You might have heard about the Kenya Airlift Program – where students from Kenya are airlifted to top universities in the United States. No, not the Student Airlift program by Tom Mboya and JF Kennedy of the 1960s. The one that is currently ongoing and changing lives, ran by none other than a son of the Ameru – Bob Mwiti. Through the Kenya Airlift Program, smart students from needy backgrounds secure admissions into universities in the US, funding to see them through college, and a life in the US after graduation. Remarkable, right?
In this Meru People segment, Wycliffe Muthomi speaks to Bob Mwiti about himself and his background, the Kenya Airlift Program, and what drives him. Read on.
Who is Bob Mwiti? Tell us about life in Meru; Primary and high school life, motivation, family…
I was born and raised in Gikumene, Meru. I grew up with my grandparents, attended Gikumene Pry School where I sat for my KCPE in 1997, I then went to Nkubu High School where I sat for my KCSE in 2001 after which I proceeded to University.
I hold a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Accounting & Finance from Strathmore University and I have an MBA in Professional Accountancy from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania – USA.
I am an awesome Dad to two lovely kids – Luc and Chloe and I am a caring fiancé to the most amazing woman in my life, Pauline.
What challenges did you encounter in your earlier life in Meru and how did you overcome them?
Well, I grew up as a typical village boy and my grandparents were not financially well-off, so I struggled a lot with school fees. In fact, I was admitted to Nairobi school after my KCPE performance, but they could not afford the money to take me there, so I ended up at Nkubu High School.
Because of the village setup, I grew up with a lot of insecurities in terms of public speaking which terribly manifested itself once I got to university where I had to interact with students from all walks of life. However, when I relocated to the USA, I had to improve a lot of my speaking skills and I thank God that I am now a much better public speaker.
Since you mention you are a typical village boy, did you also chew miraa and hang around “base”?
Oh yes! After high school, I started trying alcohol and Miraa and continued until after university. The usual peer pressure, you know. It’s a stage that most youngsters go through and I had good times then. I used to hang out at “Makandara” in Meru and “Passie” in Nairobi with all my veve buddies. I remember the days with a bit of nostalgia! Nowadays I don’t even drink, and it has been a couple of years now since I quit booze. I think it gets to a point in life when you say enough is enough.
University life was great, and I think for any smart kid out there who has ambitions of going to University, I can assure you that it is awesome but do not forget what took you there. Make sure you also network a lot. I got into the tech industry because of my network in college. If it was not for them, I would probably have been an accountant today.
How did you move to America and how is life in America?
I relocated to the United States in 2009, to study for an MBA, before finally graduating and becoming an IT consultant working for Fortune500 companies here in America. Life in America is good but also it comes with a lot of challenges. I would say there are more opportunities here for smart people, but also you have to be very ambitious to do well here as well.
So, you became an entrepreneur and started Appstec America and the airlift program, how did you begin and what’s the inspiration behind it?
Appstec America is a consulting company I started in 2017 based out of Tampa, Florida, USA. We offer consulting services on university matters in the USA, IT careers training, and also offer job placement services in the tech space.
The idea behind the Kenya Airlift Program was mooted in 2018 between me and Hon DMK Kiogora – MCA Abogeta West. Before then, I had started a program dubbed the International Scholars’ Program, but when DMK came on board he brought in some awesome ideas, and that it is how it metamorphosed into what we know now as The Kenya Airlift Program.
I started the program to help brilliant Kenyans who wish to study IT Masters in the USA through helping them acquire funding for their education and also we train them on the latest IT Job skills that are very marketable in the US so that once they graduate from school they won’t have to go through the challenges I faced when I graduated from university in the USA.
Tell me more about the Kenya Airlift Program
About the airlift, I think most people think it’s all about bringing students to the USA, but there’s actually more to that. The program is trying to fix 3 major challenges Kenyan students face in their quest to study in America, namely:
• Acquiring funding.
In Kenya, currently, there are no banks that offer international student loans for those wishing to study abroad. Through this program, we are trying to emulate a country like India that offers such loans to its citizens wishing to study abroad. We have taken it upon ourselves to find a way of funding Kenyans who wish to pursue a Master’s in IT in the USA. We have identified US-based lenders who offer unsecured international student loans to facilitate that and, we have also formed the airlift Sacco to self-fund our beneficiaries with relocation expenses loans.
Also, we understand that it’s quite challenging to find scholarship awards, and in this program, we help our beneficiaries in acquiring graduate/teaching assistantship scholarships with the schools that we work with. These scholarships usually pay half of the tuition and also offer stipends to take care of some of the living expenses, so the other half of the tuition is taken care of by the unsecured international student loan.
• Finding well-paying Jobs after graduation.
The US offers international students a chance to find Jobs in their field of study after graduation. In fact, every year the US government, issues about 85,000 temporary work visas (H-1B visa) to those immigrants with the skills that Americans mostly don’t have.
The majority of Kenyans who migrate to the USA to study, are often not able to figure out how to find American employers willing to sponsor their work visas. The reason being, it’s usually because the majority of them do not have degrees and skills that are marketable enough for an American employer to sponsor them, or simply lack the information about how to find such employers.
Through this program, we are trying to fix that persistent problem, and through Appstec America we can absorb our beneficiaries to work as IT consultants in corporate America
• Acquiring permanent residency (green card) after graduation.
At least 20% of Kenyans living and working in the USA are undocumented, meaning they live and work without legal immigration papers. The majority of those who have found themselves in this situation arrived as international students. It is because of this challenge, that this program focuses solely on IT studies because IT skills are in high demand in the USA, and therefore beneficiaries more likely to acquire employment-based green cards to help them live and work in the USA for as long as they wish.
That’s amazing! It draws parallels to the other airlift by Tom Mboya. What benefits do you think the “Airlifts” will bring to Kenya?
Once these brilliant Kenyans acquire the skills and the work opportunities in America, they will be able to channel back their foreign earnings to develop Kenya. Kenya receives a lot of foreign exchange from those in the diaspora and having highly paid diaspora Kenyans can only be good for the country.
How does one qualify to join the airlift program?
You need at least a B in KCSE with a B+ in Math and also you must have a 2nd class division in undergraduate in any major. You must also be willing to study an IT-related master’s program. We have listed, in detail, the requirements in the Kenya Airlift Program handbook on our website.
You’ve been a champion for IT studies specifically AI and Machine Learning, What are the opportunities in the IT industry. How can one access training in your organization. Can anyone without IT or Coding skills take part? What are the charges?
Yes, I have always encouraged people to take up IT because I am a testament to where it can take you. At Appstec America, do have training programs on AI & ML, Robotics process Automation as well as Oracle Financials. These are amazing skills that are very marketable everywhere across the world. The cost of each of the program is listed on our website at www.appstecamerica.com
We do have programs that require you to have a coding background and we have others that do not. Most Africans fear IT thinking it all about coding. Personally, I cannot write even one single line of code, and yet I have been a very successful IT consultant, so anyone out there wondering if they can make it in tech, well the answer is “absolutely yes, you can!”
You’ve been involved with various CSR activities, especially in your former primary school Gikumene. Tell us about it.
I try to give back to the community as much as I can. And since charity begins at home, I have made an effort of helping some of the brilliant students from my primary school and also my high school. I get very excited about smart kids and I am always willing to help wherever I can because that can inspire them to become anything they want to be in life.
Do you consider relocating to Kenya in the future? Will we see Bob Mwiti in politics?
I have plans of relocating back home in the near future. The good thing with my business is that I actually don’t have to be physically in the US because we run everything on the internet. About politics, I think I can serve the people without necessarily seeking an elective position and that is what I want to do. So, no. Politics is not on the table for me.
What’s the future like for Bob, Appstec America, and IT?
I am always very positive about the future in terms of what I am capable of achieving. As a company, we are still in our early days, but we aspire to become the largest IT consulting firm owned by a Kenyan in America
Advice a young Kenyan who wants to move to America or who’s struggling in life currently.
There are opportunities but be ready to work hard. Nothing comes easy even if it’s America. On the other hand, there are very many Kenyans who came here and have nothing to show for it, so it can happen.
If you met the young Bob Mwiti, what advice would you give him?
I would tell him “Do not worry and rush too much, you will get there where you want to be, just focus. Life is a marathon, not a sprint”.
If someone wants to reach you, which social media handles and contacts can they reach you at?
One can find me on my website at www.successwithbobmwiti.com. All my social media platforms I go by the name Bob Mwiti