meetings. She stresses the need to always seek opportunities for growth, take on challenging assignments, and demonstrate or test capabilities. Lastly, she reminds us to expand our influence by increasing connections and networks.

Empowering Women and Youth

Fiona aspires to work with women and youth across the continent to mentor them. Her goal is not just to enhance their technical skills but also to instill the right value system that will elevate the continent to the next level. She wants to inspire them to develop solutions for Africa first, working with government institutions to establish the right policy framework to support their innovations.

She is still advocating for more girls to pursue long-term careers in STEM. She envisions continuing to make a difference by engaging more stakeholders and creating platforms to drive change on the continent.