I grew up very lucky in Kampala, Uganda. My dad worked hard to ensure that our family had everything we needed; every day he left for work at 5 am and returned very late in the evening. I had a great education, health care and a safe home. In contrast, I had friends that did not have what I had – they lived in shacks that let in the rain and lived on just one meal a day. At times they would comment on how lucky I was because my dad would get us nice things. This constantly made me question why so few were lucky. I felt I had to do something to help those that were less fortunate and give them access to the opportunities I had. In fact, my mother tells me that as a child, I would steal money from the money bowl in my house and buy sweets for all my friends. The desire to provide equal opportunities to everyone has always been a driving force in my life.
My journey began nine years ago when I met my business partner Bakka in school. Bakka grew up in Masaka, about four hours away from Kampala, and was much like me; he had experienced the same inequalities I had seen growing up and had the same desire to find solutions for it.
Motivated by our dream, Bakka and I decided to create a group of companies to solve the challenges around us. We created what is now Angels Initiatives, which operates Angels Energy and Angels Capital. Angels Energy strives to open up distribution channels for energy products while Angels Capital is focused on financial inclusion. We are working on an accelerator, Unreasonable East Africa. In addition, we have done some work in microfinance and put together training materials for aspiring entrepreneurs. Over the last year, we started business hub Mara Launchpad, one of the first entrepreneurship hubs in Kampala, managed it and handed it over to our partners.
Our dream was often intimidating given the magnitude of the problems around us and the fact that we were just teenagers. This all changed after attending Educate!, a training program where we learned that the only thing in our way of achieving our dreams were our own hesitations. Jackie Rotman was also a source of inspiration. At thirteen, she founded Every Body Dance Now, an organization providing affordable dance lessons to kids that could not afford it. This was when we realized age was not a limit. Today, I am 20 and Bakka is 22, and there’s nothing we cannot do.
The journey has not been easy. We have made mistakes, learned and struggled. At times we ran low on capital and in some cases, low on hope. However, we continue to persevere because we believe the challenges of inequality that we face need to be solved. If not us, who? If not now, when?
Joachim gives training to entrepreneurs in Nairobi, Kenya
The Acumen Fellows Program
We have not managed to come this far alone. We have had tremendous help from mentors, friends and great organizations that have all been great pillars of encouragement. One of the most important sources of support has been Acumen.
Acumen has helped us more than I could have imagined. The Program has empowered us and opened up our minds. We have acquired life-changing tools and resources: from operational skills in the first seminar to the Good Society readings in the second seminar, from the Learning Trip in Kigali, and the most recent seminar on Adaptive Leadership.
For me, the most important thing about the Acumen Fellows Program has been the community. The Fellows keep the program alive and they have humbled me and inspired me to persevere. Each Fellow has dedicated his or her life to the vision of a better East Africa. I have learned so much from late night conversations, sharing during seminars, and hearing different perspectives. It feels good to know that I am not dreaming alone, that there are nineteen other people dreaming with me.
The Fellows Program has solidified my belief that we need to build a movement. We need more courageous minds, people who are not willing to simply accept the status quo but who seek to challenge it instead. We need a movement of entrepreneurs to rally themselves and join together against our social and environmental challenges. We need a movement of believers that imagine a better Africa and a better world. Stand up to the challenge and practice leadership wherever you are, take on the challenges that no one else wants to take on. Start with yourself, followed by your neighbors and soon you will reach a village and eventually, a country and even the world. There is no better time to start than now.
Acumen is now accepting applications for the East Africa Fellows Program Class of 2014. The deadline is 23 September 2013. If you are an entrepreneur or intrapreneur (a leader within an organization) who has been driving a social change project for the last 2-3 years, apply now!