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Employee profile: Grace Waithira Karanja

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Chief of Party, Kenya Yes Youth Can Regional Program

Grace Karanja started working for Mercy Corps as a program manager in Sudan, working with citizen groups that tackle civil society issues like education, health care and human rights. She spent a little more than two years with the program, working her way up to Deputy Chief of Party.

Now she’s back in Kenya, her homeland, where she has found a new role: Chief of Party for the Yes Youth Can program. It’s a senior leadership position in which Grace oversees the work of seven direct reports. Yes Youth Can aims to empower 1.5 million young people by boosting their voice in local and national affairs, improving their ability to earn an income and increasing the participation of young women in civil society.

Hers is a busy schedule. “How do I start my day?” she asks, “Mama Mia! I start by reviewing the more than 150 emails in my inbox!” Grace checks in with her team throughout Kenya, getting updates on the youth program. “I want to know about our progress, how we’re meeting our benchmarks, the budget and our impact,” she says. “I also find out what approvals and support they need from me.” She regularly discusses challenges and updates with the program donor and the Kenya Country Director.

Somehow, Grace finds time to attend night school. She’s finishing up her graduate studies in organizational development — a course she says has already given her the on-the-job skills she needs to succeed in her current position.

“Mercy Corps has given me huge challenges that were opportunities,” Grace reflects. “I have had the chance to make mistakes and learn from them — and that’s allowing me to achieve my personal development goals quicker than I initially expected.”