In this Opportunity Makers Interview, Garrison Gibbons, Head of People at Knotch, connects with Miriam Mburu, the Global Marketing Senior Manager of Health Care Practice at Boston Consulting Group. In this conversation, Miriam discusses starting her network from scratch, the ways she stayed rooted in her culture here in the U.S., and how immigrants can use their boldness coming to America to forge ahead in their careers.
Garrison Gibbons: What was your coming to America story?
Miriam Mburu: I was born and raised in Kenya, and I came to America at 21 for my master's degree. I was lucky to have my older brother with me in the same town in Boston, and my sister on the West Coast. It helped to have other family members here, one in close proximity and the other only a phone call away in the same country.
GG: How did your idea of America differ from the actual reality of being here?
MM: When I came to America, I had my whole life ahead of me. I was very excited to explore my new life, you know you are young thrilled about a new lifestyle. But then, I also quickly realized that I had to adjust to both, the American culture and rebuilding my social network from scratch. When I immigrated, I left the majority of my family and extended family, friends, any connections, I had back at home. So that was hard. From a language barrier perspective, it was more around the accent, pronunciation, and things even like idioms, you grow up speaking and communicating in a different way, and so I experienced that barrier, and I still do experience that, having spent my formative years in Kenya.
GG: How do you stay rooted in Kenya and where you’re from?
MM: I spent my formative years in Kenya, so back then I had my favorite foods that I would cook on a regular basis and even now still cook regularly. Also, in the beginning I joined these student associations for African students and was able to interact with other students like me. And now in my life here in Chicago, we have a community network that brings people together to celebrate Kenyan holidays or events. I found these events as a chance to just sit back and share stories and experiences with others.
I also go back home every few years to visit my extended family, which keeps me connected to my culture.
GG: How would you accredit your experience as an immigrant to your current achievements?
MM: Looking back at my journey, I had to start from scratch. I built up my economic support system as well as my social and professional networks. I then became attuned to navigating unknown situations and how to forge ahead. As a immigrant in a new country, failure is not an option. You've got to keep that hustle going.
You also gain the ability to learn and embrace the culture, which never stops, And you cannot do that alone. You have to collaborate with student peers, mentors, roommates, and your entire new network. When I look back, I think the value of this collaboration and awareness of the world around me has really contributed to my career achievements.
GG: People often say that immigrants are the bedrock of this nation. What unique value do you think immigrants bring to the US and help shape our culture?
In my view, immigrants augment the existing workforce, either as entrepreneurs or being part of the workforce. There are mutual co-existence and codependency, which contributes to the overall prosperity of the country. In reference to African immigrants, I am from Sub-Saharan Africa, and there was a study released, here in the U.S. about two years ago, and one of the key findings was 30% of the Africans in the U.S. are employed in the health care and services sectors. So by virtue, of their skills and training, they are really contributing to the economy.
GG: How has your identity as an immigrant shaped your role as a storyteller?
MM: In my marketing career, we’ve found that a key tenet within storytelling is the ability to relate to your clients and customers. For me, I built my personal and professional relationships through acknowledging the common interests I had with someone.
In my career, I think about how we can articulate our client’s story. People look at things differently, depending on their region. In North America, we may view a certain offering differently than Asia or Europe. It comes down to the basics of understanding your client and your customers, and bridging those commonalities of what you can offer and what they're looking for.
GG: What value can young immigrants showcase in the interview process? What skills have they already demonstrated just by just immigrating?
MM: I would advise them to first, be who they are. I know we hear it often, but really just be in touch with who you are. This will give you the confidence to determine what optimal opportunities you should pursue. I think that's just one of the basics. Also foundational is the value to be bold, and to not be anxious about the unknown. If you left everything you've known and came to a new country, continue being bold, and in time things will work out.
For example, after being in the US for four years, I moved from Boston to San Francisco with zero professional connections. Looking for a job, I learned about this job fair at UC Berkeley campus. I didn't know anyone there or if it was even open to the public. In a moment of faith, I drove there. I met several recruiters face-to-face, and actually ended up getting a full-time job! That really taught me to have faith and have that continued drive.
GG: How can brands recognize the intersectionality of immigrants, and the different factors that play into a person’s diversity?
MM: So yes, I am a Black female immigrant. While a minority in all aspects, I've also been privileged to have a successful marketing career. I attribute my success to strong mentors along the way, as well as being bold and forging ahead through the unknown. In turn, I try to mentor other young immigrants as well as current and aspiring marketers.