Otema Yirenkyi is PMI’s Vice President, Global Engagement and also is responsible for PMI’s Africa region, helping to solidify PMI’s global impact through regionalization.
Otema’s background encompasses sales, business development, and marketing — with more than 20 years of experience leading global teams, transforming organizations and delivering business results within the technology and telecoms sector.
Most recently, she was the Founder and CEO of Nexinnova where she led the acceleration of scale ups for tech and technology-enabled companies and ecosystem-based companies in Africa. Prior to this, Otema served in senior leadership roles for Vodafone and Microsoft.
Otema has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University in the United States; a Master of Art in Development Studies (concentration on economic development) from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at University of London; and a Post Graduate Certificate in International Banking and Finance from New York University in the United States.
1. Why are you investing your time & expertise in (an) association(s) and its advancement?
I joined Project Management Institute (PMI) because it is an amazing opportunity to help grow an already impressive network of project managers around the world. Project management is a borderless profession, and joining PMI allowed me to help lead our efforts to expand the association in different regions, as well as transform and optimize how we communicate and connect with our members.
PMI’s mission is a global mission, and I love that about the work. I joined PMI in 2019 during its 50th anniversary, and I was able to see firsthand how they are pivoting their focus to power a more project-based economy. No matter the country, region or industry, using proper project management practices can help take massive ideas and turn them into reality – while staying on time and on budget. One of the initiatives surrounding the 50th anniversary was the Most Influential Projects list, which highlighted 50 of the top projects in the past 50 years. The list demonstrates the global reach of project management, with projects such as the Euro, M-Pesa, Burj Khalifa, the Chernobyl Cleanup (Chernobyl New Safe Confinement), and more being featured.
PMI empowers people to make ideas like these a reality. Through projects, we can truly change everything in everyday life from business to infrastructure, from the economy to technology.
2. In your experience, what are the 3 success factors for advancing associations?
On an individual level, the first key to advancing an association is to be passionate about the association’s mission. Its mission must become your mission; its purpose must become your purpose. If you look through the lens of the mission in everything you do, the value of your work will be much greater to the association and its members.
The second factor is continuous innovation. I have a strong commercial background, where innovation is encouraged and, at times, expected. I believe this same encouragement should be applied to associations. Associations must remain innovative and constantly rethink their policies. PMI, for instance, just unveiled a new brand identity in October 2019, repositioning how we look and even write. With constant reflection, an association can continue impacting its mission while keeping specific tactics fresh.
Finally, I also always encourage that our priority be to put our community of stakeholders – from volunteers, members, chapters, and more – first. For associations, I think this is very important and it ensures that an association’s leadership is bringing everyone along. Having all parties heard, aligned and on board with the overall mission will lead to the greatest and most impactful change.
3. Has the AM world changed when it comes to diversity and inclusion?
In my role as vice president, global engagement, I can see firsthand how far associations have come in terms of diversity and inclusion. When I meet with other associations, I am seeing more diversity – in thought, backgrounds and orientations – than ever before, which is very exciting. For many associations like PMI, the mission is applicable to anyone, anywhere, and project management specifically is truly a borderless profession and skillset. We see people from all walks of life practice project management skills and look for certification – so much so that there are more than 1 million Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification holders worldwide. We’ve seen exponential global growth in our certifications and we’re seeing a global hunger for project professionals who are going to change the world. As with anything, there is still room for growth in diversity and inclusion in the association space, but I am seeing great progress.
The next step is widening the representation in association leadership. I want to see more women at the helm of these associations and in leadership roles. I am confident that the next generation is eager to expand on the progress that has already been made. I’m excited to see the impact on PMI and on associations in general.
4. What advice would you give the next generation of association leaders who want to make an impact?
For up-and-coming Millennial leaders and new Gen Z association professionals alike, having one eye on the mission and one eye on innovation is vital for impact and ensuring the needs of all stakeholders are met. This is especially important for associations as many, including PMI, have global reach. Any new generation’s most valuable assets are new ideas, and their biggest challenge is bringing that fresh thinking while also staying true to the association’s mission. The result can have an incredible impact on industries, memberships, and more. As young, tech-savvy and agile Millennial and Gen Z leaders begin to take leadership roles in different associations, we will see the unique benefits of multigenerational teams. This workforce will provide an unprecedented level of flexibility, and I challenge them to match their innate abilities to further improve associations’ ways of working. We’re already tapping into the new generation at PMI through our youth-led insight groups, which serve to innovate the way we operate and think internally and influence how we serve the next generation of potential certification holders. The next generation is moving PMI and other associations forward, and we are excited to continue transforming how we can serve future association members.