Dr. Melba K. Wasunna, External Affairs Manager, Base Titanium Limited

Dr. Melba K. Wasunna: An Expert, Inspiration and a Notable Woman Business Leader

With the remarkable 10+ years’ experience in the extractive sector and a strong track record Dr. Melba K. Wasunna Melba is currently the External Affairs Manager at Base Titanium Limited, Kenya’s largest mining company representing 65% of the total value of the country’s minerals production. Her role involves public affairs and policy, corporate affairs, strategy development, sustainability, public relations, negotiations, governance and risk management.

Melba holds a Doctor of Juridical Science (Law) from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. She is admitted to practice as an attorney in New York, USA. Apart from her notable academic career, she has also authored several publications including reports, journal articles and books. She is the recipient of the “100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining” (WIM100) Award 2020 and the “Upstream Oil and Gas Awards, Woman of the Year Kenya 2019”. She currently serves as the Chairperson for the Association of Women in Energy and Extractives in Kenya (AWEIK), a platform that promotes and assists the participation of women in the oil, gas and mining value-chain in Kenya. She is also the Vice Chairperson of the Energy and Extractives Sector Board at the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).

Impactful Leadership Starts with Internal Assessment

For her, impactful leadership is the one that creates a clear meaning and sense of purpose for people, balances emotional agility, as well as supports others/team members in their own growth. As a leader, Melba is cognizant that she has both the opportunity and responsibility to connect her team to the organization’s values and ensure an alignment that will allow for them to find their meaning and purpose in their own work. This has driven them to higher levels of motivation, innovation and overall performance levels, for which Melba is ever thankful.

She believes that ultimately, an impactful leader must be able to connect with and lead people. According to her, an impactful leader must always see the big picture and then help the team to understand how the work they are doing in their functional area connects to the overall organizational strategy, the communities they serve and the work of their colleagues.

Melba also suggests for internal assessment from time to time or ‘checking in with self’. According to her, as a leader, one must first understand and be clear-minded about their own inner workings: what drives them, how do they respond to stress, what situations bring out their best (and worst), and equally importantly how do they prefer to lead and how do they like to be led. “Understanding these aspects of yourself, and how they change depending on circumstances, place you in a better position to show genuine empathy and support your people,” she opines.

A Leadership that is Needed in Crisis

The pandemic drastically impacted the way organizations work. During the Pandemic, Base Titanium put in place a robust work from home scheme for all but the essential employees. At a personal level, during the height of the Pandemic, Melba would do informal welfare checks with each team member, to discuss any challenges they were facing during the work from home. Because of her style of compassionate leadership, many of her staff was able to share what they were facing, both personally and professionally. By establishing this mutual relationship she was able to offer assistance the team required. And, sometimes it was nothing more than a shoulder to cry on.

Melba and her team also nominated, and won, staff members of a Community-focused Covid-19 Response Team for the Base Titanium Annual Safety Team Award for their outstanding commitment and contribution to safety performance and improvement, albeit in an unorthodox fashion.

Having Life Lessons Since Childhood

Melba was raised by a single mother. She sees her mother as a woman with strong life perspective. “She has taught me to be independent since I was a little girl. She knows what to say to me when I am down even about the most minor things and she puts life into perspective,” says Melba. Her mother’s struggle to raise her inspires Melba the most. And that struggle made her strong and independent, and drives her to succeed.

Melba considers Marianne Williamson’s poem ‘Our Deepest Fear’ a true motivation for herself. She states “I first came across this when I was still very young in my career and had graduated from law school in South Africa and was navigating my first job in New York as a corporate lawyer.” She further adds this poem has been an anchor throughout her professional journey, as it gives her strength and comfort to own decisions, to be conscious and not to be swallowed by doubts or negative thinking.

More Women in Leadership Role

Melba would like to pursue policy and legislative changes in Kenya towards including a percentage of women in the workforce at mining companies. She says that opportunities for women in leadership and management roles are typically influenced by laws surrounding the mining industry with a bearing on employment and corporate governance. For example, in South Africa, following the introduction of a legislative requirement for mining companies to ensure a percentage of their work force is female has led to the country’s mining sector having the best level of female representation on boards. Kenya’s corporate governance guidelines for listed companies are more passive. The government simply makes provision for board diversity with regards to gender, stipulating that the appointment of members shall be gender sensitive and shall not be perceived to represent a single or narrow constituency interest. Given that the mining industry has the lowest number of women on boards of any sector in the world, the South African experience bears testament to the efficacy of law as a tool to encourage more women in large-scale mining.

Necessity of Adding Technological Advancements

Now, more and more mining companies are investing a lot of time and other resources to assess how technological innovation can help the mining industry to address its challenges. Melba opines “While these technological developments are great as they increase operational efficiency and improving worker safety with among other key benefits, one must still be mindful that many communities rely on mining jobs to support their local economies, and if technology replaces human workers, these communities could collapse.” She adds that its therefore important to strike a balance between developing modern solutions and ensuring local communities are incorporated along the journey.

Be Courageous and Confident

In her advice to young women aspiring to enter into the mining industry, she says, “Accept that you are entering a traditionally male dominated sector but that you have just as much to offer as any male colleague.” She urges young women to be courageous, be authentic, hone their skills and lead with conviction. “Stop comparing yourself to others and, above all, seize every opportunity with confidence and don’t be afraid of sharing your successes,” says Melba.