Here at the Forward Foundation we’re a little obsessed with leadership. We have to be. Leadership is, of course, important in all walks of life but it takes on added significance for our partners - small, emerging social organisations. It takes an exceptional person to come up with a winning idea, build an organisation around it and then grow it. Unsurprisingly, we zone in on leadership when deciding whom to partner with and work to develop leaders through our partnership.
So what makes an exceptional social entrepreneur? It was a question I spent time reflecting on during a recent visit to Kenya and Uganda. Whilst in East Africa we witnessed first-hand some of the most valuable qualities we look for in four leaders of our partners.
1. Samuel, the influencer
At Forward Foundation HQ we’re all rather in awe of Samuel (pictured in the middle). Samuel is co-founder of Tumaini, an organisation working with children living on the streets of Eldoret in western Kenya. Samuel, the youngest of nine, grew up in one of Eldoret’s slums. What makes Samuel so special is his ability to influence and inspire people from very different backgrounds. For 2 days we watched on as Samuel cooly navigated his way through tricky situations, gently pushing street children, gang leaders, teachers, police and a reluctant community towards his goal of eradicating homelessness. We were watching a masterful politician in action, using all of his charisma and ability to empathise with others to achieve his goal.
2. Arni, the inventor
We love new ideas. And Ani, co-founder of our partner Sanergy, has plenty of them. Ani and his co-founders created a model to respond to the sanitation crisis in Kenyan’s slums. TAni designed the Fresh Life Toilet – an affordable, high quality sanitation facility for the slum - and created a network of young operators to operate them. What’s more, waste is collected every day and converted into by products such as fertilizer. Ani and his team are constantly experimenting, identifying improvements to the toilets and finding different things to do with the collected waste. Ani’s even created a laboratory to test new things (pictured above).
3. Barbara, action woman
We have a big bias towards those people who make things happen, and do so fast. Wise planning is good of course but we like to see people get out there to test their ideas and build on them. And this is why we like all action Barbara. Barbara’s a young Ugandan social entrepreneur who’s already created 2 organisations in her short career – Hive Colab, Uganda’s first business incubator, and Women in Technology Uganda, a start-up we’re supporting. In a few weeks following receipt of our funding, Barbara had found and rented a building to run a tech and employment hub for women, kitted it out, and developed curriculum for some of the training. She’s also got a young baby to look after. We don’t think she sleeps.
4. Celesta, the resilient one.
A social entrepreneur faces plenty of knocks when starting up their organisation. It takes a special sort of person who can keep on picking themselves up. Someone like Celesta, founder of Product of Prison. In her twenties, Celesta came to Uganda on her own, determined to create an organisation that brings rehabilitation into Uganda’s prisons. Celesta works in the most difficult of environments – tough, Ugandan prisons - and she does so largely on her own. I spent just 2 hours in a prison and was exhausted by the time I walked out of the gates. Celesta’s had to negotiate her way through the complexities of Uganda’s prison system. She’s had to convince skeptical prison staff that what she is doing is right. And she’s had to inspire inmates to work with her to run rehabilitation programmes. By the end of our day together, I was overwhelmed by Celesta’s mental toughness and determination and could see why her organisation had early successes.
Huge respect from the Forward Foundation to Samuel, Ani, Barbara and Celesta. All exceptional leaders that we’re proud to support.