It takes a global village to change the world in a powerful way. Education is the single most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. Coming from the rural village of Goma in the landlocked African country of Uganda, Rehmah Kasule used education to shape her own destiny as an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and global leader – from the village to the USA Whitehouse. As a youth and gender development expert, she uses education to shape the destinies of others, especially women and the youth. In this engaging conversation with Anne Pratt, Rehmah talks about the powerful lessons she learned from her inspiring mentor, Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige (BMK), who recently passed away. She shares more about “the five D’s” of large-scale social impact projects, shifting the mindset from “success to significance,” and why it takes a village to exercise leadership. Tune in for all of these, plus the power of weaponizing education to make a personal impact, as well as how it impacts the lives of others!
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“Weaponizing Education to Change the World” with Rehmah Kasule in Uganda
It Takes a Global Village to Redefine Your Destiny
Our thoughtful bold leader joins us from the capital city of Kampala in Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa, a country that is home to the renowned mountain gorilla sanctuary. Her journey takes her from a rural Ugandan village all the way to the White House. She is a successful TEDx speaker, author, and award-winning changemaker who has delivered large-scale social impact projects through educational reform, leadership development, gender equality, and youth empowerment. President Obama recognized her work.
In addition, she received the Goldman Sachs and Fortune Global Women Leaders Award and has impacted more than 168,000 children and women across Africa. She completed five successful top leadership fellowships, including the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative and the Aspen Global Leadership Network Fellowship. Stay tuned as she shares more about how she weaponized education, the five Ds of large-scale social impact projects, shifting mindset from success to significance, and why it takes a village to exercise leadership. We warmly welcome my dear friend, Rehmah Kasule. Welcome to the show.
Welcome, Rehmah. It’s so lovely to see you.
It’s nice to see you, Anne. It’s a pleasure speaking about leadership.
I wanted to begin in a place that is a sad time for you but also a reflective time. You shared with me that you’ve lost a great mentor and human being in your life. What struck me about that is the importance of mentorship and having somebody who believes in us. I wondered if I could begin firstly to say a humble condolence to you, the family, and the community. This truly seems to be a remarkable human being who is a great loss to your country and Africa. I wondered if you could share with us what it was about this human being. What did he mean in your life? Why has he made such an impact, not only for you but for people in Africa?
BMK: My Mentor
It has been a difficult time. This gentleman’s name is BMK. That was his brand name. We call him Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige, in short BMK. We have BMK House and BMK Industries. I was an entrepreneur when I started my career at 24 years old. No one believed in me. I had so many dream takers, as I call them now. I had no dream makers around me. I reached out to him. He didn’t know me, but he knew my family. I reached out to him and said, “I’ve started my little business.” It was so small in one room, “People don’t believe in me. What’s your opinion?”
He told me, “You’re on the right track.” He called my name to prime me, “You’re going to succeed.” He gave me an opportunity to work for him. That time, he opened a new hotel called Hotel Africana, one of Uganda’s largest hotels. He told me, “You are going to do all my branding and communication work.” That was the opportunity that launched me into my career as an entrepreneur. He built his business in Lusaka, Uganda, Japan, and China years ago.
He has become so big, but one of the things he had as a leader was the humility around him. If you met him at his hotel, people didn’t realize he was the owner because he was moving out tables and doing things. Years ago, he got cancer and was given only two years. Every day, he prayed, saying, “If I could have five years.” God gave him six years, but we buried him. At his funeral, people were speaking about him. He has been handling workers and everyone around him.
I reflected on this question: “Who will cry when I die?” Many times, we do things, but we don’t realize how many people we touch. That’s a question I’m going to be reflecting on going forward to say, “Who is going to be there and cry when I die? What stories will be told about me?” That has shifted my purpose and focus to know that it’s not about me. It’s about other people around you that you touch unknowingly or knowingly.Many times, we do things, but we don't realize how many people we touch. Reflect on this question, “Who will cry when you die?” Click To Tweet
That’s such a powerful reminder. Robin Sharma wrote the book Who Will Cry When You Die. I don’t know if you’ve read it. In the book, he talks about how the first 50 years of our lives are about creating legitimacy. Often people think, “What is it that’s going to get me ahead? What are the titles? When am I going to get the corner office, the powerful positions, the cars, the houses, and the materialistic symbols of success?”
A question I’ve often pondered, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts about this, is this. How do we shift this mindset from success to significance? How do we embed that in people at a young age? I don’t think we have to wait until we are 50 years of age to create purpose, impact, and significance in our lives. What are your thoughts on that?
Mindset Shift: Success to Significance
For me, it starts with discovering who you are and knowing who you are. I strongly believe that if you know who you are as a person, that’s the beginning of getting what you want in life. That’s number one, but knowing who you are and where you come from is a critical foundation. In my life, I always begin with who I am and where I have come from so that if I know those two quick answers, I know where to go.If you know who you are as a person, that's the beginning of getting what you want in life. Click To Tweet
I know who has supported me in my journey. If we could tell our children as young as three years and teach them those values of knowing who they are, knowing a sense of community and knowing that they’re not alone, “You’re part of a collective,” that will be a good beginning. In school, we are told, “It’s not about you. It’s about interdependence and collective action.“
That triggers another thought in terms of our educational system. You have a great passion for youth and education. This has been a big part of your life. We will talk a little more about that later. Where do you think the gaps are in education? You’re a wonderful Aspen fellow. We have both done the same Harvard Advanced Leadership Fellowship. These are fantastic schools that do remarkable work, but in education more broadly, where are the gaps? Where is the educational system falling short in terms of teaching us these basic principles of leadership?
Personally, I strongly believe that the greatest injustice facing Africa, first of all, and other developing countries, is not a lack of education, corruption, or diseases. Why do I say that? Without empowering us leaders, we can’t solve the corruption, the lack of education, and the issues around us. The education system that we have is teaching us “Pass. Get a degree. Get a job.” We’re not taught about critical thinking, compassion, values, and leadership. Those are critical and fundamental things we need to have at a young age.The greatest injustice facing Africa is the failure of the education system to empower our people as leaders. Click To Tweet
I’ll tell you one thing. Growing up in a Muslim society, I saw communication. We’re not taught how to communicate. You grow up not knowing how to communicate with other people because you don’t have a voice. You can’t speak up. I wasn’t popular growing up because I used to speak a lot, but it’s those little things that I need to be told of looking at subjects, passing, getting grades, and going into the world without no fiber in you. Think about the people around you. Think thematically. Think about the systems around you. It’s always about you and me. There’s nothing about us.
Do you think this is unique to Uganda? You allude to that. Is this not a broader question for not only our schooling systems but also our higher ed and what we teach people in top business schools around the world? Isn’t this a bigger question?
It’s a global question. We know people who have had the best degrees but are nowhere to be seen. One of the things I tell young people is that your background doesn’t shape your destiny. You have the power to design the future you want because once we show you that your background won’t be an impediment to your life, you think outside the box.Your background doesn't shape your destiny. You have the power to design the future you want. Click To Tweet
That’s how I started dreaming because I realized, “I won’t be born and die in this small community.” I proudly say that I was born a village girl, but I refuse to become a village woman because I realized I’m not going to stay in this village. Where do people get that exposure? It’s that people around us who tell us, “You’re nothing. You’re just a woman. You’re too young. You can never do that.” We have a lot of those people around us.
Quieting those voices is an interesting conversation in and of itself. Stay with us for a moment. Suppose you were given the fantastic opportunity of helping reshape and reimagine a Harvard Business School MBA curriculum. What would you put into it that you think would enable and empower our younger generation?
This is a global conversation. It’s not yet as vibrant in the education system but in the private sector and nonprofit organizations. This whole question is about diversity, inclusion, and also belonging. We’re bringing belonging to the conversation because you feel you don’t belong, “I’m just there. I’m not included. I don’t belong.” Diversity is being asked to dance. Inclusion is letting you choose the music.
That is one of the things that need to shift. That’s number one. Number two is the appreciation of local knowledge and leaders because that’s critical. I’ve seen these very great ideas coming into, for example, Africa. They even consult the people on the ground. Do they know what we know? Young people or even older people have to focus on what the local knowledge and the ecosystem are around that knowledge so that we leverage these case studies and ideas personally.
For example, the Harvard Business School. I used to see all these case studies. I’m like, “Where is Africa? Do you mean we don’t have good business stories to bring to the world? We do.” That’s my last point on this. As Africans, we need to document those stories and studies so that we tell our stories and narratives and show the world that Africa has positive stories to tell the world.Africa has positive stories to tell the world. We need to document those stories. Click To Tweet
That’s a wonderful segway right into it. Can you share with us one of your inspiring stories, a story that is a great example of bold leadership that has been a success either in your community or your country?
Let me share with you a story of a young girl who is 25 years. Sandra Batakana was a girl I met in 2004 when she dropped out of school. She was in one of the rural schools in Uganda called Iganga. I had a program called the Rising Stars originally by the state department. I brought Sandra to my program. I tell young girls.
It’s the Rising Stars mentoring program. Sandra shares her time between New York and Uganda. What I helped her do is to form a nonprofit organization that is self-sustaining. She showed people in her community, “I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for you.” By empowering the leaders who are in the proximity of what is going on, they have managed to do the nonprofit without her. Her main role is fundraising. She sends them money back home, and then they do the work. She monitors from afar. She was here. She went and saw the kinds of businesses that women have formed. It’s exciting to see those stories. I have many of those stories. Especially young people below 30 years have done incredible work.
Sandra has empowered 85 women in her rural community. We know that mindset matters. When we meet people, we have all those who we think have a scarcity mindset. They’re more fixed in their thinking. We have people who are able to dream. What is the key to unlocking that mindset of “No dream is too big?”
Mindset: No Dream is Too Big
It was enacted by building brands and shifting mindsets. It’s mindset renewal. Mindset shifts happen at all levels, but what is interesting is it’s a combination of the ecosystem where we’re born and brought up, but the people around you contribute a lot to the mindset you have. The people around us are important. They say, “Your networks create your net worth.” If you have people who are always complaining in your networks, you complain. If you have people who are thinking about entrepreneurship and involvement and have a big mindset, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to win,” then you also win.
To young people and even to us, it’s the people around you, but secondly is the attitude. I still tell young people, “Your attitude will determine your altitude because how far you go into the world is determined by your attitude.” I talk to young people and tell them about entrepreneurship. They’re like, “I don’t do that work. That’s too low for us.”How far you go into the world is determined by your attitude. Click To Tweet
You find another one who’s going to say, “I’m a professional lawyer, but I love hairdressing. Let me go and become a hairdresser and make money.” It’s the attitude. The mindset shift needs to happen, especially in young people at a young age, to realize that they are not just leaders of tomorrow. They are leaders of today. You need to start taking action, being accountable, and being stewards now, not in the future. Mindset is a big issue we need to work on, especially in Africa.
You’ve mentioned the fact that it’s about the people we surround ourselves with. It reminds me of my late mother, who always used to say, “You will become the average of the five closest people in your life. Choose your inner circle very carefully.” She would often say that. What for you are the three big takeaways around mindset? People are wanting to make this transition. What would you say to people who feel stuck?
For me, the beginning is what many people still don’t do a lot. It’s being reflective, first of all, on who you are and your purpose in life. You intentionally take the time and say, “Who am I as a person? What am I meant to do in this life?” That reflective mindset is taking time for yourself instead of rushing out to go and make the next check. Once you reflect on those critical issues about yourself, your community, and the contribution you want to make, you’re already shifting things around you.
The entire currency starts to move around. It’s no longer about you. It’s about everything else going on. I don’t know if you’ve read the book Designing Your Life. I’m sure you’ve read it. That’s one of the books that empowered me to say, “We don’t need to do it in our 40s and 50s. We need to start discerning life at a young age.”
Zoom out. Go back onto the balcony. What are the big issues in the world that keep you awake at night?
One is the education system in Africa. How can we re-engineer and rewire the education system that we have? That’s number one.
The second one for me is the way we are not, and I’m saying we because I’m a leader, empowering enough this next generation of leaders, especially the young people. Looking at most African countries, 75% are below 30 years. If we had to think about having a forest in ten years, we need to think about growing the trees now, but we are calling them the next generation, whereas they are for this generation.
Third is the weak government systems that we have seen. COVID-19 has brought it to bear to show how rotten the systems are, the inequalities, and the corruption, especially in Africa. I don’t have the answers, but we need to follow a blueprint. For example, we can follow and say, “Nelson Mandela used to do this. What can we do? Robert Mugabe used to do this. What can we do?” It’s documenting those leadership journeys so that young people have a blueprint to say, “I want to be like him (or not) because I know what he did. It’s the journey I’m going to work forward.”
When you talk about this blueprint, on one hand, you talk about Nelson Mandela, what he did, and his remarkable life, leadership, and legacy. You spoke about Robert Mugabe, who started with a lot of promise in Zimbabwe when he was elected in 1980. He was a University of Cambridge graduate, and then he lost his way. I’m curious. Why is it important for you to juxtapose, for example? Is it about, “Here’s one way of doing it. Here’s another way,” or is it about finding there’s good and bad in everyone? I’m curious to hear your thoughts about that.
For example, if we had to do case studies and document leadership, we can’t only say, “Everything is perfect.” We must show our imperfections so that we show especially young people that those are pitfalls, “If had to do any policies, don’t go this way. What do you do if you had to deal with the World Bank?” We need to study both what I would call the positive and the negative of leadership. I believe leadership is not about a title or even a position. Leadership is about you identifying a need, bringing people together, and taking action. Once we have that in mind, we shall shift a lot of things where people don’t say, “It’s our leaders.” I don’t like that phrase people say, “Our leaders.” I ask people, “Who are you?”Leadership is not about a title or position. It’s about identifying a need, bringing people together, and taking action. Click To Tweet
Like multiple millions in the world, you have had a Mandela Moment, a moment where he struck a chord, lit fire, or simply inspired you. Can you share with us your Mandela Moment? What was the moment when Mandela opened up a whole new way of thinking about you and your world ahead?
Education: A Powerful Weapon
That is one other thing I’m reflecting on a lot. You don’t know when someone touches your life. My mother was denied the right to education. She was pulled out of school to get married at sixteen years. My mother always told us, “Go and get the education that I didn’t get.” There was no question about it. She told us, “We are poor, but it will be you who are going to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty that we have in our family.”
As a young person, you don’t realize what it means. My father died when I was eight years. It was only my mother who was looking after us. I didn’t realize the essence of her words too. When I went to a village school in Gomba and joined Nabisunsa Secondary School, that’s when my Mandela Moment happened. We had a big library because I went from village to city schools. The library had Nelson Mandela’s words, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
I was only twelve years. When I saw those words, I was like, “I have a weapon here because I’m going to fight.” It empowered me. It put me in another zone. I started thinking and reading about other leaders and Mandela. I didn’t know I would ever even see him. I had never seen him on TV because my community didn’t have a TV. We didn’t even have electricity. I started thinking, “Who is Mandela? What does Education mean?”
For me, it didn’t stop at that age but enabled me even to know the purpose I wanted to do in life. Coming from this village, I always said, “I’m going empower other young girls.” My purpose and passion in life are to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty of other girls by taking them to school and giving them the opportunity to study because I can be the exception to the rule. I need to be the norm.
Millions of girls in Africa are married off young. They don’t have a voice. They don’t have the education that Mandela is speaking about. They don’t have that weapon to fight the world. They can’t have decisions. Education doesn’t take us to get a job. It gives you the tool to get the agency, the voice, and the ability to make a difference and have decisions and choices even on whether you want to have children or not or whether you want to have 10 or 1. Education does that. For me, the basis is education. That’s how I connect to Nelson Mandela.
It’s that moment in the library with Mandela’s quote. What struck me when you said that is the fact that education is a weapon, and we tend to think of a weapon as perhaps a dangerous tool. You zoom in on the word. Share more about the meaning of that word, why it was so powerful for you, and what your journey was when you said you started reading. What steps would you take to help other people open up that path of discovery around Mandela, his leadership, his teachings, and his wisdom?
What was different is that when I knew that education was a weapon, I realized that it was not negative. I’m not going to fight people, but it’s a tool I can use to change my world and my community. That’s number one. I started reading a lot. I now know. I didn’t know then that readers are leaders. I wanted to be a leader. I wanted to read about more leaders. I also read A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford at that time. I started thinking about Fifth Avenue. I didn’t know where it was and what it looks like until so many years after.
It’s that whole thinking big and dreaming big. I was an introvert. I used to be very quiet, but that’s the time I started speaking to other people, “Do you know this? Have you had this?” It built confidence in me because I sounded much smarter than other people who only read textbooks made for class. To young people especially, read boldly and broadly to say, “I’m going to read everything that comes to me because the information is power.” The way you use it matters a lot.
We talk about leading boldly into the future. You’ve spoken about the importance of boldness. Many of us have gone through those tipping points or adversities in life where sometimes it’s hard to be bold, stand up, and speak out because it comes with risks and losses. What would you say to those people about how they navigate through those fears into a space of boldness, courage, and fortitude? What have you learned in your life?
Adversity and Boldness
1. Humility. Also being very authentic to who you are and being comfortable in who you are. When people judge me by how I dress, speak, or look, I don’t think about it. They don’t know who I am as a person. For us to lead with bold ideas and become that person, it’s knowing who we are and also being comfortable with it so that we don’t say, “They’re judging me because of this.” That’s number one.
2. Understanding other people and respecting their cultures. I’ve traveled to South Africa, Dubai, Jordan, Mexico, Brazil, and India. We all have the same issues. We all desire the same things, like good health, good education, and money. We all need affirmation and respect. That’s understanding other people and embracing them. For me, that’s so critical because you can’t lead unless you know other people around you. You can’t lead unless you know who you are.You can't lead unless you know other people around you. You can't lead unless you know who you are. Click To Tweet
3. Compassion. Being compassionate about people around you but also understanding where they come from. Compassion starts with you being compassionate about yourself and knowing your limits. Otherwise, you burn out. You burn out if you’re not compassionate about yourself. I sit on a board at one of the organizations called StrongMinds. We deal with mental health in Africa. I’ve seen how leaders burn out because they’re not compassionate about themselves. They feel they have to prove to others that they’re doing great. They’re the best at this.
Having people around you that you groom. You have a pipeline of leaders, so you know, “I’m not the only one.” In 2009, I started this movement where we light a candle at the Global Mentoring Walk every year. We say that leadership is like a candle. One can light many without losing its glow, but together, they create more light and better heat.Leadership is like a candle. One can light many without losing its glow, but together they create more light. Click To Tweet
You have been a candle that has lit many lives. How have you weaponized your education? You have some remarkable achievements of impacting 165,000 women around the world. How have you weaponized your education to light these other candles and scale up? Share a little of what you did and how you did that with us.
Believe it or not, with all the education I’ve had have been fully at work in the last few years when I took off time, but for me, it started with this hunger for more knowledge, more information, reading, and knowing more. I started as a young entrepreneur and consultant. I remember the time when I was working with the International Trade Centre in Geneva. I was about 31 or 32. I realized, “I don’t know these things. I need to be learning and going back to school.”
I’ve done so many learnings, degrees, diplomas, and fellowships. I have five fellowships. That’s crazy. It’s lifelong learning. One of the most beautiful learnings I’ve done is learning from people in the communities, the people who keep us together, the mothers, and the women. When we go to, for example, the refugee camps, some people miss them and walk past them. I always keep my ear on the ground because I know there’s something going on there.
I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve worked with, the communities that we work in, and the leaders. I love this quote from Isaac Newton, “If I’ve seen further, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I’ve learned from them, but most of my learnings and education have been from the people at the grassroots, the people I deal with, and the people I support. I learn from them.
Lastly and most importantly, I mentor so many women worldwide. I’ve learned so much from the people I mentor. Sometimes I feel like I’m learning much more than they’re learning from me because they tell you something, and they’re like, “She’s 22, and she knows that. I didn’t know that.” I put that in my toolkit. Learning never stops for me. I’m glad I’m still learning.
It reminds me of the importance of having these different perspectives and bringing all parties to the table because it is about collective wisdom. I’m curious to hear about scaling. Can you share with our audience some of the steps you took to get to that level of scaling?
In everything I do, I always begin with the end in mind. I never start anything without knowing what the end will be. I map out that end. I call it the 5D cycle, starting with
1. Discovering who I am, what I will do, and how I will do it.
2. Dream, I draw things around me and pictures, and visualize them. I don’t wait for it to unfold. I discover and then dream.
3. Design, where I go into action plans and goal-setting, “What am I going to do? How do we do it?”
4. Develop, where we go into, “What skills do I need? What do the people around me need in terms of skills, ideas, and actual inputs?”
5. Destiny. We think about destiny now. We don’t do all that investment and realize, “We’re banking on the wrong road. We were supposed to go to Entebbe, and we went to Kampala. We have wasted all the fuel.” You don’t come and say, “I empowered them.” You show us the results. That ripple effect goes on and on. For example, we have empowered 186,000 directly, but there’s so much more than that.
Storytelling: A Captured Legacy
Lastly, I’m an author because I realize unless someone comes to my website, for example, others will never have this information. I’ve written books on entrepreneurship. My personal story is From Gomba to the White House. When I met President Obama, I wrote that story. It’s a book used in schools. That way, I’m scaling my knowledge to other people. I’ve written a book with Professor Fernando Reimers at Harvard about private-sector engagement in terms of education. How can we build an ecosystem? That way, with the knowledge going out, is how people learn.
I’m writing a book on children’s voices so that we amplify young voices. I reached out to different organizations, and Mastercard Foundation decided, “Let’s collaborate on this.” We’re writing a book on children telling their stories about COVID-19, but we are not looking for negative stories. We are looking for stories of courage, resilience, and entrepreneurship.
It’s about telling the African narratives for African children by African children. That way, we are going to spread the noise and the lessons these young children have learned to the rest of the world. That’s how I scale up because, through text, writing, and storytelling especially, people learn so much that when you say, “This is a textbook for the sake of it.” Storytelling is a great way where I empower people. It’s also how they learn about the work we do and put it as part of their lives.
It’s such wonderful African art and tradition. If I think of how powerful it is, I can’t wait to hear it. We should have some of those young children talk to us on our show because that way, we can amplify their voices. This is so valuable. You speak about African children telling their stories for Africa to inspire Africans, but equally, those stories and case studies need to reach across the world.
It reminds me of the wonderful quote of a man I greatly respected, loved, and admired. He was South Africa’s, George Floyd. The late Dr. Steve Biko once said, “The great powers of the world have done much to give the world a military and an industrial look, but the great gift is still to come from Africa to give the world a more human face.” In our final moments, I would love to hear some of those kids come and talk to us first. Secondly, what is the great gift from Africa around leadership? Like anywhere in the world, it’s a mixed bag. As humans, we have our failings, frailties, and imperfections. What in your mind do you think is a great gift from Africa for leaders?
For me, one is the ability to navigate the unknown. I say that humbly because I remember starting as a young entrepreneur at 24. I didn’t have networks, information, and skills, but I navigated through all that. Being resourceful and using very few resources but doing so much is a gift that we need to amplify globally: “With all the broken systems, lack of funding, and all that, we can do this.”
I’ll give you an example. When COVID happened, I wrote a book. This one is called Sheroes of COVID. In that book, we profiled women doing wonderful work worldwide, including the Prime Minister of New Zealand. This policewoman in Malawi was protecting children and women from domestic abuse. You can imagine a police station in Malawi. They don’t have the resources. There’s a lot of corruption, but this woman was so resourceful enough to know, “What do I do? Who are the partners? How can I protect these children?” Our country has no homes where you can take children who have been abused. She was working with her community to ensure that these children are protected.
Resourcefulness is one thing we need to be proud of. Secondly, something I haven’t seen much in America and other parts of the world is what we call Ubuntu in South Africa. In Uganda, we call it Obuntu. Community and collective action are things I admire about leaders in Africa where you realize, “We have to work together. We have no choice. We have to make this work.” That’s another whole aspect that we need to amplify to say, “We do things collectively. How can we take this to the world so they have lessons about Africa, especially about leadership?”
Those are very powerful takeaways. I’m struck by one more about your personal situation, which I would love you to share. You weren’t feeling particularly well before you came on this conversation. I’m not saying this is unique to Africa, but as a general principle, what can we take away and learn about the importance of balancing compassion and self-care with your purpose, even when you’re not feeling great? What is your final thought about the importance of showing up even when the going gets tough and, at the same time, having that personal care and compassion?
That’s a hard one. Going into this work, one is knowing your boundaries. I call them the non-negotiables. They’re things I don’t negotiate. For example, I don’t negotiate my religion. I don’t do things to fit in because everyone is doing it, but I’m showing up even if I’m facing hard times. I remember what my former teacher told us. She said, “Whatever is going on, keep smiling.” I used to think, “How do I keep smiling when I’m going through so many hardships?”
Now more than ever, each of us has issues, whether in our personal, professional, or community lives. We all have issues. Imagine if we all showed up gloomy and angry. The world would collapse. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through. Show up, be straight, have confidence, and speak up. After you do that, you go and clean out your house but don’t show that to the people and say, “I’ve had a tough evening. How come you’re disturbing me with this?” The world doesn’t care. It cares about you, but everyone has their baggage. We can’t bring our baggage to the table, especially as leaders.Everyone has their own baggage, but we can't bring our baggage to the table as leaders. Click To Tweet
That’s one of the things we need to learn. What are those things you need to bring to the forefront? Remember that so many people are looking up to you. You’re the role model. If you misbehave, they’re going to misbehave. If you had to talk about children, they’re model characters. Whatever you do, they do that. Know that you are a lighthouse for a number of people. You must keep your act together so that other people get inspired and aspire to be like you or even better than you.
I could carry on talking to you forever because there are so many powerful thoughts on the importance of doing that and how we physically show up in terms of communicating a message. Rehmah, I’ll say a huge heartfelt thank you from the rural village of Gomba in Uganda, which has weaponized education to impact the lives of youth, women, and businesses. Thank you so much for being with us. With your loss, heartfelt condolences, love, and support for you and your community. Thank you for sharing your smile, your light, and your love.
Thank you for having me, Anne. I always love African proverbs. I’ll end and give you two.
1. They say the beat of the drum changes to match the step of your dance.
Lastly, it still relates to collaboration.
Secondly, Collaboration is something I talk about more and more. How can we collaborate? How can we be more inclusive of women and young people? We know gender is a big issue. We also know that when changes happen, how can we include more gender? How can we include more young people so that we build with them, not without them?
2. “The night sky is never lit by one bright star. The night sky is lit by the billions of stars that come together.”
If you walk alone, you go first. When you take others, you go far. If we are to shift anything in leadership, we need to work together. We need to do things together to go further together because we are stronger.The night sky is never lit by one bright star. The night sky is lit by the billions of stars that come together. Click To Tweet
Those are such wise words. Rehmah Kasule, thank you so much for joining us from Kampala in Uganda. Take care of yourself and take bold action. Thank you.
Thank you so much.
My Leadership Wrap: Our Global Humanity and Human Destiny Are Inextricably Inter-Linked.
My good friend Rehmah Kasule reminds me why we say in Africa, “It takes a village.” Exercising leadership requires bigger and better thinking. However, exercising leadership is not a solo act. It is a collective team sport that requires us to engage and energize our fellow human beings. How should we show up? An African philosophy called ubuntu helps us define our humanity’s meaning and interconnected destiny. In the South African Zulu vernacular, ubuntu is expressed as “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” which translated means, “I am because we all are.”
Ubuntu first appeared in African written resources and sources in the mid-19th century. In the early 1950s, it became popularized as a philosophy and a worldview. The late great Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped us explain and understand the meaning of ubuntu. He defined it as the very essence of our humanity and that my humanity and your humanity are inextricably interlinked. I cannot succeed sustainably at your expense, nor can you do so at mine.
The ubuntu philosophy sharply contrasts with the French philosopher René Descartes who once famously said, “I think. Therefore, I am.” Ubuntu is premised on the fact, “I am because we are.” They’re both right.
We ARE guided (defined) by our thoughts. Ubuntu, embedded in the globally acclaimed South African Constitution, posits new ideas.
In exercising leadership, we need bigger and better thinking. The term ubuntu appeared in the epilogue of the 1993 Interim Constitution of South Africa, which stated that there is a need for understanding but not vengeance, reparations but not retaliation, and ubuntu but not victimization.
Hollywood’s Tom Cruise
Hollywood megastar Tom Cruise spent almost a year filming in South Africa and fell in love with the people, the landscape, and the African philosophy of Ubuntu. During an award acceptance speech from the Producers Guild of America, he referenced Ubuntu. He acknowledged and referenced the fact that he is and had accomplished because of all the people in that room. Ubuntu is the invisible bond that binds the human spirit. We cannot exercise leadership unless we understand that our humanity and our destinies are inextricably interlinked.
As the African proverb goes, “A night sky is never lit up by one brilliant star. Instead, it is lit up by billions of bright stars.”
A Night Sky is Lit Up by Billions of Bright Stars! One World, One Human Race, One Collective Action to Survive and Thrive.
Exercising leadership does require bigger and better thinking, but it also requires that we understand and embrace our global human village and the interconnectedness of our humanity. Remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful, clear choices. Bold leadership is about taking bold action one step at a time. It’s one bold step for you but together, one giant Ubuntu step for humanity. Take care and take thoughtful, bold action.
- Rehmah Kasule
- Who Will Cry When You Die
- Designing Your Life
- A Woman of Substance
- From Gomba to the White House
- Sheroes of COVID
About Ms. Rehmah Kasule: A Village Girl Who Refused to Become a Village Woman
Rehmah Kasule is the Founder of CEDA International in Uganda and the USA and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative focusing on the future of work. She is a civil society champion, social innovator, and serial entrepreneur who started her first business, Century Marketing, at 26 years. In 2007, she shifted from building brands to shifting mindsets and founded a non-profit organization that purposefully builds generations of ethical and values-based leaders and entrepreneurs. Her work has mentored 168,000+ youth and women across Africa. It catalyzes people to take charge of their lives and get the agency to lead change in their communities for economic independence, social mobility, and active citizenship.
Rehmah’s work was recognized by President Obama in 2010 and has won awards, including the Goldman Sachs-Fortune Global Women Leaders Award in 2014 and the 2018 Islamic Development Bank Women in Peace and Development Prize. In addition, Rehmah is a Let Girls Learn Global Ambassador and was named one of the Most Influential African Women in government and civil society in 2016.
Rehmah is passionate about girls’ education, gender equality, financial inclusion, and social innovation, with a proven track record of supporting businesses to build stewardship, leadership, and management systems for growth, competitiveness, and sustainability. With a 25-year solid track record as a gender and youth empowerment expert, she has mobilized cross-sector strategic partnerships with private, public, civil society, and international organizations. She has successfully designed and led large-scale impact projects in education, youth workforce development, peace-building, women leadership, and small and medium enterprises development. Rehmah is a Judge for the Harvard Social Innovation Fund, the W.K Kellogg Racial Equity 2030, and the MacArthur Foundation 100&Change, a $100 million competition to help solve a critical social problem. She is currently working as a Consulting & Advisor with the Lever For Change, building capacities and organizational effectiveness for social ventures with bold, large-scale, sustainable, innovative solutions.
She has delivered private sector development, strategic planning, policy, and gender mainstreaming consultancy for the United Nations, African Development Bank, International Trade Centre, and European Investment Bank. Her areas of expertise include strategic business planning, mentorship, executive leadership development, fund-raising and financial management, diversity, and social inclusion, branding and effective communication, networking and building strategic partnerships, and building business management systems. She serves on boards of corporate companies and non-profit organizations such as World Connect Inc. USA, StrongMinds USA, and Pangea Education Foundation.
Rehmah is the author of “From Gomba to the White House” and “Sheroes Of COVID-19” Children’s book. A Peace, Conflict, and International Development graduate, Rehmah is a Vital Voices Fellow, Synergos Senior Fellow, KAICIID International Fellow, and an Aspen Global Leaders Fellow. During her fellowship at Harvard University, she innovated the PLUS+AFRICA Linkubator. This social venture aims to create 1 million employment pathways for youth through workforce development, private sector engagement, and collaboration with governments to strengthen Africa’s education-to-work and entrepreneurship ecosystems.
Rehmah was born a village girl but refused to become a village woman. From a young age, she questioned the discrimination and injustices caused by the gender, religious, racial, and patriarchal cultural norms that impede girls and women from fulfilling their potential. She strongly believes that education breaks intergenerational cycles of poverty and is committed to providing opportunities to change life trajectories – one girl at a time.