Graduate Spotlight: Aaron Gichane – Nearer to Nyeri, nearer to bliss


‘Nearer to Nyeri, nearer to bliss’ is a phrase that remains undisputed about Nyeri. Its highlands well-endowed with agricultural produce, its welcoming people steeped in rich Agikuyu culture and its plains stretching to the Aberdare Ranges and other hills make it sound like an excerpt from your favourite adventure movie. Picturesque! You see it… right?

This ethereal beauty meant that Aaron Gichane was at least in love with something since childhood… and not just with Nyeri.

While you take that in, let’s digress a bit… a very short detour.

Aaron had always been a whiz with computers. He could code circles around most people his age and had always assumed that his future would be in the world of information technology. He even lucidly dreamt of life-changing inventions and saw himself spellbound by a computer screen constantly screaming “Eureka!” to a world-changing idea. I’m not saying he was a young Elon Musk, in his head, but… he sure thought himself capable of great things. A technology mogul in the making!

…But… sometimes, life has a way of throwing you a curveball, and that’s exactly what happened to Aaron when he spent a summer (well, a Kenyan one) at his family’s farm in the beautiful Gatunguru in the Aberdares countryside – Murang’a.

 If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?

The farm had been in Aaron’s family for generations, and his father was the one in-charge of managing its daily operations. Aaron had visited the farm many times before, but this summer was different. He was older now, fresh off high school, and he had begun to develop a knack for entrepreneurship.

Farm-life can be quite eventful and as he spent his days working on the farm, he was more and more fascinated by the complexity of the farm’s operations and the number of decisions that had to be made on a daily basis. He learnt about crop rotation, irrigation, how to care for livestock, and transportation to the markets. So when his parents gave him a fireside chat about the challenges of managing a farm, everything changed for him. He knew his adventure ship had just left the dock and things would never be the same.

You know how these things go… when a parent, especially an African one passes down their wisdom… it’s mostly absolute!

It reminds me of Erma Bombeck, author of “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?”- When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”

Of course the conversation was never gonna be about where he’d go to school, that was rather obvious. What he’d study? hmmmm…

And so they talked at length about the importance of making business decisions based on data, and how even the smallest mistake could have a significant impact on the farm’s bottom line. As Aaron listened, he realised that what his parents were describing was not that different from his passion for technological sciences and arts. He was a bit hesitant though. He did not see the need to study business… “Who even studies business as a career course? Besides, I’d never pursued any business training before. The only business unit I’d had the pleasure of doing is ‘Family Business!’” he bursts in laughter and we temporarily forget we’re meant to be highlighting his Strathmore journey.

He was about to step into unchartered waters but, trust in his parents, this he had in plenty. His parents were determined, in a good way, to have their son pursue a career in Management Science. “And thank God they did! I mean, it opened me to so many opportunities and as I look back, I can’t help but give them their flowers for ever being right about so many things,” Aaron smiles.

Something had been stirred inside of him and he would explore where this new-found spark would take him. He was fascinated!

The best years… yet

So, off to Strath they went (he doesn’t notice just how many times he’s been subconsciously using this term to mean Strathmore… I guess it’s a force of habit owing to the fact that he’s attended Strathmore since elementary and now at university!). With a new title, the latest freshman in the family, after his mom and dad, he jumped onto what he’d later term “the best years of young Aaron’s life… yet”Oooh, did I mention that Aaron is a firstborn- understandably, a very protective elder brother of two sisters? Anyways, he quickly shuts down this discussion and turns to his sentiments as a pre-freshman, if that’s even a thing…

“Enrolling into campus was like riding the Kingda Ka roller coaster. I knew it would be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. You’re excited to meet new people, learn new things, and have new experiences, but you’re also afraid of getting lost in the labyrinth of buildings and confusing schedules. It’s like trying to navigate a maze while carrying a stack of books and a cup of coffee. But hey! at least you’ll have some hilarious stories to tell your friends about the time you accidentally walked into the wrong classroom and ended up in a philosophy lecture on the meaning of life.”

One of the earliest core memories: “Being taught Fundamentals of Accounting by arguably the godfather of Accountancy in Kenya- Dr. Jim McFie… in my first semester! My buddies and I had heard interesting stories of this almost mythical man. He was initially meant to be our substitute lecturer for the one-hour session of three. As a trio, ‘my boys’ and I had formed a tradition of getting to class quite early and using this time for a much needed catch up session.

It is 7.45 a.m. As usual, ‘the trio’ has occupied some back seats at one of the STMB classes. Two of us are in some heated banter and laughing our souls out. Our other ‘mwananchi’ is deep in slumber! We giggle. Despite it being the second week, we already know McFie’s morning routine when he gets to class – he ensures the room is well aerated and tidy. On this particular morning, in STMB F1-01, he comes in and starts opening the windows on the right from the front coming to the back, where two of us are seated while our buddy is asleep counting his livestock wealth. As McFie approaches us, he momentarily stops and we are spooked a bit, like kids would when they know they’re in trouble. He looks at us; we stare back at him. He looks at the sitting row behind us which is quite messy, throws a glance at our sleeping friend… then, forks out a few stern words that send us into cleaning mode ASAP. Our friend, fresh from sleep and with a drool, wakes up confused but soon follows cue. I knew then that it was gonna be an interesting four years…”

Adapting to the Strathmore culture was relatively easy for this young man. He was an instant hit among his peers, with his easy charm, infectious humour, and boundless energy. He quickly became involved in a wide range of extracurricular activities, from incubating business ideas at @iBizAfrica, to music, to sports and community service… We even had a lengthy discussion on our love for rugby, basketball, and of course, Manchester United!

No matter what he did, he threw himself into it with a level of enthusiasm and dedication that was truly inspiring”– a side quote by one of his friends who asked to be anonymous.


 … then COVID stopped reggae…

Just when things started looking up for him, especially on the school front, COVID hit. Institutions moved from physical human interaction to virtual social spaces- even schools closed!

The early stages of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns were hard on all of us, in different ways. Isolation, joblessness, childcare, and many other challenges severely affected the mental well-being of many people around the world… Aaron, in just his second year of school, had to fight hard to maintain sanity – he says.

“The different emails from the Communication Office about different virtual activities, including competitions, were a much needed sigh of relief. I could finally repurpose all this pent-up energy into something challenging and worthwhile for me. And so my journey with entrepreneurship officially began. I tried my hand in the Hult Prize but did not win, though I took the lessons with me. I came across the Strath Cube – a student-run business incubator domiciled within the University.

We are sniffing at the doors of third year and my academics are doing great.  I’m still projecting for first class but I’m faced with a herculean task of choosing my major. I thought that maybe I could pursue Finance or even Marketing. But I wasn’t sure. Not by a long shot!

Remember my parents coming in at the beginning of my Strath life? They dramatically re-enter the scene again here with their beaming faces of excitement ready to weigh in and pass on some more wisdom on this matter… haha!

Have you thought of Management Science? This is the question that gave me my greatest epiphany yet. And that’s just how I chose a major in Management Science and a minor in Finance.”

And so, he devoured his coursework, not literally, with a passion that few could match, always pushing himself to be the best that he could be.

 Shift to Connect

But Aaron’s true calling lay beyond the classroom walls. With his gift for entrepreneurship and his love of Management Science in the form of supply chain, he knew he could spot exciting opportunities and transform them into successful ventures. He possessed a rare ability to connect the dots and anticipate trends before they even materialised. He organised a Management Science roundtable in just his third year that attracted over 60 participants! He went on to coordinate a whole career fair. This, he says, opened him up to another whole world of possibilities.

Armed with an insatiable curiosity and a relentless drive, he formed Shift to Connect – a class by itself supply chain competition. The ‘Connect’ is word play denoting ‘supply chain’. The movement, which is in full throttle, aims to solve two main prevalent issues in society; complexities in the supply chain, and youth unemployment, in order to improve people’s lives in different communities through economic, social, environmental and technological aspects.

The competition’s call to action was a pique to make students connect and shift their efforts to identifying problem areas in the supply chain and to come up with effective and efficient solutions,” he says with a beaming face.

He says that disruption in the supply chain industry by the COVID pandemic gave him more impetus to start this movement as a wakeup call to the world. His sentiments – “aay… without a supply chain, the world economy would not move”.

The Shift to Connect initiative, I got the inspiration to form The Movers Club, now the Strathmore Supply Chain club. Anne Muasa, who was working at the Attachment Office at the time, asked me to consider organising a roundtable or even, a competition (shift to connect) that would make my efforts practical, and I was like ‘ahaa… say less!’

I asked my buddy Mark Muigai to weigh in and help with the concept development. Sidenote, he’s the one organising the second edition of the competition! Anne brought in Chelsea and Michelle to develop the competition. This small team morphed into a whole committee that was composed of experts such as Dr. Mary Aming’a – a supply chain guru, among many other notable personalities.

The structure of the competition would follow a registration process followed by a pitch of one’s idea in front of a panel of judges. Those who managed to break into the top 10 would enjoy the privilege of business and supply chain mentorship by industry players. It did not stop here. After the series of mentorship, the top 10 would battle it out for the top three grand prize that included an indispensable scholarship for a certification from the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport  (CILT ).

Imagine having 17 teams from various universities participating in the inaugural competition! It was almost a tearjerker for him, he says as he giggles. The competition got some funding from the Business School. He acknowledges the immense support received from his mentor – Dr. George Njenga, Dean emeritus of the Business School.

I was really pushed out of my comfort zone I tell you! He even came for the awards ceremony, and of course, carried with him great people; Prof Izael Da Silva, Eric Saulo, Dr. Mathuva, Dr. David Chiawo (he got me a feature at the Kenya Innovation Week)… Dr. Ogutu, our Vice Chancellor, showed up. Man I had goosebumps. I felt like Steve Jobs! Maybe the name Gichane will reach such heights one day.

 How do you explain the honour of being a panelist at Strathmore’s first ever Ideas Festival?

 Connecting back to the initiative… I had to make do with what I had.  I bought the trophies and medals for the awardees from my own pocket about two hours before the award ceremony. But, I had to pass by class first, all sweaty with an untucked shirt, to take on a Corporate Governance CAT, 30 minutes in. I did not just pass in it by the way, I cleared it!

I rushed back to the car afterwards, wore my suit and half ran to the Transcentury Auditorium to ensure all logistics were well on cue.”

Did I mention he’d decided to take on this competition as his Work-Based Learning. It was practical after all. He still did an internship at the Business School’s Executive Education unit. Other than the bonus of it being a paid internship, he says he is not ready to leave yet, given the rich networks he is in constant contact with. This, he says, has ‘connected’ him and won the hearts of amazing businessmen and women who are willing to elevate the status of Shift to Connect.

 If it were you, would you even consider leaving such a space?…

The second edition of the competition is hot on its wheels and will run from June to October. He is in the process of pitching for funding. He says it ain’t easy but it’s quite exciting. Hopefully, the Dubai Expo he attended in February last year, as part of the school’s international trip, and the supply chain enrichment invitation by Kuehne + Nagel International and DAAD to Dar Es Salaam, gave him some exposure to organise a bigger and even better competition.

Aaron is happy by the continuity the competition is creating within itself. Previous entrants will continue joining the subsequent editions at different capacities to support the initiative.

 “It truly is a movement and I can’t wait to see the growth by leaps and bounds even after I graduate later in the year!”

 A prosperity pizzazz!

Was he a good student? Turns out, he was pretty darn great at it. I mean, after all, there’s a reason why his classmates voted him ‘Mr. BCOM’ and twisted his arm a little to give some remarks during their final year gala dinner. He is graduating with top honours in his Management Science major and Finance minor and setting himself up for a prosperity pizzazz!

Did he fall in love? Just between you and I, yes he did! He’s begged me not to mention her name, but maybe… just maybe, we’ll call her in for an interview too… soon, yeah?

Learn more about Shift to Connect via their social media pages @ShifttoConnect on LinkedIn and @ShiftToConnect on Instagram.


This article was written by Francis Kabutu.

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