A Basketball player and administrator, an experienced marketer, a sports entrepreneur. Cynthia Mumbo requires no introduction in the sports circles. After several years in the corporate world that saw her work with giants like East African Breweries Limited and Menengai Oil, Cynthia has opted to transfer her experience into sports and help commercialize the Kenyan Sports Industry. The Young CEO of Sports Connect Africa is our Kenyanstar of the week and here is her story …
KS: Thank you for accepting to do this Cynthia, For the benefit of our readers who may not know you, please introduce yourself.
I am Cynthia Mumbo, a sports entrepreneur and I’m very passionate about developing sports not just in Kenya but on the entire African continent. I have about twelve years experience in working for corporate companies in Kenya and I’d like to bring that experience to sports business and the discussion around sports on how we should move forward. I am a mother of a sporty nine-year old; we eat, drink and live sports.
KS: Tell us about your passion for sports, The origin and where has got you thus far?
I’m always excited about sharing this story because it takes me back to when I started running and playing. I have a very strong influence in Benjamin Ayimba, former coach of Kenyan Sevens rugby team. When I was a kid, we lived in the same flat and I was mesmerized by his medals. Benjamin used to make me and my friends run when we were kids, for some reason I used to win a lot and I remember being given presents like sweets for winning, so that just got into my system. My parents were also passionate about sports so it’s an in-built thing. I started very young and I always thought I would play in the WNBA. I had that dream when I was young and I have always wanted to excel in the field of sports. I do what I do because I feel that I didn’t make it as an athlete in the sporting space so I want to create an opportunity for other young people.
KS: What credentials do you hold sport wise?
I am an all-rounder who has an interesting background. I have credentials from Chartered Institute of Marketing, currently I am studying my masters in sports management at the Johan Cruyff Institute in Spain. I have been to Vitz University through a special program that was sponsored by SuperSport, which is a Diploma in sports management and I am actually the only certified female federations manager from FIBA in East and Central Africa.
KS: You played in the Kenyan basketball league for over ten years. What were the highlights of your playing career?
As a player, I was lucky enough to play for several teams; I played for NSSF and I think that as my first team to play for was fantastic. That is where I learnt most of my basketball because I was lucky to play with talented guys. From there, I played for USIU then moved to Kenyatta University. But my highlight was playing for Yana; My first job was actually at Firestones so I got to play basketball for them, where we set up a team from scratch and in the first two years we got into the play-offs. Starting a team from zero and taking them to that level was fantastic.
KS: Any low moments?
Yeah… one is the fact that I’m not playing now because I think I should still be playing; I got injured and the injury bit just took me back. Another low moment is that I feel there should have been more in basketball in this country and there still should be more because as an athlete, I feel that I didn’t get to achieve my best because the sporting environment has not really supported team sports in this country.
KS: How did you balance sports and academics? Sports and your marketing Career? Is it easier in some sports than in others?
Currently, I’m going 100% in sports business but marketing is everything. I really got into marketing because ultimately, my goal was to get into sports business so I don’t think it has been a challenge in terms of balancing because when I was working in the corporate world, the idea was to try and understand how a business works. I was also in the basketball federation for about six years so whatever it is that I was pulling in from the corporate side, I was able to bring it back to the sporting side. It is really a matter of balancing, and sports teaches you to be disciplined so you have to figure out what time you need to do certain things.
KS: Do you think an attempt to balance sports and academic excellence is suppressing our sports Industry?
Our culture is education first and then other things and I know that that is something that is changing by having the Wanyamas of this world excelling while having gone to school and still being disciplined. That is a good thing because parents then realize that it can happen. If you put a kid into sports at a young age and notice that they can run or play basketball, the most important thing is how do you manage their time so that there is time for athletics involvement and there is time for books. Our culture does not appreciate that athletes who are the actual people who make the industry exist. People would rather fight so hard to be a member of the federation because there are more perks in being one. So I think it’s something that needs to be worked on.
KS: What challenges would a player face playing basketball in kenyan basketball league?
One is that there is no value, meaning what goes back to that athlete? There is no reward so it is like a pass time thing. I am not saying it happens to everyone; KPA, Equity and others reward their players. But there is a very big imbalance because there are so many teams that are self-sponsored, so they are not playing for anything and when you don’t have that, there is no competition. You find the same teams winning because they are the ones that are valued. I always go back to the discussion around the players because once they are taken care of, you find that the broader discussion around sports will change because it creates strategy.
KS: You have served as the team manager for the Kenya ladies basketball team and also as a committee member of the Kenya Basketball Federation. First, what was your contribution to the game in these two position?
Being in the federation, I think the highlight for me was being part of the team that got Kenyan basketball on to SuperSport live broadcast and for the first time bringing on board partners like Menengai and Kabras, therefore injecting money into the sport. That has not happened since.
KS: Secondly, do you think the state of basketball is better now compared to how you left it?
I feel that we have gone lower than low. The thing about sports is that it is evident in the execution. We are not in a better place. It pains me because basketball is in my blood. If we could be able to structure things in such a way that we are able to bring in more stakeholders and open up to criticism, it will help the game.
KS: Tell us about the Vikapu Elite Basketball Camp.
It’s my brainchild and vikapu as you know means basket. The idea for me was to support talent at a young age so we were to hold our first camp last year but unfortunately it didn’t materialize. Unfortunately again we have elections in August so we have to push it to December. I have a lot of networks outside this country and I get a lot of people writing asking what they can do or bring to help. The idea of Vikapu is to bring young people together for a week or two and give them the basics on basketball, but also empower them through life skills.
KS: How do you intend it to grow basketball in Kenya?
Talent is required across the board. I think you have seen what the NBA is doing in Africa. Our idea is to empower and then take them out to the networks that we have, and you never know what opportunities they might get. We have networks asking for that talent from Africa and we are at the forefront at investing in talent at this particular juncture, so that we can provide the world with that talent when they need.
KS: Are you involved in any way with the junior NBA team?
Yes. Junior NBA is the flagship youth program for the NBA and we are the implementing organization for them in Kenya. We have started the pilot program in Nairobi with thirty teams and together we have about 450 kids between the age of nine and twelve in the program. We will actually be having the junior NBA finals in July and it will be nice to have you come. We run the full basketball operations from getting the teams together to the finals and making sure the whole basketball element is sorted out.
KS: You have been in the press a lot this year, probably in the past too. One online media asserts that you have turned your sports passion into a lucrative business. How lucrative has it been for you?
We are at start up so there is still a lot of challenges. But I look at the opportunities and ask myself if European countries are doing it, what are we not doing. And that is where the lucrativeness is. I look at it and say what can we do to create a commercial discussion around sports, and that’s what drives me every morning. I am very passionate about sports and connecting people, and that is where Sports Connect Africa comes in. We are trying to bring these together so as to create an income, not just for me but also create value for the country.
KS: Tell us about Sports Connect Africa.
I think by now you can tell that I started sports when I was very young. I didn’t necessarily know that I would be running a sports business at this point in my life. The fact that I didn’t ultimately make it in the athletic environment is what pushed me to look for what I can do. The fact that I also worked in corporate for a long time made me realize that the business element was what was missing, so I wanted to figure out how I can bring that discussion about business around sports. So that’s where Sports Connect Africa came from.
KS: Besides yourself, who are the other brains driving Sports Connect Africa and what exactly are their roles and contributions?
I work with consultants given that the business is still young. So we have had to accommodate what we can afford at the moment. I’ve got Harrison Kaudia who is very key in terms of the basketball program elements and I’ve got Papi Odhiambo who understands finance from very many different angles. We also have Pamela Sinda who works for us from an administrative perspective.
KS: Coming back to overall sports, what do you think is the state of sports in the country?
I feel that we are not where we should be. I asked myself, why do our children wake up and work so hard to go and play in Europe? Why can’t Europe come to Africa? I’m that cocky about Africa. We are trying and I don’t believe in trying, I believe in doing….we need to set our aspiration maybe a hundred times higher than where we are. If you go to any sport in the country and ask, is there a minimum wage bill? Is infrastructure supported?. Every space that was open in this town has been taken up by a building.…. I’m excited about what Mombasa government did of setting up a new stadium. That is fantastic. I feel that not much is being done and there is no belief as to what sports can do to this country as an industry.
KS: How is Sports Connect Africa helping in bridging the gap between where we are and where we should be?
It starts from a strategic element because it is not something that can be done in one day. We must first hold federations into account. We currently have the Sports Act but I feel guys are not yet being held into account. I think the execution element is what I would focus on. The corruption element in sports unfortunately is also among the key things pushing us back and it is sad. I think if that element is reduced even by 50%, so much will be done.
KS:Take us through some of the projects that you have previously or are currently handling as Sports Connect Africa.
The junior NBA is a flagship project and we are very happy with what we have been able to achieve in the first year. We recently held the GEC tournament which is a golf tournament that supported ten different countries and the winners went to Dubai. We have a couple of projects which we are working on that I can’t share on camera because they are still under discussion. Of course the Vikapu projects is another that we are working on and we are very excited about it. We still have other projects which are coming up, and they are very exciting.
KS:What challenges does Sports Connect Africa face in meeting its foundation objectives?
Resources. A lot of people don’t understand this business so I have to explain a lot. But challenges are there to be overcome so we look for what we need to do to reach out and solve the problems that we can.
KS:What do you think would be the impact of Supersport exit from the Kenyan market? What Would you say is the role of media is sports?
I like that you asked that question. We know about Olympics, NBA, World Cup and others purely because of media. In sports management, we have what we call the sports triangle where there are three key components; Sports, Media and Sponsorships. Media is very key, If sports is not set up properly, then the media will not be attracted. If they are reporting negative stuff or reporting nothing at all it means that is how our sports are. That will then influence other partners who are potential sponsors who will decline to be associated with sports, based on what they are seeing from the media. But if the sports is organized, everybody will want to be associated with it beginning from positive coverage by the media.
KS: What is your Parting shot to kenyans and readers of Kenyanstar?
Let’s take the commercial elements of sports seriously. I think it’s not a difficult thing to do but there has to be a concerted effort to steer sports towards being an industry that is respected. We are known for sports all over the globe so we need to create an industry that hires marketers, business people and so on. We also need to work together and realize that we are all going towards a specific goal, whether we are competing or not; and that is to change the lives of young people in this country and continent.