Top 25 Most Powerful Women in C-Suite Impacting Business

Racey Muchilwa, President and Head of Novartis SSA, won the category of exemplary leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, an award that recognizes women from businesses globally who are leading with passion and impact during this Covid-19 pandemic.


Racey (Caroline) Muchilwa


With great uncertainty embedded in the health and humanitarian crisis in 2020, as a result of the adverse effects of Covid-19 pandemic, adopting a ‘people-centric’ approach was paramount both for Caroline Muchilwa, mostly referred to by those who know her as Racey and Novartis sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

This was particularly crucial because Racey was simultaneously handling a significant business transformation that was testing a novel business idea of integrating three major divisions to fall under one leadership. Usually, business transformation creates anxiety among employees in an organization due to fear of losing jobs.

The Covid-19 pandemic certainly compounded these fears. Leadership theorists and management gurus opine that a VUCA environment demands a distinct leadership style during these times. For starters, Racey, together with her team, used various tactics such as road mapping, which is essential for agility, change management and collective learning better manage the situation. She quipped then, ‘We are all experiencing the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and grappling with the great uncertainty. No one in my team has experienced something like this before and we were all learning, designing response plans and developing coping mechanisms along the way.”

“Empathic and authentic leadership is the baseline in such a scenario,” Racey adds. So, when she was announced in February 2021 as the first African woman to win the Leading Women Awards 2020, one thing came to her mind, “I may be the first, but certainly not the last woman.”

Racey Muchilwa, President and Head of Novartis SSA, won the category of exemplary leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, an award that recognizes women from businesses globally who are leading with passion and impact during this Covid-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, the unprecedented novel Covid-19 resulted in termed coined by the U.S. Army War College – VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity environment. Typically, such a chaotic and turbulent landscape marred with rapid changes calls for a ‘business unusual’ response.  This, Racey has been providing in droves.

From the onset, Racey embraced clear, transparent and consistent employee communication to assure and safeguard employee lives and livelihoods. Often, this called for vulnerability and at times, unsettling honesty about the uncertainty and in cases where she did not have ready answers. Employee engagement was scaled up to include regular SSA-wide town halls, cluster specific meetings and in-country forums, which Racey attended without fail. She emphatically drummed in the same message, reassuring her 500 plus employees spread across sub-Sahara Africa made up of 46 countries, that their livelihood, health and safety came first. And this, she meant.

“I authorized additional medical insurance premiums to cover Covid-19 related ailments not only for employees but for their families. Mental wellness programs were enhanced to ensure we all had an avenue to speak up while a wide array of counsellors is availed in-person or telephonically,” says Racey.

“Our employees could also access a myriad of e-learnings on mental wellness as they adjusted to the new normal, while working from home. As part of the wellness programs, our employees can also access the Novartis wellness app for meditation, various workouts and exercises to help achieve optimal performance.”

Novartis SSA has introduced Work-from-Home (WfH) almost like intentional serendipity before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, becoming extremely handy during the lockdowns across different countries. While work from home presented new challenges, where people struggle with blurred lines on work and family, it also allows greater work-life integration.

According to McKinsey’s September 2020 Diversity and Inclusion insights, though the progress towards gender equity has been marginal, Covid-19 has hit women harder. In response, Racey said that women deserved equality in the workplace as a bare minimum. But more importantly, women deserve equity.

“We must have tailored problem solving because one size does fit all women.”  That is why Novartis SSA joined hands with the United Nation Foundation’s project that empowers women and girls through universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. As part of the commitment, they pledged to reach 40,000 employees and community members, including 20,000 women with health education on reproductive health and family planning in five countries in SSA through their Social Business Program by 2023. This is in addition to training 100 female employees in leadership skills who will empower other women in the workplace and the community, including small and medium businesses (MSMEs).

Lastly, to futureproof young girls, Novartis SSA committed to ensuring 10,000 school girls have access to sanitary towels coupled with mentorship and leadership training so that they remain in school.

Circling back to the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on healthcare systems, which has exerted immense pressure across the board, Racey says leveraging the power of partnerships would be essential, especially for SSA. To mitigate medicines supply chain challenges, Novartis is in collaboration with the African Union (AU) through the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) to facilitate the supply of medicines from the Novartis Pandemic Response Portfolio to the AU member states. The portfolio comprises 15 medicines sold at zero profits.

The AMSP portal is an online marketplace that also enables the supply of Covid-19-related critical medical equipment in Africa. This collaboration aims to help alleviate supply and logistical constraints by ensuring efficient and rapid access to the Pandemic Portfolio medicines to 55 African governments.

“Patients are at the heart of everything we do in SSA. This region is home to the world’s underserved population and we must think innovatively and leverage technology to reach them, ensuring access to high-quality medicines,” says Racey.

Racey started her career as a medical representative and has over 20 year of experience in pharmaceutical industry, FMCG business and social media, 17 of which of them in middle and senior management positions.

Those who work with her attests to her ability to achieve results compliantly, by ensuring the right tone from the top as she drives a company culture that promotes accountability, ownership, curiosity, fairness, openness, diversity and inclusion.

Among Racey’s hallmarks is enabling access to the company medicines to the patients as she believes in enabling the patients to own their patient journey and one of the ways is through the strengthening of the healthcare systems by the work that she does, and making it a fulfilling experience for the patients by removing barriers that would make it otherwise.

Can she play a part by shaping the environment to enable and drive this? Yes, she can… can we? Racey poses.

Racey is one of the few female commercial leaders in the company and is best described by three words: inspirational people leader.  She loves describing herself as a child and a daughter of God in the market place. A mother, wife and sister.

Racey Muchilwa holds a B.Sc. Biochemistry and Zoology from Egerton University and a Master’s in Business Administration (International Business Management) from University of Nairobi (UoN) all in Kenya.


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Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Kenya’s Dr Hanningtone Gaya, holds a PhD in Commerce in Business Management from Nelson Mandela University (NMU), is viewed as an authority in country branding and is the founder chairman of the Brand Kenya Board.

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