Super Model. Role Model. Businesswoman. Civic Leader. Corporate Executive. Mother. Daughter. Friend. Mildred Awiti is, there is no other way to put it, Kenya-Fabulous. She is just as beautiful, now, as she was when she appeared on a 1983 VIVA magazine cover, sensuously proclaiming African Heritage’s Kenya-fusion hip appeal. Yet, many years later, Mildred Awiti, Kenya’s first and still-favourite super-model is much more than just a very pretty face connected to very long legs by a sylph-like torso. She is, in short, a woman of much substance.
In 1981 she told Nairobi’s Sunday Standard that fashion was a form of artistic self-expression and creativity to which all Kenyan women had a right; and that women, no matter how beautiful and model-worthy, needed to pursue their educational goals as far as they could. It is now 2008, and her core belief in this imperative for Kenyan women’s self-sufficiency, creativity, self-determination and dignity has not changed.
In fact she has expanded this creed into her work life. Mildred Awiti now trains Kenyans who, in a variety of capacities, represent Kenya in the international arena. Her job is to make sure that they know how to present themselves as appropriate emissaries of the Kenyan people.
“It’s the little things,” Mildred says of her training sessions, “that can make the difference. Anybody representing Kenya on the global stage, from boardrooms to classrooms to the performance stage and the track and field event, must know that for many people, he or she is their first encounter with Kenya. It is important how we behave in these contexts—the national reputation rests on it.” Ms. Awiti’s challenge is to ensure that this Kenyan reputation is protected and preserved. She trains executives, civil servants, athletes, journalists, models, diplomats, and any others likely to be seen by global eyes as “the image of Kenya.” She shows them how to carry and conduct themselves in ways consistent with global standards of courtesy, etiquette and interaction, and Kenyan inflections of hospitality, multiculturalism and our hard-working ethos. In one way or another, Mildred Awiti is still making Kenyans look good. The only difference is that now she has moved, from looking good by herself, to helping all the rest of us look good as well.
Even though her own talent as a model was discovered young, and she was already working as a professional model while still a teenager in the 1970s, Mildred Awiti not only completed her course of study at the Kenya High School, but also went on to study at Nairobi University, emerging with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Literature. She has further credentials from Cornell University, LINTAS International, Tack International and Development Dimensions International. In the years since her modelling days, she has worked as an executive in diverse corporate fields, from Human Resources to Marketing and Communications.
The moral authority she has acquired over her years as an unofficial global good-will ambassador for Kenya sits lightly on her shoulders, especially when she is at ease in the Nairobi home she shares with her two adopted children and one natural son, an exuberantly friendly dog, and the continuously shifting assortments of friends, neighbour’s children, relatives and acquaintances milling amongst the colourful flowers of her garden. She is so eager to promote others that she forgets to talk about herself, instead speaking excitedly of a woman who has started an HIV-orphans home, another who has emerged as a grassroots leader in an impoverished urban area, yet another who has started her own modelling agency, another who has devised Kenya’s most innovative software technology services, and most compellingly, of her own mother. The sentiment is clearly returned: Mildred Awiti’s mother has saved every photograph, every cover, every publicity shot that her beautiful daughter has ever been in, and yet Mildred’s looks were never the most important thing about her to her mother, and therefore were never the most important thing to Mildred herself.
On her appointment as a GenerationKenya Juror, Ms. Awiti is characteristically self-effacing. “It is a great honour to be associated with an initiative that promotes positive Kenyan values,” she says. “I look forward to participating in this process, and to learning from my fellow jurors. But they are all very distinguished and famous Kenyans—it is very intimidating!” She does not look in the least intimidated as she maps out her strategy to move Kenya to greater tolerance, understanding, mutual respect and civility—at home as well as abroad. Kenya-Fabulous.
Mildred Awiti: GenerationKenya Juror.