1. Five years as ActionAid Uganda’s captain. Could you kindly count for us your gains?
I had an amazing time at ActionAid Uganda and it remains an experience close to my heart. I believe staff who were in ActionAid before I joined would best answer this question but the five things I most proud of are:
a) Building and rebuilding a winning team that helped us collectively celebrate many milestones together during my time - no leader without a team can succeed for even our Lord Jesus had a team to help Him do all the amazing things today. Without my immediate CMT team, helping me fulfil collective leadership, I would count many gains in reducing staff attrition, fundraising inroads, clean external audits; new programmes and innovations in communication such as this very platform I am speaking at;
b) secondly, I am proud of what I consider an atmosphere where many staff felt worthy and worked with dedication - an atmosphere of love and support and one that enabled us achieve a significant turnaround in terms of voluntary attrition which was over 12% when I joined; more staff staying more than four years was testimony to a commitment to the organisation and enthusiasm with which we turned around and revived our Staff SACCO after a terrible experience with a welfare scheme before was lovely to witness;
c) I am proud of increasing the external focus and profile of ActionAid and we won many public accolades for the courageous work we did and certainly our brand externally was bigger and better. We also provided greater leadership in the sector, be it shaping the nascent black Monday movement 5 years ago, the leadership role we played in other networks such as the National NGO Forum, Food Rights Alliance or the anti-corruption coalition, ActionAid became a credible convener in the sector;
d) I am proud of curving out a niche in the sector, an issue that is difficult for an organisation like ActionAid because of its intersectional approach to developed - it is easier today to answer the question, ‘what does ActionAid do?’ than 6 years ago. Our courageous work on accountability and anti-corruption as well as defending the rights of women would rank highest;
e) I am proud to have associated with and ensured the collective delivery of our 5th Strategy paper that speaks to the context we must locate our future work on endearing to people-led struggles for social justice.
f) and finally, I am proud of how ActionAid has grown in the last five years to be more resilient as an organisation, successfully withstanding several internally and externally orchestrated schemes to delegitimize it, be it the allegation of fraudulent purchase of land, the so called, ‘gang-rape case’ by Pakistani nationals or more recently, the siege of ActionAid offices and freezing of our bank accounts, we have emerged stronger, learnt and adapted.
2. What was the most trying moment of your leadership, that moment when you almost gave up?
I have a completely different attitude to facing up to challenges and so never, at any one time felt like giving up. Some of the trying moments included the land purchase decision in which my CMT and I were wrongly accused of procuring a wetland at a lower than accepted market price - we courageously defended our decision and the Board stood by management. Today we are proud owners of prime land on Entebbe Road.
The so called gang-rape case where a survivor or gender-based violence was used to accuse us of abuse, leading to a media fury about us was turned around completely and we did not only use that media moment to demonstrate the excellent work we do to build the power of women survivors, but, the person we ostensibly abused is one of our most ardent supporters today and she has been helped to see a future out of the lifestyle that caused her the problems.
The time our office was raided by the security establishment and bank accounts closed was trying but we did not waver; we challenged the state and demonstrated our institutional resilience and public legitimacy. In short, crisis is opportunity to transform and learn and that is what I helped ActionAid Uganda realize.
3. What kept you going?
The belief in our mission to bring a smile on the face of many women, young people and to challenge the state to be more accountable for all the goodwill Ugandans provided to it. Our vision of a sustainable world in which everyone enjoyed their rights to a life of dignity was perhaps the most inspiring and so was the collective belief and dedication of staff, partners and supporters to realize. I just could not afford not to be part of this journey of eternity.
4. Some staff members say that you used to work all week, all day and all night. How were you able to balance this work with your young family?
This is a difficult one but two reflections, one from an Indian friend and another from a staff of ActionAid Uganda best captured the essence of my understanding of this question. When my Indian friend was asked that question, his response was, ‘…my work life is work, my life is work’. My colleague at ActionAid said, ‘…perhaps it is time to talk about work-life-integration’. To be honest, I never thought of ActionAid as a place I just go to work between 8 am and 5 pm, it was a call to duty of a life time.
If you separated the form from the substance, the cause for which ActionAid stands is a cause I associate in whether I was in office or out of it, including in my family. If this is considered a failure, I am guilty. I am also happy that my spouse is very different in that sense from me and so the gap there would have been in the family was covered - that is what complementarity is about.
5. Which is this one thing that you regret having done or not done while at ActionAid Uganda?
I have no regrets. Every decision I made was for the good of the organisation, so I thought. So, whether they turned out wrong to others, I had no regret.
In terms of what I did not do, largely because my exit was a little earlier than planned. I had started on this transition project but did not live to see it through. The second was turning our existing infrastructure into a constituency to deliver rooted campaigning work and the third that I did not accomplish was sowing the seeds of non-conventional, people dependent, rather than donor focussed fundraising. I hope my successor can do better than me on these three.
6. You were accused for often ignoring procedure in certain processes? Is this a true allegation?
Policies must work for people and so when I felt it wasn’t I was guided by what I saw as being right, just and human. I respect due process but when they unduly undermine our ability to deliver our mission, I waived them, again within the confines provided by policy. So, if I am accused of being the CD that made most waivers, I am guilty as charged but for all I know, it was to make us adaptive, agile and decisive when we had to.
7. Describe your management style while at ActionAid?
Inclusive, patient, supportive and decisive when I had to, taking responsibility for what I considered was right and just.
8. What legacy did you leave behind?
A tough question but it will be easy for staff to answer. The most profound feedback I got about what would speak to my legacy was contained in the messages I received from staff in the best gift I would ever imagine from ActionAid Uganda, the Farewell Book. Somewhere in there, I pick this quote:
“…there have been times when your leadership … made us frown and murmur but when the dust settled, we have always admired your persistence to push us again and again to be better…we feel happy that we worked at ActionAid during your times, so we know what kind of bosses we want to be when our time come…thank you for the inspiration! Other bosses gave orders, you gave direction, other bosses give targets, you gave us a vision, other bosses led by authority, you led by respect. Farewell to a boss like no other…”
I would be happy to take the above and many other similar sentiments by many staff in my Farewell Book. They all talk about inspirational leadership in many areas and so I am honoured to be told that.
9. More personally, name five staff that stood out, according to your appraisal of their performance
I believe majority of staff did their best and no one, not even myself can claim individual accolade. We achieved all because we were a diverse team that each added value to one another.
10. ActionAid Uganda and your current position, which one is more challenging and why?
The CD position was tough but also very exciting. Being Federation Development Director is more challenging because of the complexity of issues to deal with from across the world. The diversity in the federation and the difficult local, national and global context that shape positions makes it very difficult to forge ahead with ease. But such is the complexity of change that I take it on my chin and believe that, God has put me in this more challenging situation for a reason. We will count gains, I am sure!
11. As the recruitment process for the new CD gets concluded, which are the four top things that you want the new leader to address in their first 100 days?
In addition, and connection to the points I made in point (5) above, I would stress: first, that s/he must endear to staff and the wider civil society, earn respect than impose oneself. It will be easier to lead from the front when needed, from the sides when required and from the back when the circumstances demand so. Secondly, the next CD must help us connect better with people’s struggles for social justice as demanded for by our 5th Strategy Paper. Thirdly, the next CD must take the difficult decisions and have the courage to reform ActionAid Uganda internally, so we are fit-for-the-purpose of delivering our 5th strategy paper, key among these internal issues is overhauling our partnership approach and helping staff achieve the mental shifts needed for them to deliver social justice. And finally, the next CD must continue to invest in women’s leadership and create the right environment for female staff to excel.
12. What will you miss about ActionAid Uganda?
I will miss the people - the humanity in every staff I left behind!