Maasai Mara University

Empowering Maasai Mara University: Vimal Shah’s Rise from Entrepreneur to Chancellor

All countries develop on the pillars of their material resources, manpower, and policy framework. Kenya is no different. Blessed with material treasures, Kenya is moving ahead to become an enviable economy. The times for the nation have changed drastically from the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-independence periods from 1962.

In terms of going forward, Kenya has always been active. It has forged ahead despite its laurels. Many have contributed to its growth. Kenyan national Dr Vimal Shah is one such entrepreneur who has contributed to its prosperity and played a philanthropic role. He is the brand ambassador for Global Indian Network in Kenya. His father was instrumental in shaping his entrepreneurial mindset. His visionary approach toward business catapulted him to the top league in the country.

Dr Vimal Shah was honored with the position of second Chancellor of Maasai Mara University in Kenya

This article is centered on Dr Vimal Shah’s elevated status to second chancellor of the Maasai Mara University of Kenya.

Maasai Mara University - Mission

Education plays a pivotal role in the developmental index of any country. Educational institutions are agents of social development as well. Kenya has made considerable strides in this respect.

Maasai Mara University (MMU), established in 2008 as Narok University College, is a vibrant public university in Kenya. MMU is committed to providing quality education through innovative teaching, research, and consultancy services. The university aims to be a world-class institution, contributing to sustainable progress in the region. MMU's core purpose is to equip students with skills and knowledge to drive positive change, fostering an environment that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and responsible citizenship.

Maasai Mara University, through its diverse academic programs, innovative research, and community outreach, aims to improve local and national communities, which aligns with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

LISTEN TO THIS PODCAST: Embracing Kenyanness - A Journey of Identity and Belonging with Vimal Shah

Maasai Mara University Programs

The university offers agriculture, applied sciences, business, and education programs, focusing on academic excellence, community engagement, innovation, research, and development consultancy services. The university has five schools, two departments, and a Department of Computer and Information Sciences, offering innovative courses, industry-driven research, and diverse work experience opportunities.

Image source: Maasai Mara University

Maasai Mara University also offers a wide range of science, arts, tourism, business, and education courses. Its schools focus on essential services and human resource development. The university is dedicated to community engagement through tree planting and social work conferences. Its expertise spans business, computing, ICT, education, psychology, tourism, environmental sciences, health sciences, and research, reflecting its commitment to academic development and excellence.

This university is a world-class institution dedicated to community development and knowledge exchange. Its Department of Social Sciences offers programs in Social Work, Community Development, Criminology, and Sociology. The university collaborates with other institutions for practical application and holistic education. Its 5M Community Impact Model focuses on Mau Forest conservation, Maa culture celebration, Maa Mara National Reserve protection, water management, and peace-building.

The first Chancellor of Maasai Mara University was Prof. Philip Ngunjiri.

Student Research and Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Maasai Mara University is a comprehensive institution that fosters student research through quality teaching, community outreach, and consulting services. Its six schools, including the School of Natural Resources, Environmental Studies, and Agriculture, offer market-driven programs promoting research and critical thinking. The university also fosters interdisciplinary research through specialized centers, seminars, and joint projects, encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration and problem-solving from various perspectives. These programs equip the students to become assets to society and the country.

Resources for Student Fieldwork or Experiments

Maasai Mara University (MMU) offers a "Fieldwork Ready Guide" and interdisciplinary collaboration for students conducting fieldwork or experiments. The guide provides practical advice on data collection, safety, and techniques, while faculty mentorship is provided on design and analysis. MMU also offers specialized equipment and tools through workshops and field service kits, allowing students to learn from existing research.

Student-Led Projects 

Maasai Mara University promotes community service, volunteering, and sustainable development through field courses and practicum components. It also offers workshops on competency-based education (CBE) and participates in National Tree Planting Day to promote environmental conservation. These student-led projects foster holistic development, community engagement, and practical skills, empowering students to address social, economic, and ecological challenges.

Recent Successful Student-Led Experiments Conducted in the Maasai Mara Region

The Maasai Mara is home to numerous conservation researchers working together to protect this diverse ecosystem, home to iconic wildlife and the annual Great Migration.

In the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) have been conducting successful student-led experiments as part of The Maasai Mara Hyena Project. Professor Kay Holekamp and her students have observed hyenas for over 30 years, accumulating a rich dataset. Recent research by former MSU Ph.D. student Zachary Laubach explores the link between hyenas' early social experiences and stress hormones as adults.

Image source: Human-elephant conflict

A Kenyan study reveals that human-elephant conflict in Maasai Mara National Reserve negatively impacts communities, increases poverty, and threatens conservation efforts. The study suggests strategies for conflict mitigation and conservation policies, including habitat management, restoration, community participation, raising awareness about elephant behavior, elephant welfare, relocation management, electric fences, deterrents, fair crop compensation, and early warning systems for preventive actions.

Maasai Mara University is conducting student-led research projects on the Maasai Mara ecosystem, focusing on ecomorphology, acoustics, science communication, and wildlife behavior. The Mara Predator Project monitors lion populations in conservancies north of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, examining coexistence with local communities. The Meru Cheetah Project analyzes cheetah population dynamics, behavior, and survival, exploring the impact of predators and human presence. These initiatives contribute to conservation efforts and sustainable development in the region.

Research Papers or Projects That Received Recognition

Named Entity Recognition (NER) models are utilized in finance, legal, healthcare, and African languages, with MasakhaNER being a specific benchmark for African languages. The research on MasakhaNER was conducted by a team led by David Ifeoluwa Adelani. MasakhaNER 2.0, built on the success of MasakhaNER, expands the dataset to cover 20 African languages.

The 2nd International Scientific Research Conference at MMU in April 2024 aimed to transform higher education through research and community transformation. The International Conference on Recent Advances in Applied Sciences (ICRAAS) series aimed to establish research relations and global partners in engineering, applied sciences, technology, and management.

Opportunities for Practical Experience

Maasai Mara University’s curriculum focuses on computer science technologies, providing students with hands-on experience and preparing them for the tech workforce. With a world-class faculty, MMU fosters creativity and collaboration through projects and hackathons. Students explore contemporary modules in artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, data analytics, 5G, and IoT to develop practical skills.

Collaboration with Industry Partners

Maasai Mara University is involved in research projects and collaborations, including the Maasai Mara Science and Development Initiative, an international partnership with the University of Nairobi, Aarhus University, Kenya Wildlife Trust, Mararianta community, and Karen Blixen Camp Trust, aiming to conserve the Maasai Mara ecosystem and culture. The university has also launched a program training 150 students in tree nursery seeding production and management, promoting environmental awareness and sustainable practices.

Image source: Narok County Primary Schools Greening Program

Maasai Mara University has formed a strategic partnership with the SINO AFRICA Joint Research Centre of the Chinese Academy of Science, aiming to foster academic and research cooperation between Kenya and China. The university has also launched the Narok County Primary Schools Greening Program, training students on tree nursery seeding production and management. Their commitment extends to development partners, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Maasai Mara University promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in the region through its School of Business and Economics, offering programs in Business Management, Human Resource Management, and Agricultural Economics.

ALSO READ: African Business Landscape in 2024

International Collaborations for Knowledge Exchange

2nd Biannual International Social Works and Multidisciplinary Conference Meet - May 2024

Maasai Mara University (MMU) is actively involved in international collaborations for knowledge exchange, including student exchange programs, internships, and workshops with over 100 partner universities. MMU is also involved in a project with the University of Johannesburg and GeoSpace International to improve crop yield quantity and quality. A two-week International Virtual Student Exchange Programme was organized in July 2021.

Community Engagement and Research Initiatives

Maasai Mara University students engage with local communities in research, providing insights into wildlife behavior, land use, and environmental changes. This initiative fosters collaborative conservation efforts and addresses human-wildlife conflict, habitat degradation, and sustainable resource management issues.

Students promote community understanding of conservation practices and ecosystem dynamics through workshops, training, and awareness programs, sharing research findings for informed decision-making and sustainable practices.

Community Projects by the University

Maasai Mara University (MMU) is actively involved in community projects, focusing on education, research, and outreach. It collaborates with A&K Philanthropy to build classrooms, provide safe drinking water, and implement school-feeding programs. MMU supports women's groups and contributes to the Maasai Mara ecosystem, wildlife, and culture through interdisciplinary efforts. Since 2014, MMU has initiated over 20 research projects, demonstrating its commitment to sustainable development.

Recent Publications or Conferences 

MMU students have presented their findings at several conferences and publications. The 2nd MMU International Scientific Research Conference focuses on shaping the future of higher education through research and innovations for community transformation. The International Conference on Recent Advances in Applied Sciences (ICRAAS-2022) focuses on engineering, applied sciences, technology, and management, providing a platform for researchers to exchange ideas and collaborate on original research.

Non-Academic Activities and Recognition

Maasai Mara University students can engage in non-academic activities like community service projects, joining student clubs, and participating in awareness campaigns. These projects focus on environmental conservation, health, and supporting vulnerable populations. Additionally, they can join student clubs that organize events and outreach programs.

Image source: Maasai Mara Game Reserve

They can engage with local NGOs for community development projects, explore entrepreneurial opportunities, and participate in environmental initiatives. Maasai Mara University's location near Maasai Mara Game Reserve offers unique wildlife and environmental engagement opportunities, enhancing personal growth and leadership skills.

Maasai Mara University's Department of Social Sciences offers Social Work, Community Development, Criminology, and Sociology programs, focusing on Indigenous methodologies and positive social change. These diploma programs provide practical training, real-world experience, and a holistic approach, preparing students for professional roles.

New Chancellor: Dr Vimal Shah

Vimal Shah was appointed as the Chancellor of Maasai Mara University on September 8, 2023, with dignitaries including President William Ruto present. Shah's speech emphasized resilience and gratitude, while Vice-Chancellor Professor Peninah Aloo Obuodho read his citation, highlighting his achievements.

In a ceremony on 7th June 2024, Vimal Shah, the newly appointed Chancellor of Maasai Mara University, stressed the importance of resilience and dynamic learning in a world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. He praised President William Samoei Ruto for appointing him and emphasized the collective role of education in preparing individuals to face future uncertainties. Shah also referred to the importance of belief in oneself, stating that anyone can achieve their aspirations if they believe in themselves.

Background and Family Business

Vimal Shah, born in Nyeri, Kenya, graduated from the United States International University, Nairobi Campus, with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance. He leads Bidco Africa, a rapidly growing conglomerate specializing in edible oil, detergents, soaps, margarine, and baking powder production in East and Central Africa. With over 50 brands, Bidco Africa is committed to quality and innovation. He has demonstrated resilience, agility, and innovation in competition with multinationals like Unilever, while Bidco Africa's local roots and understanding of the Kenyan market provide a competitive advantage.

Image source: Bidco Africa

Bidco Africa is committed to sustainable practices and environmental responsibility, utilizing a circular economy model, cottonseed oil byproducts, energy-efficient technologies, and water conservation measures.

ALSO READ: Vimal Shah’s Vision: How BIDCO Africa Became East Africa’s FMCG Giant

Positions and Awards

Forbes Magazine ranked Vimal Shah among Africa's wealthiest individuals, citing BIDCO's sales of $500 million in 2013, manufacturing factories in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The other esteemed positions he has held include Chairman of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), Chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Chairman of the East African Business Council (EABC), Advisory Board Member of the Global Green Growth Fund (3GF), and Advisory Board Member of the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Through a blog, his mentor role is highly regarded by small and medium-sized businesses across Kenya, East Africa, and the broader continent.

He was awarded the Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear in 2011, the highest national honor in Kenya, for his significant contributions to business, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. He was awarded the Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear in 2011, the highest national honor in Kenya, for his significant contributions to business, entrepreneurship, and economic growth.

Responsibilities of a Chancellor at Maasai Mara University

The Chancellor at Maasai Mara University is responsible for presiding over important university events, acting as the university's official representative and ambassador, promoting its interests, and fostering relationships with stakeholders like the government, industry, and community. They provide strategic guidance, secure resources, and promote academic excellence through research, innovation, and quality teaching. They engage with stakeholders like students, faculty, alumni, and the community to ensure responsiveness and uphold the university's core values, inspiring excellence and contributing to nation-building.

Overall, the Chancellor plays a vital role in shaping the direction and reputation of Maasai Mara University, ensuring that it remains a world-class institution committed to academic excellence and development.

The Vision of Dr Vimal Shah 

Dr Vimal Shah's vision for Maasai Mara University is to become a world-class institution fostering innovation, education, and economic progress.

In his acceptance speech on 7th June 2024, he focused on the dynamic nature of the world and how students can find their unique place. He stressed that today's fast-paced world faces challenges of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), which demands that we adapt and innovate to stay ahead. Innovations should never stop because of failure, for one can learn from them.

Dr Shah highlighted that a rapidly changing world in terms of technology will profoundly change how we operate and live. As far as students are concerned, they must be ready to embrace contemporary developments such as artificial intelligence, prompt engineering, and other developments.

The Chancellor urged the students to upskill themselves throughout life since learning is never-ending. He envisions that the students of MMU can rise to world standards. For example, he mentioned that several Kenyans work in Qatar's hospitality industry. Dr Shah reminded the students to aim to become global citizens with training and without compromising ethics. The pandemic of COVID-19 was a predicament for the whole world. The students have to learn to navigate situations that may be unprecedented. The traditional type of education needs to be updated, and the students have to be prepared to move on.

Dr Shah aims to prepare individuals for an ever-changing future by fostering resilience in students, alums, and the university community, ensuring they navigate challenges without fear. He emphasizes the University's role in promoting dynamic learning and training, stating that it can significantly impact society by equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge.

Dr Vimal Shah promotes entrepreneurship and startups by encouraging students and faculty to think beyond textbooks and apply knowledge and supporting startup incubators, mentorship programs, and business development initiatives. Beyond the core subjects, students have to navigate their journey with a clear vision.

Dr Shah envisions a university education system where government funds are leveraged to establish cutting-edge infrastructure, provide a robust support system for faculty members, and invest in strategic partnerships and collaborations that foster experiential learning.

Dr Shah highlighted the need for MMU to become a university with a specialized niche. He elaborated that the world should recognize the institution as the best for tourism, hospitality, and climate change control. Environmental conservation and resource management could be the other niches to focus on.

The Chancellor brought to the fore the need for Competency-Based Education principles, which include a student-centric approach with teachers as facilitators. Strategies include lectures, small group discussions, demonstration-observation-assistance-performance, and self-directed learning. He referred to the committee that has been formed for CBE.

The readiness of the students was highlighted as critical in Kenya's journey towards becoming a middle-income country. Dr Shah's words of encouragement for the students were that MMU is poised to become a world-class university and its students are to evolve into actual global citizens. He underscored the significance of upholding cultural values, gaining empowerment, and being heard.

He discussed how Kenya is self-sufficient in water resources but needs help capturing solar energy and the funding to combat climate change. He noticed that food security could become a significant threat in the future and that regenerative agriculture could be the answer.

Image source: Study of Bat Ecology and Conservation with JRS Biodiversity Foundation in 2019

"Make a difference' (MAD) was an encouragement term given to the students, who he believes, are keen on becoming world-class. Emphasis was placed on adapting to technology, thinking critically, and maintaining value systems such as endurance, resilience, and communal solidarity.

Dr Shah brought to the fore the need to use unutilized assets such as women and children. He reminded me that society should address issues faced by men. He asked the students to learn from the animal kingdom, where cooperation and solidarity are natural. Having coexisted with animals, the Maasai people are well-equipped to understand the value of communal harmony.

The need for proper parenting was accentuated. Parents were urged to offer emotional support and to participate actively in the student's life. He believes the faculty has a vast role in the students' lives and careers. He urged them to continue life-long learning.

Dr Vimal Shah's speech brought to the fore the significance of education, cultural preservation, and its positive impact on society through Maasai Mara University. He quoted Nelson Mandela - “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to  change the world.” 

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Dr Vimal Shah's appointment as the 2nd Chancellor of Maasai Mara University marks a significant milestone. His entrepreneurial acumen, commitment to sustainable development, and passion for education will undoubtedly shape the university's future. As a bridge between academia and industry, Dr Shah brings invaluable insights and a vision for positive impact. Maasai Mara University looks forward to a dynamic era under his leadership.

Dr Vimal Shah will be able to provide strategic guidance, oversee quality assurance processes, and collaborate with faculty, administration, and stakeholders to enhance academic programs and student experiences. His vast business experience and his affiliation with human development will stand him in good stead. His philanthropic activities portray large-heartedness that has always reciprocated to the warmth of the African people and its government. 

Dr Vimal Shah, as Chancellor, is dedicated to fostering integrity, enhancing societal impact, and promoting academic excellence and knowledge creation at Maasai Mara University. He imagines that by taking the necessary actions in non-traditional ways, MMU  will become an institute of repute in the future, and the world will want to know about Kenya's visionary path.

With Dr Vimal Shah at the helm, we are filled with hope and confidence for a bright future for all those associated with Maasai Mara University. We look forward to the positive changes and the visionary path that lies ahead.

Usha Menon

With over 25 years of experience as an architect, urban designer, and green building consultant, Usha has been designing sustainable, and visionary spaces. She has published a book, has been actively blogging, and is on social media. Now, her journey is transitioning to full-time writing. Her words will continue to craft stories, not brick and mortar, but in the realm of ideas, fostering a better, more inspired world.

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