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"The Millennium Fellowship creates 21st Century Leaders": Dean Kinyua from the University of Nairobi

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Mr Kinyua Ireri, Dean of students at the University of Nairobi. He has shown keen interest in helping graduates transition into social impact and is passionate about leadership development. He shared the Millennium Fellowship application opportunity with the entire University of Nairobi student community, and continues to show support to young leaders in Kenya. We spoke with him about his passion for social change and belief in student empowerment.


We are so honored to connect with you today Dean Kinyua! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thank you very much. My name is Johnson Ireri Kinyua and I serve as Dean of Students at the University of Nairobi. I have worked at the university for many years, starting as Head of Alumni in 2012 where I was a liaison between the school and our alumni community, charged with student mentorship and nurturing, before I joined the Directorate of University Advancements as a director in 2015 to help mobilize resources and advance the University's mission. In 2018 I became the school’s Career officer, where I mainly helped graduates navigate careers and tried find opportunities for them, both within the national and global markets. In 2020 I accepted this new challenge as Dean of Students. Outside of work I am a proud father to 3 handsome sons and husband to my beautiful wife Mary.

Thank you so much for sharing that! How does your work as Dean and at the Career Office help position students for impactful careers?

At the careers office, we offer guidance to students and graduates with regard to career choices. We are therefore a link between the school and the employment industry. We try to open up employment and internship opportunities for our student body, offer career testing and placement, and keep tabs on important opportunities and potential openings. We also organize career fairs for soon to be graduates. As dean of students, I try to make the lives of our students as fulfilling as possible. We offer support to needy students and those with disabilities, both financially through scholarships and mentally through counselling and guidance sessions. An important goal for us is also to help students nurture their skills and develop their talents, so they can develop holistically as well-rounded leaders.

In this modern age, it is vital that schools produce well rounded students.

We also nurture political organizations and support political expression as we try to prepare students to take leadership within their communities and beyond. I’m happy that this university has historically produced the most legislators and policy makers in the country and we want to continue like this. If we are to shape the future of our country, we must first teach young leaders how to be politically conscious, and how to avoid the lure of bad politics and its immoral corruptions. We also offer spiritual mentorship and emotional assistance to the university community.

How did you hear about the Millennium Fellowship and why did you think it was an important opportunity for the University of Nairobi student fraternity?

As a university we are always on the lookout for platforms that enrich potential. But we know there are many many programs, some not too good, so we only want to share the best of the best. We found out about the Millennium Fellowship right around the time when the Hult Prize was running in school. Hult has been one of our favorite programs due to its focus on social issues, and so when we realized that interest for the Millennium Fellowship within our student community was as high as that for Hult Prize, we knew there was something there. The Vice Chancellor asked me to look into it and we did some background checks. I was awed by how special this fellowship was. A program that asks students to assess their communities, find social problems, create projects that answer these questions, and receive guidance through every step of the process, is something we had rarely ever seen before.

I thought this Fellowship would give our students skills for the future, particularly those that weren’t taught in our classrooms.

"We see potential here to stretch students’ imaginations, expand their minds beyond classroom theory and abstract knowledge, and truly turn them into leaders of the 21st century."

That interaction with other students both within school and around the world can also help them become global citizens and in future, scale global heights.

We also noted from MCN'S 2020 Impact Report, how much important work past cohorts from our university had done. So I took the step and shared this opportunity out to our entire student community. I also supported applicants by offering references and advice, and we remain committed to helping more students join the fellowship. I was thrilled when Sam shared that our University produced the highest number of applications this year, and we want to make sure this remains the same even in 2022 and beyond.

Judging from your responses, it seems you hold student leadership development in very high regard. Why is this, and how can more universities around the world create conducive conditions for leadership development?

Universities must realize that the world has changed. Now more than ever, the world needs more than just ‘professionals’. It needs people with humility, love and compassion. While schools must of course continue to offer the best classroom education, they must also focus on inculcating these character building values. So first create platforms for students to engage with each other and express themselves. Let students learn how to interact with divergent opinions with grace. Offer regular mentorship. Ask students to do the things they love most, because at the end of the day that's the point of the human experience; seeking self-fulfillment. Don’t limit them or try to fit them within a box - because then they finish their degrees but leave school lost and frustrated. Nurture them, inspire them, and mentor them. Also create spaces for political expression and intellectual fulfillment.

Thank you so much Dean Kinyua. Finally, what advice do you have for young students in Africa and around the world who want to grow, learn and become impactful community champions in future?

Everybody is born with something. A unique talent or a gift - you just need to find what yours is and then work on developing and perfecting it. I love giving my students the example of Dubai. It is a city built on an unforgiving desert with a vicious climate. Until the 50s, it was a poor place, dependent only on fishing and an unsustainable pearl industry - then they discovered oil. Now it's a global powerhouse! That simple discovery changed the whole course of Dubai's history. So take steps to Discover who you are, Develop that inner you, and then try to Demonstrate that to the world. These are what I like to call the 3D’s of leadership development. Remember also that potential is nothing if it isn't put into practice. Another example here is the egg, which only has the potential to breed life, but must first be incubated or else it will never hatch. Leadership potential therefore is an egg not yet incubated.. This is why it is so important for students to chase opportunities such as these ones, those that sharpen their character, add value and teach hard skills.

"Leadership potential is nothing if it is not put into practice"

Lastly, and most importantly, remember that character is what defines you. The saying goes, that if you lose money you’ve lost nothing, if you lose health you’ve lost something, but lose character and you’ve lost everything! If the 3D’s (Discover-Develop-Demonstrate) are the ‘hardware’ of leadership development, then the 3C’s (Character-Competence-Commitment) are the software. Competence refers to the skills one needs in their leadership journey, and Commitment refers to their hard work, their discipline and perseverance. Merge the 3D's and the 3C's, and you have the perfect, well rounded young leader. Ice this 'cake' with real passion and you should be ready to conquer the world.

Wonderful! Any last thoughts?

I'd just like to urge Sam Vaghar and Team MCN to help us set up a Leadership Academy within the university, where outstanding Millennium Fellowship alumni from the University will come back to mentor and inspire younger students. We've seen some incredible fellows with some wonderful projects, and the knowledge and skills they've gained would be invaluable for the younger generation.


Thank you Dean Kinyua for sharing your story with us!

Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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