Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For helping a mobile banking revolution in Africa expand and evolve

When Wanja Murekio started as a quality assurance analyst at Safaricom, the company was just on the verge of transforming Kenya’s economy with its M-Pesa mobile money service. Fourteen years later, the app and her career have evolved: She’s now leading teams that expand M-Pesa capabilities—and access for millions of people around the world.

Promoted to Safaricom’s project management office in 2015, Murekio has helped unleash new features like global money transfer services and Fuliza, a service that makes it possible for users to complete mobile transactions even when they’re short on funds. Such new offerings have made M-Pesa an even more powerful financial equalizer in an economy where about 20 percent of adults have no bank accounts. Murekio’s reputation as a change-maker at Kenya’s largest telecom has blossomed, showing through each project what it takes to deliver in disruption.

“The world is transforming at a very fast pace through technology innovation and automation,” she says. “As project leaders, we need to keep up the pace and be open to building new skills that will enable us to be relevant and lead successful projects.”

She seems to certainly be living up to her project mantra: Make it happen! “I’m very driven, and this is reflected in how I lead projects and my project teams.”

Q&A: Wanja Murekio on transforming lives, the power of her PMP® and Charlie Chaplin

What’s the most influential project you've worked on?

M-Pesa. Each day I get to work with a great team delivering innovative products and services on M-Pesa. The product has transformed the lives of Kenyans in a phenomenal way by providing access to financial services to all who have a mobile phone. We continue to build on it to deliver savings, credit, wealth management and global money transfer services. The opportunity to be part of the team that brings these products and services to life is one that I do not take for granted.

What project in the world most influenced you personally?

The Burj Khalifa. I visited Dubai in 2017 and was in awe of the building. It took six years to deliver and was way over budget, but the outcome is worth the efforts. Project success is about believing in what you’re delivering, staying the course and jumping all hurdles that come your way.

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?

The ability to bridge the gap between strategy and delivery. This coupled with leadership and stakeholder engagement skills aids in ensuring the right execution as well as value outcomes for project success. Many projects fail because execution isn’t aligned to strategy.

How are young people changing the world of projects now?

By bringing new ways of working into the project environment, they are disrupting the structured way of working. They are fearless and this fosters innovation.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

My Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. It’s globally recognized, has validated my role in project management and opened up new opportunities for me.

What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?

Project teams as we know them today will be very different due to the influence of automation and robotics. Possibly more machines, fewer humans. The workplace landscape will change incredibly.

What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?

Charlie Chaplin. So we can have a laugh every now and then. Laughter is the best medicine.