Strathmore Personalities: Betty Ngala
The weekly communications meeting doesn’t go by without a rib-cracking laugh about a team member taking a step closer towards the altar. These episodes, about weekend dates – kuona sweetheart – real or imagined, are almost always initiated by the Director of Communications and University Relations. With her outgoing personality that makes it easy for her to brighten and light up the room, she hilariously nudges young people towards self-actualisation through love.
Betty Ngala is a mother of three children, one of whom, a young lady, recently graduated in the class of 2021 cohort. The other two, young men, will be sitting for their national examinations in a week or two. Beyond the confines of her home, many students, and staff members, have, over the years, experienced her motherly affection and guidance.
She sits at the helm of a critical office in the University and leads a team through the fast paced communications space. In the interview below, she talks of the influence of her father, the future of communications, and answers a question majority of PhD fellows would rather keep under wraps.
Which is your favourite day and why?
If I said Monday, I would be lying… So let me just be truthful here. My favourite day is Furahiday. The Communications Office tends to be extremely busy, and the end of the week is always a welcome break. Even during the ‘break’ over the weekend, a quick glance on the University corporate social media pages is needed to ensure there is no fire burning there.
You encourage young people to find the one they love and settle down. Why is it important?
I am a firm believer that marriage gives stability to the young and the not-so-young. Currently, young people tend to shun this institution and the stoic values it stands for; commitment, love, sacrifice and happiness. And yet, friendship, romance, marriage, home-making and raising young ones (if God grants them) is significant in the purpose and direction of our lives, never mind the satisfaction that comes with it. I always think that if one has a vocation to marry, the partner they choose helps one actualize who they really are as persons. And don’t get me wrong, marriage is not perfect, and neither are the people who marry each other. Through marriage, we learn to stick through the tough times and bear the little annoyances of the other; but through it all, we grow and develop in character.
Perhaps what they say is true, that if you marry the right person, everyday could turn out to be Valentines, but if you get the wrong one, everyday might be Martyrs Day. So choose wisely.
What lessons on parenting have you learnt from your father?
I come from a family of nine siblings. My father is my hero. He and my late mum (thank God for her soul) managed to raise all nine of us. I have maximum respect for them. Dad, well into his eighties now, is an easy-going man, a good listener, and remains a solid pillar for our family and the larger family set-up.
Whenever I encounter problems with the teenagers in my house and I go to him, he laughs at me, and remarks, ‘How do you think your mother and I raised so many of you?’ He listens, asks me to take it easy, and if I am too serious, he laughs some more. So I have to relax and handle the ‘serious’ matter the next day.
In this day and age, is having a mentor still important?
They say that human beings are their own worst judges. That is why we need someone to give us a gentle nudge in the right direction, like runway lights that guide the landing and take-off for aircrafts. It is important to allow oneself to be helped, no matter how old one is. Life throws many curve balls in our direction – decisions to be made, and relationships to be cultivated. It always helps to bounce our ideas off someone who is not afraid to ask why we are handling a matter in a certain way.
I am a mentor in the University, and the mentoring relationship is one that continues to teach me many life lessons. I think I benefit more from my mentees than the other way round. I encourage the young to especially value their mentors.
The pace at which the communication space is evolving can sometimes be dizzying. What’s the future of communications in an organization?
The place of communications cannot be downplayed at all. It is through communications that organisations come to be, and it is through robust communications at corporate and organisational level that companies remain functional and eventually become profitable. I would dare equate this to communications in a family set-up; if there is poor communication between family members, disaster looms. But when communication is crisp, focused and core, things flow smoothly; everyone is on the same page, and they feel a sense of belonging.
Covid-19 and the changes it introduced in the operations of organisations has taught us many lessons. One of the key lessons is that we must communicate continuously to keep stakeholders informed and satisfied. Indeed, communications is the glue that keeps us together.
The dizzying speed of life has been accelerated by social and digital communications. We know of many organisations that have toiled for many years to build a good reputation, and yet in one wrong tweet, a video recording or a picture, all that comes tumbling down. It’s crazy out here. Still, I reckon the future can only get faster, and riskier since social media is here to stay. And so, communications professionals continue to play a central and key role in ensuring that their companies, big or small, manage their reputations by managing their stakeholders ethically and efficiently.
What’s your PhD thesis about?
This is a dicey question for a PhD student you know…. anyway, I am exploring the use of media as a tool in institutions of higher learning and the relationships that practitioners nurture to make this happen. Universities have found themselves in a very competitive space, where they must package themselves for the market, appeal to potential students, keep relations with potential research collaborators, and even navigate crises when things go wrong.
As a practitioner and a qualitative researcher, I am keen to understand the nuances that go into this use of media through strategic media relations. That is the most I can say about this topic for now.
What lets you let off steam and relax?
I love to exercise, I love out-doors and have been an ardent gym-goer for some years now. I have sampled the various trends be it Zumba dance, tae-bo, running on tarmac, yoga, you name it. There are very few things that beat a good sweaty gym work-out.
I try to fit in at least three sessions per week, for sanity’s sake. When I don’t work-out, or even take a walk for some time, I get a bit cranky.
What do you envision your legacy to be?
I trained as a teacher, and before my current position, taught in the classroom for many years. I always hope to impart something to those who pass my way. Sometimes, it is what you say, how you say it, and even how you do what you do. In my current role, I endeavour to teach those in the corporate communications profession with me, a good work ethic, and how to manoeuvre and balance their work and life for best results.
I hope they and myself will become better just because we interacted.