Diana Ninsiima Kibuuka on Building Networks

#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks to Diana Ninsiima Kibuuka (DNK) on Building Networks.

RK: Diana, we are very happy to have you here at #360Mentor. This is the place where we have conversations on life and also learn from each other. You are most welcome.

DNK: It’s my pleasure to be here. I am excited to be talking to your tribe as Joan Mugenzi referred to it.

RK: There is a question I ask everyone on this show. But first, I want to believe you’re born. Were you born networking?

DNK: Probably yes. Let me tell you why. I come from a big family. All together we are 10 children, and I am in the middle. Survival is an issue. Allies are an issue. Building trust and having to stay a long haul. So I will say that very early on, I was introduced to the magic of networking in my family. All 10 of us have different friends. We went to the same schools but later on went for different careers. From an earlier age, I was exposed to my siblings’  friends. But also, I grew up in estates. I grew up in Makerere flats. Then Kyambogo estates. And in both places you had different groups. Different interests. And of course common goals that we were pursuing. So I’d say that even as a child, I didn’t know what I was doing was networking but I was building strong relationships.

RK: So what we nicely or politely call networking is really about building friendships and relationships.

DNK: Effectively. That is what I would say. Network is intentionally nurturing friendships and I will add; in spaces where you add value.

RK: Growing up in all these things, are there things – with the benefit of hindsight- that looking back, you learnt from them that you would say these are the things you look out for when trying to make a connection.

DNK: The first thing I learnt from home is that the most important network you have is your family. Your family knows you. You don’t have to prove yourself and they want you to be successful. At least in most typical families. But most people underestimate the power of their family networks.

RK: But you see you Diana, you were lucky. You had both your parents and your nine siblings. I had a single mother and a brother.

DNK: Yes. Even then Robert. Your mother had access to certain spaces. The same is true for your brother.

Secondly, you are as strong as your networks.

RK: Let me interrupt you briefly: you have 9 siblings, let me assume that each one of them has three friends that is already a network of 27 people.

DNK: Yes. With a single phone call, each of those 27 will be happy to see me, to meet me, to open a door for me in another space.

The second thing I learnt is that you are only as strong as your network. My father used to demonstrate this with a stick. He would break it into two and he would say, it’s easier to fight as a group.

Thirdly, I learnt that in a group, everybody is important. I am among the last ones. But whenever we were preparing for the Christmas or Easter lunch, they would never take it easy. They would give me assignments. Even at that young age, I knew that I had something to contribute. In whatever space or relationship I am in, I don’t come empty handed. I know that I add value. It’s something that helps me in every space I enter into.

RK: So this family of yours, describe for us what it would be like at a social gathering.

DNK: Lots of food. Lots of meat. And lots of music. We love to throw a good party. And very many friends. We have friends who are de facto siblings.

RK: Where was school for you and how did the school experience shape you and improve your networks?

DNK: I went to Namagunga for my secondary school. At school, we were expected to come into the space regardless of where you came from Kololo or Kabale. You had to share whatever you brought to school, you had to share it. We were all seen as students in the school. The school canteen would be closed most of the time, so usually all you could buy from it was bread. But those experiences, especially in the dining room, taught me that everybody needs a chance to sit on the table and be heard regardless of where they come from. Give them a chance to participate. And encourage them to come out of their shell. We used to sit as a mixed group, so you had to talk to everyone. You had to talk to everyone on the table. Today, people talk about reverse mentoring and it is something I really endeavour to do. I network with my nephews and nieces because I believe they have something to teach me.

RK: After Namagunga, where did you go?

DNK: I went to Makerere to study law. I must confess I was that young girl who loved to go back home. But towards the end of my university I got a boyfriend who eventually became my husband. I met him through a former neighbour and friend.

RK: Was it a neighbour from Makerere or Kyambogo?

DNK: Kyambogo.

RK: That is what we call a connection. Forward and backward linkages. That one I endorse 100%. And that benefit has lasted for the rest of your life?

DNK: Yes. And it is very strong.

RK: Any particular experiences apart from the personal ones at Makerere that opened your eyes?

DNK: I used to reside at Africa hall. And there is quite a distance between Africa and the law school. So I used to spend my day hanging around people’s rooms in CCE. I had specific friends but I used to go to a number of friends’ rooms. We used to gather with friends from different faculties to have conversations and to date, some of these groups are very strong. It taught me that you can make the best connections out of the oddest of circumstances. I never intended to meet some people but along the way I met many people and that became a celebration group. We celebrate each other and we are still going strong. It taught me that you have to be intentional even in the small minute relationships that you might think are negligible. Some of those ladies I connected with not because we attended the same school or course but because we sat in the same room for conversations for some time as I waited for the next class.

RK: So Cambridge, What did you find there?

DNK: The way the Cambridge system works is that every student is in a college and you do life in that college. All life happens there from schooling to eating. And the people from that college were from across the world. It taught me to listen because accents were hard. But it taught me to appreciate the differences. That people come from different places and should be treated accordingly. To date, every time I enter a space I ask myself, how am I supposed to conduct myself here? How do I come up without being offensive?

But also we used to have dinners where the professors would come sit with you and speak to you very intentionally but casually. For me it taught me that even the rich and powerful have a story too. I had to share my story and that helped to demystify the thoughts they had about Uganda.

RK: You said something earlier on about bringing value to human connection and networking. Could you explain that.

DNK: There is a gentleman called Adam Grant who wrote the book ‘Give and Take’ and in it he talks about three types of people. The first category are the takers. These are people we find everywhere. They are all after what they can get from someone. All they want is to take it.

Then there are matchers. These are people who will say if you give me this, I will give you that.

Then there are givers. These are people who are always asking how I can help.

He argues that the givers burn out, the matchers survive and the takers are thrown out eventually. But then I came to learn about BNI.

I was working as a lawyer at a law firm and had a client; a Kenyan Asian. He was setting up a  business here and everytime he needed someone I would recommend, I would connect him to someone or make that call. So he told me, Diana, you are BNI. I asked him what that meant. He told me it’s a business network. I don’t do business networks, I told him. All I had thought of were the pyramid networks. He told me you know you are good at connecting people. Then he invited me to Nairobi to attend a business network international meeting. Six months later, I went to attend that meeting and when I went there, I found business owners giving each other business referrals. What do I mean? There was this man who had been given a business referral for his computer hardware business to a bank in Kenya and he had been able to sell computer hardware to a tune of KSH 15m and he was so thankful to the person who had made the referral. So I turned to my neighbour and asked; how much commission is there? My neighbour told me in BNI there are no commissions. It’s all about giving. If I help someone get business, in return they will help me get business or someone else will give me business. It is the golden rule. That do unto others what you want them to do to you. For me that was a game changer. Givers gain.

When it comes to value, the emphasis is that if the world is full of givers, everybody ultimately is a beneficially. Because you will be on the receiving end as you give. Robert you have given us this twitter space #360mentor and many of us have benefited.

People are looking for genuine connections. People want to come to a space and be helped to belong. Now if you are a taker, you are killing the flow. If you are a taker, you always come to drain and drain and drain. If you are a giver, you add, and add and add. And for me adding value is as okay as adding a seat for someone else. That other person is able to bring energy in the room. If you realise that, you are compelled to give more. There are spaces where we are givers and where we are takers.

For me, when it comes to networking the question is; what are you giving? What are you being celebrated for? What are you contributing to wards? You cannot just be in a room and you are just taking and taking.

RK: So tell us, what is BNI and why would it be good for people to join?

DNK: BNI stands for Business Network International. It is in 74 countries across the globe. It started in the US in 1985 and it’s now in all continents. It is an organization that brings together business owners.

What do we do? Word of mouth, referral marketing. Members talk about other members’ businesses. In Uganda we started  in 2015. We are 150 members strong. Since we started we have seen businesses make business referrals that have generated over UGX 49 billion.

The benefits: we all know no man is an island. Already you are dealing with suppliers and other service providers. In BNI, you find already vetted and trusted business owners. That means that we check that our members are compliant, they are registered and operate under the law.

The second thing is that your business gains visibility. We have weekly meetings and in these meetings members talk about their business. All this time, you are gaining visibility. Everyweek, we have about 30 people. Sometimes there are more people 60 plus talking about their businesses and this visibility has led to amazing connections. What I mean is that when I started in 2015, I connected two gentlemen who transacted USD 1.3 M. No one saw it coming. But every day you will find that bakers like Bake for me who have a baking school have been able to connect with the parents in the network who have recommended their children or other people to take on baking.

If you are running a credible business you are looking at growing your business.

RK: Like me, I grow and sell coffee and I look forward to growing my business.

DNK: And who are you selling it to? You are selling it to people who pass on the information to their networks. So those are two I will talk about today; trusted networks and visibility for your business.  

RK: There are two problems that people in networking are facing;

1.   People are shy and introverted.

2.   Others are suspicious. They feel that if they come out someone will steal their ideas and such things.

How do you overcome these fears to plug into these networks?

DNK: The first thing is, everyone is networked. Let’s desmistify networking. If you are part of any whatsapp group that is not your family group, that’s a network.

RK: I have a whatsapp group of guys I was with at campus 30 years ago but I won’t say much about them.

DNK: That’s a network right there. Everybody is networking by virtue of being human. So when it comes to introverts, what being introverted means is that you are just not as outgoing as extroverts. But it does not mean you cannot build a business on a 1 on 1 basis. Before covid, I would go to events and I would leave that room with about three strong connections because that is what I needed. Passing along business cards is not networking. Networking is about building relationships. Introverts are some of the best networkers, why? Because they practise active listening.

An introvert will remember your name. They will engage you in a conversation because they will listen. Don’t be shy to walk into the room alone. Look for a friend with whom you will walk into a room. Secondly, look for a friend who is already in that room. Let them connect you.

I would also like to talk about ToastMasters. ToastMasters is about breaking the barriers and learning how to speak in public. Knock yourself out. The world is waiting for you, get out and connect.

RK: What are Toastmasters?

DNK: ToastMasters is an organisation that brings people together who want to improve on their communication skills. And they are able to train them and sharpen that skill for whatever space you are in.

For those who are suspicious about people stealing their ideas, I will say this; start your own network. A network of like minded people who you are sure will not steal your ideas. But that is being narrow minded if I could say. You have to begin thinking with an abundance mentality. The world is full of people with amazing ideas. The only way your idea will scale is when you share it. Find a safe space where you will share your ideas and be intentional about dealing with your suspicions. I will tell you when I first started BNI in Uganda, I was told, Ugandans are bafere, no one will trust to do business with anyone. They are going to steal from each other. Secondly, Ugandans can never ever help each other.

I said eh! Which Ugandans do these people know? But I want to tell you, I have seen businesses grow. If I had believed those suspicions, there would not be these over 160 people transacting 49 billion in the  economy because of BNI. So deal with your own suspicions and share that idea. The only way to scale it up is when you bring other people along.

RK: It’s one thing to have the aptitude towards networking but also a big part of networking is communication beyond articulation. How do you guard against the pitfalls of kamanyiro? What are those networking tips that you are very helpful that have enabled many.

DNK: The first one, I will say is know and understand your why. Why are you looking at the network?

RK: You are telling me, I must know what it is that I want to do and benefit from it.

DNK: I will give you an example of a choir. I love the music, I love the vocals but I cannot hold a note. If I get to network and I want to squeeze myself at Rubaga Cathedral, what value am I adding? That is what people forget. They want to be seen with Robert and Tony but they  don’t know that the reason the two connect is because they love meat.

RK: One likes roasting it and the other likes eating it.

DNK: Exactly. So I must come into your space well knowing what each one of you does. If you want to join a golf club, you must be ready to buy those shoes and the kits and must be ready to enjoy the game.

RK: I am part of a running network and there is a man called Herman Kambugu. He wakes up and runs 60kms as a warm up. Do you want to be part of that network?

DNK: No.

The problem is that people want to be part of networks so that people can know them. The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether Robert knows you. What matters is that Robert can recommend you in his network.

That is why it is important to know your why because if you don’t after a while, you will be smoked out.

Secondly, what is your ask? What are you asking for? When you join a network, be intentional on what it is you are looking for. I usually give this example. I joined Rotary to be able to give back to society. But I realised early on that probably I can afford to give Ugx 100,000 a year. My 100,000 can be added to that of 100 other people and we can be able to build a hospital. My Ugx 20,000 can be added to that of another 50,000 people and together we can build a blood bank. That for me is the reason why I joined. It’s not that I am rubbing shoulders with who and who but I am building up on that giving muscle to contribute to society.

If you are unable to articulate your ask, people may not be able to help you.  They will see you but you will keep asking yourself, nfuniramu wa?

RK: Let me bring another element to this conversation; how do you guard against the pitfalls of networking. For example, how do you know not to be offensive, obnoxious, not to rub people the wrong way, not to be too much. Sometimes people tend to assume “we are friends like that” when actually we are not. So how do you know your limits?

DNK: I will say Robert, honestly, you cannot run away from the person you really are. You bring that person in every room you enter. People need to first deal with themselves, their manners, their social skills, and I always say I have that one friend who will tell you that you are quite rude. But how can you check the kind of person you are? Look at your five friends, if people say your friend is rude, check yourself.

For me, the way I guard against other people is that I choose who I let into my space. look at it like it’s your room, you open your room to every tom dick and harry, don’t be surprised when you find them in your husl destroying things. Hold your door narrow.

For our young listeners, the common thing about networking is that people don’t want to know you, they want to know what value you bring to the table. So please be intentional before you bump into somebody, engage them in things they are interested in. For example, if I wanted to engage you in something, the first thing I would do is to engage you in coffee. I will reach out to ask about you about #360mentor and running.

I cannot begin by saying I am a  Ugandan woman please mentor me. That will be a turn off. You have to connect with someone before you say I want, I want.

Be a giver and be interested in the person you want to connect with. I had a boss who would google about people before meeting them.

RK: I used to do a lot of that.

DNK: There is also something I have learnt. Networks grow with time. They are like waves. Sometimes they wave in and sometimes they wave out. For example, before you were networking in the journalism space. You moved on,now you are networking in the coffee and matooke space. The space you occupied in the journalism space has evolved.

RK: You are right, most of those guys are much younger than me.

DNK: Exactly. Be clear. It is okay to exit one space and move into another. Whatever relationship you want to maintain, be intentional, pick up the phone and call the people. Do what is expected of you.

The other thing is to take a position of leadership. Become invested. That way, your commitment grows. The value you add is amazing. You can bring ideas to the table. You can make changes. But If you remain a follower, I think that is where some people lose it.

The other thing I will say is that if you want to maintain a good position in a network, cross pollinate your networks. Link people to your different circles. That is value addition. When you bring new people, you bring new ideas.

RK: How do you manage the exit of a network?

DNK: Be upfront. Exit openly. Bid farewell. Don’t let your exit be a rumour.

2) Understand that the connections you made in one space will always remain with you. If you nurture them well, thye can yield fruit. Be intentional about keeping those meaningful relationships.

RK: Can you talk about authenticity? We live in an age where people are not authentic about who they are.

DNK: Just words. Be you. We are seven girls at home, we are of different heights, shapes and many other different interests apart from dancing we all love it.

RK: One of our earlier mentors is Audrely Dralega, when said something profound. She taught us a lesson I will never forget: she said, “never make the mistake to assume your children are the same. Every child has a very independent personality from the other.”  So you are seven independe sisters.

DNK: Our first born for example is a good cook and makes jam from fruit. I, on the other hand, have no interest whatsoever. Understanding that I cannot be like my sisters, how can I be me? I can learn from other people but I will always be me.

Imagine if the First Lady decided to speak like Anne Kansiime. There is a complete shift, it cannot be the same person.  So why do we put on these other personas? The answer is that we are not comfortable in other people’s skins. Address the feeling you have and seek to be more authentic. There  are books to read but there are other simple things to do. For example women, don’t just wear what the fashionista is selling. Wear what is comfortable for you. For the men, understand what works for your body. Wear what is comfortable for your body.

RK: Can you imagine me in a slim fit shirt?

DNK: If there is one thing to carry away from this conversation, have the courage to accept yourself. Create your own brand and communicate yourway.

Comrade Otoa: Most times at networking events, people want to take away more than what they bring.

Jason: What would you say about networking at school?

DNK: Before anyone became a Robert Kabushenga or Tony Otoa, they were in school somewhere. When we were at university, we used to save some ka-money and go to Gaba beach to eat fish. We would talk and share dreams. We were only students then. Today, all those people are in powerful positions. And that was a humble group. Never underestimate the people you are with today, tomorrow they are going to be leaders in different spaces. The question then will be, what kind of relationships did you build back then? Begin to choose people for their values and character, not what they have.

RK: I have my friends here Peter Mweige and Tio Kauma who I met 30 years ago and we are still very good friends to date. The people you are going to meet in your thirties are already with you today. 

Sanyu Safari: There are some people who give but never get anything back? How do you bring equity in the chapter?

DNK: You need to know your boundaries. You need to know how much you will give and how much you will charge. At BNI, every week a member gets to educate others about their business and what business referrals they are looking for. You have a weekly platform to talk  about your business. In the room there are people listening. BNI helps members to articulate their ask, to be clear on what they are selling. Articulate your why. What is it that you really want people to help you with? That comes from training. We create the platforms, you choose how to use it.

Irene Esther Mutuzo: What is the role of having a mentor when it comes to business?

DNK: You must be in the right space for mentorship. BNI creates the space for people to access business mentors. But also a mentor is someone who has gone before you.

To young people, I would like to advise, look for a coach, not a mentor.

Paint your picture. If you are in a place where your picture does not come together, recalibrate.

Coaches will ask you to stretch beyond your comfort zone.

Understand the difference between a mentor and a coach. Most of us that is why we need it.

RK: Thank you for a fantastic evening Diana.

DNK: Thank you so much Robert, it’s been a pleasure.

6 thoughts on “Diana Ninsiima Kibuuka on Building Networks

  1. Think you so much David ,I always finish doing my daily errands late and don’t get time to join the spaces but you are always there for many people like me ,May God bless you David.

  2. DNK, I missed listening to the actual space. Thank goodness to David and what he does to transcribe too those of us that have missed the actual spaces. Thank you David.

    Thank you DNK. I have taken away loads from your conversation with RK. The #360Mentor has been a blessing to very many of us and Diana your talk has been an immense blessing to me.

    Thank you 😊

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