''Why don't you start your own thing?' I don’t know what this question makes you feel, but if no one has asked you yet in your adult life, consider yourself blessed. Unless, of-course, you have questioned yourself, I guess that is granted; we examine our lives often in quiet introspection. Sometimes not so quiet – you can hear me speak out loud to myself especially if the environment is noisy. I have been caught a few times, met with some strange looks. One time a man walked past me saying “sister kiki ekiganye?” because apparently when you speak to yourself, then something is terribly wrong.
Karen Ihimbazwe Amanyire
I finished my final exams in 2013 and had to wait a whole year for my official documents and graduation ceremony, and then a whole other year before I got my first long term job which was only 12 months long, in the evening of 2015. That might tell you that in those two years I had several shorter gigs; some paid and some didn’t, because I did and still do a lot of volunteer work but that’s a story for another day. A lot of work was irregular and uncertain, and I remember one random day a friend called, and because I am those people who genuinely respond to the “how are you” question, my I’m-trying-to-figure-out-my-path thoughts came spilling. She began to ask me what my interests were and being a social worker myself, I could see how she was not sure what to say so she swerved into business. I didn’t blame her. The madam had just quit her job and started her own business, so she felt the need to spread the good freedom vibes she was feeling. That, my friends, is how I received my first why-don’t-you-start-your-own-thing question. And let me just throw this out there, that I can only sell you water in a desert because you will not have a choice.
Please note that the following words are written by a not-rich Ugandan youth that is me (haha) but the future is bright. I just felt that I should add a disclaimer lest I be attacked for not presently walking my talk.
My fires burn around community development and with the exception of STEM (bless you scientists), I can make myself useful in transforming community and perceptions. The short-contract phase of my life has not left me yet, and so as always my future is hanging in the balance; this of-course attracted the dreaded question again because I am not getting any younger. I was asked why I don’t just start my own Non-Profit Organization. My thoughts immediately went to the many NGO start-ups and OGs I have supported the past couple of years; some eventually died a silent death from no funding (because foreign aid is what they are subscribing to) and others that have grown, eventually getting the funding and sinking into the box-ticking, shady accountability, rabbit hole. I am a Finance and Accounting degree holder and after those early work experiences, I decided to never want to fix shady people’s money problems. That’s how I immersed myself in the community. When I thought about all of the above, my response to the question was “to what end…?”
I couldn’t possibly think of a single difference I could make by starting something that 765,654,534 other people had already established. I mean, in honest truth, I must be able to have an income but who would I be kidding by starting my own NGO because I need an income? Myself. The only reason I would start my own is to ensure I have the most transparent systems but isn’t that what everybody claims to pursue when they’re starting? I am also saying that in this industry where you need teams and you need people to reach places where you cannot, I do not trust career people that much to get the right thing done unless I micro-managed it and if I have to micromanage adults, I'd rather not “start my own thing” to begin with.
Think about all those large multi-sectoral organizations for example in refugee settlements working in endless millions of shillings; Uganda has a couple of some of the largest settlements in the world so you will find no less than 20 international multi-sectoral organizations making “magic” in there. But yet, in a settlement of over 55,000 school-going young people, there are less than 40 primary schools and about 1 secondary and vocational school to go to; as it is, the majority do not make it to secondary school. I find that one organization funds about half the number of these schools, and I wonder to myself why the rest haven’t pushed for more. This is because I know how the system works and I know they can do more but it’s not going to be happening soon. Those who are lucky make it to the city for school, eventually shifting to urban refugee status.
This means for me that there’s so much work to be done and there are EQUALLY so many people and entities capable and available to do it but for some reason, it’s stagnated and as an individual who cares about the community just like the next woman, I am happy to join any existing group genuinely working towards some type of transformation but can’t easily find the means. There are, very possibly, amazing people out there that could make great teams, granted, but I’d rather not take any chances because in any case, knowing that there are already so many amazing initiatives doing groundbreaking work with little to no resources, I am able to recognize the opportunity for partnerships other than another day at URSB trying to get something similar up and running.
I am confident in deciding that as and when I am ready, I can step out and offer what I have and what I can do to experience and account for real change in both small and big ways. This obviously means I must have an income stream from elsewhere and I absolutely have no problem with that.