How to Spread It: Rehmah Kasule

2013-10-21 08:00

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African Leadership Initiative fellow Rehmah Kasule is changing how the lives of African girls and women are lived.

She is the founder of Century Entrepreneurship Development Agency (Ceda) International, which she founded at the age of 26 after starting her business, Century Marketing.

Since then, Ceda has helped countless girls in East Africa get better access to education and mentorship. Kasule has a programme to teach university-going women how to avoid sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and her annual Mentoring Walk is a place for women and girls to network and create strong bonds to better their communities.

Kasule’s philanthropic work has benefited in the region of 40 000 Africans in the past decade and a half.

Q: You are gracious about acknowledging those who have invested in you. How can we all invest more in one another?

A: I once heard that ‘the hand that gives is holier than the mouth that just prays’. Also, as a Rotarian, I believe in service above self, and I always say that when I learn I teach others; when I get, I give to others. That is the essence of living.

Life isn’t about me, it is about everyone else around me. In my organisation, we emphasise the concept of paying it forward. We can all invest in others by using the saying that ‘leadership is like a candle – one can light many without losing its glow, but together they create more light and better heat’.

Also, there’s an African proverb that says that ‘if you walk alone you go very fast, but when you take others with you, you go very far’. It clearly illustrates that we need each other because God created us each in a unique way.

Q: You didn’t let a lack of funds stop you from founding Ceda International – what was your ‘aha’ moment?

A: My father died when I was eight years old, and at a young age I saw my mom turn one shilling into 100 shillings. Her philosophy was that richness comes from the heart. It isn’t about how much money you have but how you use what you have efficiently.

For me, starting Ceda International didn’t require much money – I had already built a strong network and partnerships, and your networks determine your net worth. Even when I was starting my business, Century Marketing, as a 26-year-old woman, not having funds wasn’t going to stop my vision and big dreams.

Running my business, people didn’t come to me asking for money, so my ‘aha’ moment came when people started coming to ask for hand-outs when I started running Ceda International, because they saw it as a charity organisation. I guess it is the mentality that our people still have.

Q: You have so many programmes – the women entrepreneurial development initiative, the rising stars mentoring programme and the mentoring walk among them. What results have you experienced and how many people have you helped?

A: There have been many transformational results from my programmes on a personal level. I must confess, I didn’t know what leadership meant when I was running my company till I started running an organisation that deals with so many people from various levels of life.

That has been profound for me and it has reframed the way I deal with people. Our work as an organisation has inspired and equipped youth and women to discover who they are, dream big, design ways of achieving their dreams, and develop key skills, habits and characters that have led them to rewarding destinies.

Our work has empowered more than 40 000 people in Africa to take charge of their lives and positively affect their communities.

Q: What does each of these programmes entail?

A: The Rising Stars mentoring programme has had an impact on 12 000 girls in secondary schools – it inspires and equips girls with practical life skills, leadership and entrepreneurship skills for better transition from work to adulthood.

UniAction has had an impact on 1 600 young women in universities – it equips them with practical life skills, and leadership, vocational and entrepreneurship skills to prevent human trafficking and sexual exploitation among university women.

The Youth Engaged programme has had an impact on more than 800 out-of-school Muslim youth in Kawempe slums – it equips them with practical life skills, and leadership, vocational and entrepreneurship skills to prevent religious extremism. It also creates a sense of purpose and businesses and other livelihood options within communities.

Executive coaching has enabled more than 230 women to rise higher in the value chain to leadership positions – it equips women with key leadership and management skills that enable them to become relevant and competitive in the job market.

Mentoring Walk has created mentorship partnerships for more than 2 000 girls and women – it offers a platform when girls and women meet to network, share ideas and celebrate their achievements.

Wedi has supported more than 3 800 women to start businesses that are sustainable in their communities. We work with the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the International Trade Centre and some local banks to train and mentor entrepreneurs to assess markets, develop business plans, and understand customer care, financial planning and management, branding and marketing, and governance and business management systems.

Q: You are an African Leadership Initiative fellow. How did you come to be involved in the programme?

A: Maria Odido, one of the eminent Ugandan entrepreneurs, identified and nominated me. Then we did interviews and I guess I made an impression, because after about week I got a call from Ali Mufuruki telling me that I got in.

Q: What were the most valuable personal insights you gained from it?

A: The fact that, as a leader, I must be aware about the things around me – that is enlightened leadership. I am a reader, but before then I never read books about, for instance, philosophy. Today I read those books for knowledge.

Reading about stories from leaders like Aristotle and how they describe a good life inspired me to critically examine my life. Today, I live a life that has both success and happiness.

I managed this by defining what a good life meant to me – making priorities and getting rid of people from my life who wanted to destroy my dreams and instead surrounding myself with positive people. Lastly, the programme has reaffirmed my favourite quote by Isaac Newton: ‘I have seen further by standing on shoulders of giants.’

The Aspen Global Leadership Network has given me access to world-class leaders, expertise and resources. It has shown me the truth of the saying that networks are power, power is influence, influence is significance, significance is impact and impact is transformational change – which Africa needs to solve its leadership challenges.

Q: You quote Winston Churchill in your message on the Ceda website. How has establishing the mentorship programmes changed your life?

A: When I read a book by Robin Sharma – Who Will Cry When You Die? – I knew that I was on Earth to make a difference. I joke about this all the time, but it is true that when I die, so many people will cry for me.

I am a happy woman because whenever I hear positive testimonies from the people whom my programmes touch, I smile to myself knowing that I will not change the world, but I am definitely making a difference.

Q: What is one of the most inspirational stories to come out of your initiative?

A: It is about this young man we recruited for our Youth Engaged programme. Abdul-Aziz Ziiwa was born and has lived in the slums of Kawempe all his life. What he saw on a daily basis were people fighting, using drugs, drinking alcohol, prostitution, domestic violence, people waking up at 11am and sitting around passing time, and all the negative nothings that happen in slums.

When we met him, it was 11am in the morning and he was already drunk. His friends joked by telling us that we shouldn’t waste time on a muyaye (thug). Coming to our youth centre and interacting with other youth has put him in a space of productivity, developing a purpose in life, having hope for the future and training in what he had always loved – cooking. He has now started a small kiosk where he cooks and sells snacks.

A few things he said stood out for me. He said it was the first time that no one had negatively judged him by his long dreadlocks. Also, despite being a Muslim, in seven years he had not spent a day sober, but now that he has a purpose in life, he must remain sober in order to contribute to his community. He said he thought everyone was his enemy and he felt like a victim, but today he knows that his background will not determine his future – the power is in his hands to create the destiny he desires and that will take passion, vision, a great attitude, determination and focus.

In his own words: ‘I am on my way up, and absolutely nothing will stop me. I am a winner and I am going to become a star, a role model and a light house for other Muslim youth.’

Q: Do you think of yourself as a social entrepreneur rather than as a philanthropist in the traditional sense of the word?

A: I am both a social entrepreneur and philanthropist. My organisation has a major social impact and it also makes money. On the other hand, as an individual, I financially support a number of people, groups of youth and women to start or boost their businesses. I also support a number of children to have access to education.

Q: What is your greatest hope for the women you empower in Uganda and by extension on the continent?

A: My vision is to create a new generation of African women leaders who are economically independent, socially responsible and politically active. Creating strong, quality women leaders will influence policies and create more programmes for the empowerment of girls and women, which will create a multiplier effect that will have a positive impact on many women on the continent.

My hope is that the women will have more income, be at negotiation tables, have stronger voices, have positive role models to inspire and mentor them, and have more access to resources to enable them to create better lives for themselves, their children and their children’s children.

» This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust

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