AfricaLive: How would you describe the identity of Norken International?
Eng Samuel Wahome: Our company has been in existence for 21 years now and we were initially a branch office for a European consultancy firm. We focused on infrastructure projects involving roads and water. In 2001, the European company left the country and decided to sell the Kenyan branch to its local staff. That makes up a part of our DNA. The fact that the company is owned by its staff.
We are an engineering consulting firm undertaking projects all the way from conception, and design all the way to supervision. 80 to 90 percent of our project portfolio is in the public sector i.e working on projects sanctioned by the Kenyan government. We have also worked on UN projects as well as other international NGOs.
In the last few years, we have diversified our service offering to include smaller projects so that we can be part of the development agenda in the private sector. That has led us to participate in small hydro projects as well as renewable energy projects. We also do impact assessment projects and air quality testing.
AfricaLive: What is your role in the sustainable development of Kenya and neighbouring countries?
Eng Samuel Wahome: There is a huge infrastructural gap in this part of the world. We are still grappling with issues like the lack of basic infrastructure such as piped water, roads, and energy in many places. Our governments over the decades have relied heavily on international firms to fill the infrastructure gap. We see ourselves as the local solution to the infrastructure needs of our country and region.
We have built partnerships with international consultants by giving them local guidance by providing home-based engineers. We also give a lot of input when it comes to design. We do a lot to address the energy challenges in our country. Main grid power is very expensive in Kenya and that weighs heavily on our manufacturing sector. This is why we are now heavily focused on renewable energy sources like off-grid solar.
Luckily for us, the government has placed an emphasis on local content. Most infrastructure projects in Kenya must employ 40 percent of local manpower and other resources. This has helped us to become a major player as we seek to fill the gaps in our infrastructure.
Kenya is well ahead of its neighbours in the region when it comes to infrastructure, but we still have a long way to go to catch up with developed countries. We have a population of highly educated people who are also very resourceful. Our engineers have had an easy time sourcing for unique designs because the skills are here in abundance.
AfricaLive: What does sustainability mean to you?
Eng Samuel Wahome: Incidentally since the conception of this company, we have had a focus on sustainability. We have been talking about it and acting on it before it became this global clarion call.
A lot of the roads we were constructing in the early days were low volume and built using local materials and heavy manpower. We did this with the view of delivering infrastructure even in times when conditions were super difficult. Those roads are still active today and in good condition.
We focused heavily on training local contractors and other personnel to ensure knowledge transfer. Later on, we incorporated environmental knowledge into our service delivery. We have assembled a big in-house environmental team to help us do environmental studies and avoid the risk of environmental and social issues coming up.
Renewable energy is also a major focus because we have seen past disasters in this country when our hydropower stations ran out of water. Power rationing then became normalised and that disrupted productivity in so many areas of the economy.
Water is another resource that has had to be rationed for many reasons before. So we have a water project as well that focuses on recycling water and seeing the resource reused.
Sustainability is the way forward for Africa despite our need to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of industry. We have to protect our resources as we try to increase our industrial capacity.
AfricaLive: The economic, social, and environmental challenges we face on the African continent can not be solved by one company or sector: partnership is key. What does partnership mean to you?
Eng Samuel Wahome: Our company could have achieved way less than it has without the partnerships we have built, especially with international firms. A lot of our partners are from Europe and Asia. Partnerships have helped us secure funding and also knowledge transfer. We have had the privilege to learn from some of the best in the world and we have put these skills on display with the projects that have been awarded to us.
Wide scope projects that we couldn’t complete on our own saw us enter into joint agreements with partners and that worked well for us, our partners, and our clients. Our experiences have led to us developing an internal model for partnerships that emphasises due diligence. Most of our projects involve a local partner or an international partner if the technology and expertise required demands it.
AfricaLive: How confident are you about the future of Norken International?
Eng Samuel Wahome: We have come a long way and there have been several transitions. Ours is a very corporate approach to running the organisation. We are run by a board with four board members and a strong management team.
Our country has seen a boom in infrastructure projects nationwide spearheaded by the current regime. Even with the coming of the pandemic, we have continued with a flow of projects. Our country has a diversified economy with a lot of attention going to tourism and commodity prices as well.
With issues like rising food and petroleum prices coming up, there could be fewer funds available for projects. Life must move on though because we will still need to build infrastructure. So we plan to be adaptable to changing economic and political times.
We have experienced challenges to do with civil strife before and still survived. A recent example is a project we were undertaking in Ethiopia before the civil conflict erupted. We had to trim our operations but the project is still ongoing.