Gina-Din Kariuki didn’t plan on a career in Public Relations (PR). Yet has gone on to become one of Africa’s foremost PR practitioners and thought leaders. Often referred to as the mother of PR in Kenya, she has played a monumental role in building many of Kenya’s biggest brands and in developing the PR industry in Kenya.
Kariuki is best known for helping to build the Safaricom brand from inception. She has also been instrumental in shaping brand conversations and managing large-scale events for hundreds of other big-name clients, making a name as the partner for brands wanting to break into Africa.
Her company, The Gina Din Group, is perhaps the most awarded PR company in all of East]Africa with more than 130 industry awards to its name. In recent years, it has expanded its scope to include management consulting. “We’ve always considered ourselves to be much more than a Public Relations firm. We work with different partners to provide a variety of services including market research, brand development, and of course communications,” she explains.
As a young girl, she had her heart set on a career as a journalist and went on to study for a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the London School of Journalism. Upon returning to Kenya after graduation though, she felt that the journalism community in Kenya at the time was “too closed” and so decided to look elsewhere.
When a nine-month consulting engagement became available at Barclays Bank, Kenya, to manage the public relations in respect of a rights issue, she thought she’d try it out while figuring out her next move. Little did she know that she was going to fall in love with PR. After successfully managing the rights issue, Kariuki transitioned to become the first PR Manager of Barclays Kenya. The biggest appeal for Kariuki was the opportunity to create a role from scratch.
She worked at Barclays Kenya for fourteen years. Rising to become the Head of Corporate Affairs, she would later leave to do more, starting her own company. “I found that I had risen as far as I could at Barclays. I knew I didn’t want to be a banker and become the managing director. I knew I wanted to create something, and so I did,” she says.
And here she is, enjoying every bit of what that decision has brought her – a chance to be the architect of a lifestyle she truly desires, and countless travels! Last year, she was chosen as the All Africa Business Leaders Award’s Business Woman of the Year 2015 (East African region) and one of 100 Most Influential Africans in 2015 by New African Magazine.
It had to take a “certain kind of risk-bearing personality” to get here, she believes. When her father, Malek Din, was only 14, he left India as a stowaway to get to Kenya – he didn’t know anything about Kenya or Africa. He was only after a better life, and found a job as a clerk in the British Army in the then colonial Kenya. He spent spells in the hot sun waiting for his boss to come outside of the hotel where he lived; his skin colour barred him from entering the premises. Years later, he would develop into a fine entrepreneur and go on to acquire the same hotel he was prevented from entering as a young man. Watching him build a life, and business from those circumstances, was the biggest influence on a young Gina.
Hearing her speak, I can almost picture her father and feel his relentless spirit through her words. It’s no surprise then, that despite having pretty much everything that money can buy, Kariuki’s most treasured possession is a ring her father wore which she wears most days. Her greatest regret is that her father, who passed away when she was 18 didn’t get to see what she has achieved.
She’s as doting a mother as I imagine her father was. Her daughter (an Oxford university PhD student) is her best friend and her children are the greatest love of her life. Her son, studying football business at Southampton University might be the next entrepreneur in the family.
Widely sought after on Kenya’s social and business scenes, the shy and selective Kariuki admits to loving the comfort of her home more, most evenings in sweat pants. When she is not setting the agenda for how brands compete or playing mummy, Kariuki spends her time doing yoga which keeps her centered and entertaining at her dinner parties. When in May 2010, I first met Kariuki, it was at one of such dinner parties. She had been asked by a mutual friend to throw at rather short notice; dinner in my honour in her resplendent home.
My first impressions of Kariuki is an accurate reflection of the person she is: Absolutely captivating, a woman of impeccable manner, boundless energy and radiant beauty – not a strand of her silky black hair ever out of place.
And she genuinely cares about people. A self-confessed ‘humanitarian at heart’ Kariuki is putting her 33-year plus experience and passion to wider use – particularly Africa’s youth – through her work with The Gina Din Foundation and Kenya Red Cross. She tells me she is looking to “move from a place of success in her life to a place of significance”. In many ways though, she already is there.