Women of Aidlink

Christine Simiyu

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Kenya and spent my formative years living and studying there. I attended the University of Nairobi and specialised in accounting. After university, I was hired by Deloitte and worked with them in their office in Kenya for 6 years. I come from a family of 7 siblings, and as the second eldest my mother spent virtually all she had on my elder brother’s and my education. Once qualified, I felt obligated to support my mother and my 5 younger siblings.

For economic reasons, I left Kenya to work for KPMG in the Cayman Islands. I enjoyed my time there, working with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. However, while the lifestyle and the salary levels were higher than in Kenya, I felt I needed broader opportunities than the Cayman Islands provided at the time to progress in my career.

It was a big move, going from the sunshine of the Cayman Islands to the blustery cold of Ireland, but it was the right move for me. I spent 12 years with Deloitte in Ireland, moving up the ranks from an experienced audit senior to an audit director. In a bid to get industry experience, I then got a role with the Bank of Ireland in Dublin, where I work today as the technical accounting lead within the Global Markets Finance team. The exposure I got in each country and company was very influential to me, while at the same time allowing me to continue supporting my family.

Can you tell us about someone who inspired/inspires you?
Throughout my life, I have drawn inspiration from different people at different stages. My mother was the pillar of our family; she cared not only for her own kids but also for her siblings too. My Auntie was a huge inspiration to me; she was the first woman in my extended family to go to university and to leave Kenya and travel to Japan for work. My late uncle was also so inspiring; he was a visionary. Although he himself never left Kenya, he encouraged us to think outside our local area and Kenya and pushed us to be daring in our aspirations.

In current times, I am inspired hugely by Michele Obama. By her grace, the challenges she had to overcome, both race and gender related, to put herself through college and build a successful career; never forgetting her roots.

Where did you draw your professional inspiration from?
When I was 14 years old, I wanted to be a lawyer. I attended a boarding school run by missionaries who organised career guidance talks from professionals including a lecturer from the University of Nairobi who spoke about a degree in commerce. Although fixated on law, I also liked accounting and realised commerce would provide more opportunities compared to law where there was huge competition. I felt as if I betrayed the young lawyer in me, but I was also aware that as the eldest daughter I had obligations to support my family and this defined my career choice. I knew I had to work hard to get a competitive career and a place at the university. I put commerce down as my first degree choice and was accepted.

What was one of the most pivotal moments in your career?
The decision to leave Kenya and go to the Cayman Islands. It was not an easy choice to leave my home country and my family. This was a defining moment as it broadened my horizons. I would perhaps not be here in Europe if I had not taken this chance. Getting my first job with Deloitte was also a key moment. It opened up a world of international opportunities and a chance to work with colleagues from all walks of life. From that, I have been able to develop my skills, gain extensive expertise as well as travel and encounter other cultures.

What is your favourite part of your job? What is the most challenging part?
I feel so good when I see that I am adding value to someone’s life, that I am making a positive difference where I work. My current role involves a lot of technical aspects, with people seeking my expertise to evaluate the financial impacts of transactions or emerging changes. That presents an excellent opportunity to share my knowledge, learn and develop further.

As someone from an ethnic background, I always have to work extra hard to convince people that I have what it takes to be part of a big organisation. It takes a lot of energy to go that extra step, including simple things like ensuring my accent is understood. For me, I have been working in Europe for a long time and become more confident and able to stand up for myself. I hope to be an inspiration for younger women coming behind me and to inspire more ethnic women into leadership roles.

Where did your interest in international development begin?
Personally, I have always been passionate about girls’ education. Education got me out of poverty and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. In turn, I was able to support my siblings and continue to support young girls in my extended family to get an education. I have noticed that when girls get an education and succeed, they always come back to support and uplift their families.

Do you feel the opportunities for women and girls are growing? What changes need to occur to ensure gender equality becomes a reality for women and girls in Ireland and in the global south?
I believe there are opportunities for women to excel and I am still continuing to work on my career progression. I feel lucky to have sometimes been in the right place at the right time and was made aware of the opportunities available. I think women in leadership need to advocate for their junior counterparts so that gender equality becomes a reality. Senior women need to become mentors for young women, knowing it’s easier to become what you can see.

During my years in Deloitte-Ireland for instance, there were two audit partners in particular who advocated for and guided me, they supported me because they knew what I could deliver and believed in me. That support motivated me to work even harder and to set and achieve tougher goals. All young girls should have this guidance and support.

What would you tell young women who are just starting out to work? What would you like them to know?
From my own experience and borrowing the words of Michelle Obama, “there is no magic to achievement, it’s really about hard work, choices and persistence.” If you want to get to a place, find out what is needed to get there, seek advice when in doubt and set mini-steps on how you are going to get there. So long as you have a goal in mind, hard work and persistence when faced with road blocks and informed choices will get you there. Keep your ears to the ground and eyes open for opportunities, and most importantly, believe in yourself.

How did you come to be involved with Aidlink? What makes Aidlink special to you?
The first time I heard about Aidlink was when I was invited to attend a concert in the National Concert Hall in Dublin, the funds of which were going towards Aidlink’s project supporting girls’ education in Kenya. For me, there was no argument and I signed up. During the concert, people spoke of Aidlink’s work and it touched me to see that such important work is being done to promote education in Kenya from people in Ireland, and that I could do my part to contribute to this. The more I hear about Aidlink’s work through discussions with Anne and some of the board members, the more I want to get involved. Aidlink’s approach to their work is special; working with local partners who are more familiar with the people and the challenges they face has such a meaningful impact on the communities. I am also impressed and encouraged by the strong governance and leadership in Aidlink.

Can you share a quote that motivates you or holds special significance to you?
I have two. Michelle Obama’s words that I mentioned before “there is no magic to achievement, it’s really about hard work, choices and persistence” drive me to pursue my goals and Plato’s words “always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle” remind me to be empathetic in my interactions with others.