In the 42 days of lockdown, Robert Kabushenga (RK) is taking off time to run a daily mentorship program called #40DayMentor hosted on his Twitter spaces. In this episode he hosts Damali Ssali (DS) to talk on building your ideas.
RK: When I spoke to you, you told me of the twists and turns you had at the beginning of your career. You told me of the things that you had to do to be where you are today, could you share those with us here.
DS: Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Robert. I’m always happy to share my experience with people I know could be impacted by this.
RK: How did you wind up in London?
DS: I did my A levels at Bugema Seventh day Adventist School. I studied Mathematics, Economics and Geography. I wanted to become a quantity surveyor like my father. When the results came out, I had failed. Makerere University could not take me on. My brother David advised me to enrol for ACCA. I did not even know what it was. I enrolled at MAT at Nakawa and it was only a weekend program. After 8 months, he got me a visa to go study in the UK. In the UK, I stayed with my sister who had lived there longer. Two weeks into my stay, she told me I had to find a job. I needed money to earn my own living. I needed money to cover my transport costs, telephone and all the things I needed.
Good enough, she had a good job for herself. She was a manager at a mental health facility. She got me a slot in one of the facilities. It was a recovery space with 15 patients in there. All of them men. All I needed was to speak English. I had to read their profiles and know them. I took on the shifts that the permanent staff were not willing to take on like night shifts, weekends and public holidays. I would spend my nights there with them. After they had slept off, I would read my books.
RK: Where was school in all this?
Ds: My brother was paying for my tuition for the first six months. I was studying in the evening and work in the night. I had to juggle my time and work. I did not compromise on my personal time to study
RK: How did you go about sleep?
DS: I would sleep between the shifts.
RK: How about socialising?
DS: There was nothing like that. I either had to study or socialise. I chose to study. The time you lose in your prime can never be gained back.
One time, one of the ladies at the facility asked me why my light was always on in the dead of the night. She was Ghanaian and we had this bond of both being black. I told her about the ACCA class I was taking. At that time, I had finished my foundation classes. She told me of her brother who had studied the same and would connect me to a real job. “You don’t belong here,” she told me.
RK: Like Tio said yesterday, you can never tell who or where you will meet the people who open a door for you. You never knew it would be a Ghanaian lady.
DS: There you lose your Ugandan-ness, you just see some one because they are black.
RK: What were you doing at the new job?
DS: I was working as a financial analyst. Unlike at the mental facility, here, I was the only black in the entire organisation. The only other black lady was a Nigerian who worked in the cafeteria. My colleagues would come back tired on Monday. I would be steady and active since all I did was study. As a financial analyst all you do is play with numbers.
One time, I made an error and my boss was so hard on me. I thought it was because I was black and it hurt me.
RK: As someone who has been a boss before, you had set a high standard for yourself, he could not allow you to be sloppy like the others. He meant good for you.
DS: I never looked at it that way. But I was glad it had happened. I called my mother and complained to her. She told me, “Mwana wange Damali that is a foreign country. You don’t expect them to treat you like them. You have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good or four times as hard to be considered as equal. So choose, are you going to sit back and complain or work and be able to change the status.” Those words went straight to heart and I changed my perspective of things.
I studied on till MBA when things turned around.
RK: What happened?
DS: In the first year, you do classes and the next, research. At that moment my mother got a bad stroke and I wanted to come back immediately. When I talked to her, she asked me to stay and finish my exams. The day I did my last exam, no one told me a thing. I took a flight back home. At the airport, it was my brother Kafeero who had come to pick me but I realised he was not his usual self. I could tell something was wrong. A look at his face, I knew mother had passed. He drove me home (Makerere Kavule) and there I found my mother’s body in the sitting room. I was so angry. Scarcely 12 hours later, she was buried. My heart sunk.
RK: Did you go back (to the UK) thereafter?
DS: I decided to stay. All I had to do was write my proposal and I did that from here. I was staying with my father.
RK: You do your research finish and get you MBA in innovation. What did you do next?
DS: I did my research with URA and Trademark. I needed a distinction. And that was one way to achieve it. That is how I got into Trademark. At Trademark they wanted me to the research only if I was as insider. They offered me an opportunity and I took it up. My sabbatical turned in a permanent stay in Uganda. That is how I ended up relocating back to Uganda.
RK: How can anyone move from a dream to an idea to an innovation to turning it into something they can scale up and turn into money?
DS: I have read a lot. For most successful people, they do things that satisfy them beyond just the money. Along the way, you should be ready to fail and get up. Failure is not the worst that happen, it is a lesson you have to take. Collaborate if you have to. Many of us want to stick on our ka thing but when you bring other people, they complement you.
People usually tell me they do not have the money and I tell them the brain is the number one asset. Think about your idea and do something about it. It is not as instant as we want but it gets you started.
RK: Please Damali, educate us, what is a strong work ethic and how does it lead to a reward?
DS: These are simple things you have to practise every day. They have to become a habit. People should know that when Damali says she is going to do something, they know she will do it. Do things for the long term. People who have to work with you are the people you will meet and they show up along the way. A good work ethic is about being a person of your word. Let people trust you by your word.
RK: How do you tell you are passionate about something?
DS: You know you are passionate about something if you realise that you could still do that very thing if you had all the money in the world.
Comrade Otoa (CO): What Damali has not told you is that in the first lockdown, she came up with the Ideation Corner, a show she got aired on TV. How were you able to get this done.
DS: Most times we are our worst critics. I had this idea for some time but I never doubted it. It was only after sharing with my friend Sandra that she got me charged up to do it. She got me talking to people who would help me get things done.
In the lockdown, I had some time to myself. That is when I started. The other thing I did was the relationship you talked about. I had talked to Maurice Mugisha once but I wanted it to run on TV. I gave him a call and told him about it. He was welcoming. I just asked and there I was.
In December, I complied all the interviews I had done and published them in a book. I am not getting money out of the idea corner but I am very happy doing it.
RK: It is paying you but not in monetary terms.
DS: Thank you, it is actually.
*QN: How do you overcome the challenge of not having enough funds as an entrepreneur along the way?
DS: A lot of entrepreneurs are very resilient. It is the struggle that makes one the person they become. If you get someone to invest money in you, then make sure you give them the worth of their investment.
*QN: What do I need to do to become better?
DS: The world has moved away from the traditional things. Today, they are looking for soft skills. Can you communicate? Develop your profile. Jobs are hiring attitude. The ability to conceptualise things fast and communicate effectively. Start following people who will add value to you.
RK: What drives you to scale the heights?
DS: My family has a very big influence on me. I failed my A level and I was pushed into studying ACCA. I am grateful what I achieved. My mother’s words were always replaying in my head. You need to determine what you want to do. For me it wasn’t instant. It needs a lot of self-introspection. You only need to do that if you know where you want to go. You may just want to chill. You drive yourself there too.
Sometimes people above you may get worried when you do more than what is asked of you. You do not need to become a threat to your employer. If you realise you can do more than what is prescribe, channel your energy elsewhere. Build your profile outside work. You are not your job description. You can do more.
*QN were questions from the listeners but I missed names. My apologies.