#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks Siima Sabiti (SS) & Lulu Jemimah (LJ) , Bernard Mukasa (BM) Esther Kalenzi (EK), and Harriet Anena (HA) on Creative Crowd Funding.
RK: Siima, were you born?
SS: Presumably yes. I was born.
RK: Maybe what I should have asked, were you born a creative?
SS: Oh wow! I think I was. I was quite a creative child. I used to try and wear as many of my clothes at the same time as possible.
RK: What were you trying to prove?
SS: I am going to show my age at this point. At the time we were growing up, the women popstars that we used to see were Whitney, Madonna, and they had interesting ways of wearing their clothes. I used to pile on everything at the same time.
RK: You’re so young!
SS: Thank you!
RK: I am of the Tina Tanna, Diana Ross Donna Summer group. That tells you.
SS: …and Michael Jackson. I remember also, I used to write a lot of stories. I grew up reading Alice in Wonderland, Enid Blyton books I find to be very controversial now. In their books, animals could talk. Trees could talk. Honestly, I wished my dogs could talk to me too as a child. I would write my stories and my parents had to sit down and listen to me read to them.
RK: Did you ever watch the Wizard of OZ?
SS: Of course, a million time. I can recite it word for word.
RK: Sound of Music
SS: A lot of times. I can recite it word by word. My parents encouraged that side of me. We grew up watching musicals, animations, all of that and they encouraged me to write my stories, I believe. I did come up as a creative child but thankfully, I was given an environment where I was natured.
RK: At what point in your school life were you convinced there was this creative element in you and you started to enjoy it.
SS: To be honest, I never saw it as something unique. I took it for granted. The only time I realised that maybe I was a little bit different was when I came back to Uganda. Because throughout my secondary school in England, I played the flute. I started studying music when I was about 9 years old. And I continued it in my secondary school but it was just an extra-curricular thing.
It was only when I came back to Uganda and I performed at my cousin’s wedding when the foods and beverages manager of the hotel approached me and said what I was doing was amazing and he wanted to pay me for it. I remember around the same time, I had a column in the Friday Vision. How that came about; I had gone to do a voice test at the radio station and I bumped into the brilliant Ivan Musoke who introduced me to Ernest Bazanye who was at the time running the bad idea which was running in the Sunday Vision. Baz asked me to share with him some of the things I wrote and before I knew it, I had a regular column in the New Vison. So I was doing that and playing the flute at different events in Kampala. It was only later in my adult life that I realised that actually the things I loved doing could earn me some money.
RK: Let me first ask Bernard Mukasa (BM) to speak to us. Hello Bernard
BM: Hello Robert
RK: You actually sound like a respectable person.
RK: You are most welcome to be here
BM: I am glad to be here as a speaker
RK: Siima, I recall the first time I saw you perform. I think you remember I always refer to that incident. What struck me, was the way you played the flute and the tune that you played. I walked up to you and told you the tune you’re playing and you were shocked. But, at that point I made a mental note that you’re very creative and very talented. Personally I think taking a chance on your abilities on X FM and the time you edited the Flair magazine was a right decision to do.
SS: Yes. And thank you.
RK: Bernard, you are a lawyer and yet here you are doing things with the relatives that the Chief Justice probably frown upon, not so?
RK: Let me ask you the same question I asked Siima, were you born?
BM: Yes. Yes, I was born in the mid-80s.
RK: I was in high school at that point. That should tell you the age difference. But you’ve had a career in the arts, haven’t you?
BM: No. I just happened to grow up in a home of creatives. Both my parents were journalists and I also had an uncle in Bakayimbira Dramactors. I was at Pride Theatre every weekend watching those plays. I was already set on a creative path from primary school writing, reading, music. I was in all those things. In fact, everyone thought I would-be a journalist by the way. I also thought I would end up doing that. I remember when I was in SMACK, I founded lass newspaper. So we used to have a school magazine which comes out once a year but I founded the class newspapers which were really like Red Pepper because we used to just write gossip.
I was always on that writing path. I thought that’s where I would end up. Even I left school, I thought I would apply for journalism and do that. I was that child in P5 who would wake up to go and read newspapers with my parents on the dining table like an adult. But I wouldn’t read my SST or Science books that well.
It got so engrained in me that even up to now, if I don’t read a newspaper, I feel like my day hasn’t started. I also started the drama club at SMACK, really, I was in the deep end of the creative.
RK: You just strayed into law, Bernard.
BM: I got into law by mistake. I remember in my first year of law school, everyone had dreamt of being a lawyer, others were following into their parents’ footsteps but I didn’t have that story. Me, I was on my own things. But I have no regrets.
RK: Let’s talk about the issue of crowd funding. First of all what is crowd funding?
SS: I will try and respond to this the way I understand it. The definition is in the word itself; funding by a crowd. You ask different people in the crowd to make a contribution; run funds for your thing. And that is what Lulu did. She had reached out to different people and she had already set up her gofund me account.
BM: Its approach is to have more people contribute to the cause. They contribute small amounts to a big venture. You sell the idea to the people and they contribute to it. That’s the whole idea.
RK: Let’s welcome Lulu Jemimah. (LJ)
LJ: I am glad I have been able to join in at last.
RK: I will ask you to respond to the same question that Siima and Bernard were talking about, what is this thing called Crowd Funding?
LJ: Crowd Funding is when you have a project, an idea that you need money for and turn to the public to fund it by giving you smaller amounts of money. The first time I learnt about crowd funding, I was looking for money to fund my tuition for school. I looked at funders, grants, writing organisations and then I came across a link that was actually making fun of crowd funding. It compared people who crowd funded to the homeless. The author resented giving gainfully employed people money to achieve their dreams. That was the first time I got to know about crowd funding and it put me off completely. But this is the thing. Sometimes you get an opportunity that you never knew would ever come your way.
There are different platforms. In my first year I used Crowd Funder and the Go Fund Me for my second year.
RK: Presumably, you’ve finished school, right?
LJ: Yes, I did. In 2019
RK: Lulu, how did you meet these two people who got married for you?
SS: The word is ‘Twarried’. You need to be clear.
LJ: There is a back story to that. Not a lot of people know that it was my 32nd birthday. My friends were asking me wat I wanted to do for my birthday. At the time we were having so many conversations with people asking “when are you getting married? “When are you having children?” I told a friend Carolyn, I wanted to wear a wedding dress for my birthday. And this is the thing about some friends, they will support you do anything. She said if I could find the gown to wear, she was willing to pay for it. This happened at Quepasa one random evening.
I got so excited by the idea and went out to a bridal shop and got the dress. But I was so shy. So I went to Quespasa, and the initial project had nothing to do with the crowd funding. We were there without a particular plan. We were having drinks and taking photos when it occurred to me; people celebrate marriage; why can’t they celebrate education?
Even when I got the idea I was worried about what people would think. My birthday was on the 27th August but I got the courage to upload those photos in September if not October. I sat with it for a while. The statement I wanted to put out was that while some people want to get married, others want to pursue education.
RK: Siima, how do you now find Lulu?
SS: I came across Lulu’s story on the BBC.
RK: First wait Siima, Lulu tell us, how did the story end up on BBC?
LJ: Before I answer that, I would like to mention, before you run a crowd fund, ask some of your friends to put some money on your project, the algorithm shows it is a trending crowd funding. So they push up the list. So I got a call from Go Fund Me. My story was trending so they wanted to share it with journalists. So they shared the story with the Daily Mail. And suddenly the money was raining on my crowd funding. That’s when the BBC picked it up, then the Guardian and it was all over.
RK: Tell us, anha?
SS: Someone I follow had retweeted Lulu’s story and normally I’m weary when there is a twitter outrage. People were on her case already and so I decided to read the story I understood where she was coming from. Personally I have been asked that question. Nobody is bothered that maybe right now I am thriving in my career. I am going well. I am happy.
I loved Lulu’s attitude if you want a weeding, I will give you one. So I jokingly replied to it that maybe I should also do this. Then Bernard retweets my tweet and says “I should do the same”.
So I reached out to him and asked since we’re both struggling together, how about we get together and do something. I was joking. I had even never met him. He just laughed it off.
Then a friend of mine Nerima, picked it up and crafted the hash tag the #Kabernz wedding. She combined Kanyindo and MkBernez and came up with the Kabernz wedding. She also appointed herself the chief wedding organiser. I switched off my phone and went to bed. The next day when I woke up, twitter was wild with ideas. People had taken it on and even corporate companies were jumping on board. It snowballed from there.
RK: Bernard, just tell me, was it a spur of the moment? What was going on?
BM: It was more of the same case as Siima has described it. I was also having people on my case asking when I was going to get married and all. When I saw the tweet and later Siima’s reply I was like let’s do this.
Later when Nerima came in and there was a hashtag and a budget, it hit me that this was serious. Now it hit me. I am a lawyer what. So I put it on my family group. I told them I was going to do this thing to crowd fund. The next morning, I walked into my boss’ office and told him about it. Once he cleared me, I was good to go.
RK: For the three of you, listening to Lulu has the element of having a narrative that can compel people to pick interest in what you are doing. From Siima and Bernard, I get that you must have your imagination and creativity and allow it freedom to think of what is possible and act on it for a cause.
A lot of people are trying to raise many for all sorts of things especially medical. Tell me, how important is storytelling in crowd funding?
SS: I would say, honestly speaking, Bernard and I went pretty much just the vehicle to the cause. Lulu came with the cause. What she was going though resonated with so many people. That’s why we were able to do what we did that’s why many people came through. The fact that when you are trying to achieve something that is so important to you especially when you are a creative and you don’t fit the mood that your parents or friends feels you should be doing. Lulu was doing her masters at a prestigious university, and still people were wondering why she was pursing that instead of coming home to be a wife. So Lulu had the cause and we were just the vehicle. It was the other people who came through to have everything to come together.
BM: As my Twife has said, the cause is the most important thing. There are so many causes and many people are going through them but what will resonate with the other person that is receiving the message? At that time there were so many people resonating with the issues of marriage pressure.
The people you bring on board also matter. When people saw Siima on the project they took it more seriously. It wasn’t Gaetano, new faces on the scene.
RK: Lulu, in Luganda, they ask, Okikola otya? How do you do it?
LJ: You need to remember that facts are not enough. I think to stand out, you need to write from a place of emotion. And for me what I kept coming back to was not to fear getting personal. This stuff is embarrassing. It is not good to put this stuff out there. Bu there is a way you can package it that you can stand out of the crowd. For example, you talked about medical. I could set up a crowd funding saying;
“The first time I ate fish, I was about 4 years old
I choked on a bone and my father rushed me to the hospital on a boda boda.
My mother could not come to the hospital because she thought I couldn’t make it out. I did.
But at 25, I have been diagnosed with cancer. Every time I walk into hospital, I wonder what would have happened if I had not walked out of hospital when I was 4 years old.
I got a call from the doctor the other day saying I was due for chemo and I know I will come of out of this too.”
I have simply shared an insight in my life without giving you the problem. We need to stop being afraid of being personal. We need to be vulnerable but be playful with it. There are other people with similar worthy causes out there that are also crowd funding. How do you stand out as an individual? Make someone who does not know you, want to fund you.
HA: Yes, I do. She is the one who helped me set up my crowd funding profile.
RK: Oh wow! Esther, are you there?
EK: Yes, I am.
RK: I have followed your story of 4040, what are the principles that you have learnt that have helped you to become better at this crowd funding thing. You have turned your crowd funding into a movement. And congratulations on achieving that.
EK: Thank you very much. That is such a load question. First of all, I am going to say, personality. I have always been a friendly person going through school, I would always make friends were I went at church, at school wherever. I would just drag my new friends home for lunch.
Along the way, I began to make networks without even knowing it. The very first 4040 campaign I remember, it just brought people from every phase of my life. I had friends from primary, secondary and those I was working with. When they all came together I was the only unifying factor but when they came together they became friends. Some even went on to marry each other.
So these friends reached out and invited their other friends who also invited other people. When you are meeting them, you do not have ulterior intentions that one day you will need a kidney or any form of help. But in the event that you do, one of them would be a match. But when you are talking to them, you have no such idea.
Another thing that has been important for our journey has been accountability. Again, it was not something that I had thought through. We had a Facebook page and we would share all detail of people who had donated to us. Before long, that came to be the thing that we do. So even when someone else received something on our behalf, they declared publicly. I think this resonated with so many people. They were not used to publicly declaring things. They were seeing results in real time.
I remember when we run the campaign for ‘Buy a Brick’, people were so excited because suddenly they were going to be part of something they were going to touch and see. And when we completed the dormitory, people were so happy to see their contribution put to good use.
We are givers. Ugandans are givers. Young people were having their chance at giving. I was coming from privilege. My parents had ensured I had an education. I didn’t go hungry. I knew this was the case for many of the people on board. We had had our parents take care of us and this was our opportunity to do something for someone. This opened a way for other people to be able to give no matter how small. And I think that is infectious. Like this wedding, people just picked momentum. People will say I want to be part of someone’s life changing moment.
Resilience is something we don’t talk about a lot. There are going to be bad days too. There are people who are going to think you have ulterior motives. There is going to be a time when no one is giving yet the work needs to go on. ‘If you had an event with 800 people, how can you say you don’t have money’. And there those who will see you driving a car in town and they will assume it is coming from their money. You can’t look good because that will be the money that was donated. Again, that is what is engrained in people’s heads. It’s what they have come to believe. It is important to be resilient to know why you started because those days come and they will come when you are alone. You need to find something that will keep you running because you made a promise.
RK: Out of the blue, Harriet Anena (HA) walked into my office and asked me to help her to raise tuition. Harriet, I was moved by the fact that you picked the courage to walk to me and ask. Not many people could have done that. At that time, I was still a big man. And I could read from your presentation that it was a genuine need. How did you get the courage to be vulnerable and ask?
HA: Haha! Robert, when I came to your office, I was thinking of how I could be more strategic because like you said, you were still a big person, (you still are). And I know that part of a successful crowd funding is to have a following and reach and you had that. and you ae a fundraiser. Everyone knows that a project that Kabushenga stands by will get some mileage. I don’t think we had ever spoken before save for ACME events.
RK: No. No. I had only sent you a congratulatory message when you met Wole Soyinka. That’s the only time.
HA: Yes, so I decide to take my chance to see what would come out of it. And I am glad you accepted. For me it was the courage but I knew you were the best person to put me out there. I did not have as big following as you. That is what I was looking for. I reached out to Nicholas Opio, Jacquline Asiimwe and Nobert Mao because of their following.
RK: In fact, that was my first time to meet Nicholas Opio, a very fine gentleman. But there are more people you should reach out to who came on board; Daudi Mpanga, Charles Onyango Obbo and Barbara Barungi. I dealt with them and I know what they did.
Harriet, where did you get the courage to ask? It’s so difficult to ask for money.
HA: For me, it’s really about my upbringing. I didn’t grow up privileged. I grew up in northern Uganda. Nothing was handed to me on a silver platter. And personality-wise I am a very reserved person, naturally, I won’t reach out to anybody. I believe in sorting out things myself. By the time I reach out to you, it means that it really mattes to me.
So doing the crowd funding and reaching out to Columbia to ask for help, was my expression of intent to show up. I knew that as an institution they would not hand down things to me for nothing unless I asked. Columbia said no man times and I always found new ways of asking.
RK: Lulu, you mentioned that this crowd funding journey can be very lonely, do you want to speak to that?
LJ: The internet is a very good place for promoting your stuff but it can also be very cruel. Personally, I experienced that with the second crowd funding, the marriage idea. For example; I remember someone took a screenshot and shared it on one of the platforms and commented “this is one of the problems of over educating women” I have never forgotten that. Some other people accused me of the fact that I was a lesbian hiding behind the self-marriage thing. Meanwhile when all this is happening, you are dealing with school. You are updating funders and life is going on.
I remember talking to someone who has a venture in Uganda who is struggling with mental health. Some people just want to crash you. So I came up with a plan. I only checked the internet 8am and 9am, midday and 1pm, and between 6 and 8pm. Because these are times when people are on their phones. I had to protect myself. But honestly, you need to surround yourself with good people. I also had some friends who found the idea to be very crazy. Others supported it. Those who thought it was crazy made me rethink about the wording. Then there are people who came to my inbox to check on how I was doing. That was good.
If you see someone struggling online, go to their inbox and check on them. it made such a huge difference for me. There are so many bullies online. Surround yourself with people who believe in you.
HA: I would like to add something to that. It is important for you to go with the assumption that the fundraising might not work. That will prepare you for a plan B. I was raising money for Columbia and I had put up to USD 100,000 which is insane. I raised USD 5,000 on go fund me. Someone might look at that and think it is a failure. What made me know it was not a failure was because my story was picked up by the Atlantic and shared my Go Fund Me link and the school finally gave me money. I think there should be many ways of counting success.
RK: You see, when I went with your figure on Twitter, I said all we need is for 1000 Ugandans to give you USD 100, that was doable. But if I had asked 100 Ugandans to give USD 1000, which would have been hard. So presentation also matters.
HA: Yes, it does.
RK: Siima, you said you’d get a lot of the rejection for the creativity you came up with, would you like to say something about that?
SS: Lulu received a lot of unwanted abuse and that’s because people don’t bother to read to find out the whole story. I got a fair bit of the bashing myself. Because people were saying Lulu was making up stories of all this. There was a headline in one of the tabloids that wrote: Spinster radio presenter is desperately marrying a lawyer she has never met and she is charging people to come and see people do it. So I totally understand what Lulu and Harriet are saying.
Also culturally, it is difficult. I also had to explain to my mother about what was about to happen. I had to warn her about what they were going to say and what the actual story was.
To the Ugandan creatives out there, there are different levels of rejection out there. It is not only your client or boss, they could also be cultural connotations and people not understanding what it is that you are planning to achieve.
RK: I would like to add: that one way as a creative, for you to be noticed and for you to be respected for your abilities is to apply your ability and talent to public causes. Don’t try to come and impress us with your creativity. Let’s see the effect of your creativity on society.
I would like to really congratulate you guys on these achievements. I would like to congratulate you Lulu on completing your studies at Oxford. That shows that the effort was worth it. The other one is Harriet Anena, you graduated at Columbia. Esther, you have turned around many lives. Siima you know! Bernard, for you to step out of your conservative role as a lawyer to do something like that is absolutely great.
SS: Thank you. The congratulations should go to UOT.
RK: By the way Siima, you are the one who took me to 4040. I had never been to an event and felt so old.
SS: Eh! Eh! You must have been wondering what you were doing there.
Comrade Otoa: I am glad I know all of you. While talking about this, imagine if we did crowd funding for farming. There are so many people with idle money which can be put to good use in a farm. Imagine if we changed the narrative of having marriage and graduation showers and we have business showers. We can take it the extra mile. I am glad these guys are pioneering this. We can learn from you guys and I appreciate your efforts.
Nahida: I wanted to add a different dimension to the conversation, that is; while I think it can be scary for the creatives to do what they can do, my reaction when I saw Lulu’s article on the people who were criticising her, I thought it was cool and I wanted to turn it further and make it something more real.
Ugandan businesses small and large need to look at these online conversations that are happening to start supporting creatives in more creative ways. Being innovative and drawing attention to these things. Traditionally, as far as corporate sponsorship goes, it’s always the same organisations contracting the same companies doing the same things and regurgitating the same old boring stuff. It is very tedious.
When we have people like Lulu who are willing to disrupt and come up with such a cool by-line for crowd funding and you have Bernard and Siima willing to risk their reputation with a crazy idea, it’s so incredible. What Esther has achieved is very mind blowing. I wish that the sponsorship space can change.
Angelo Izama: This has been incredibly interesting; I am glad I know the people in this conversation. I am keen about things happening on online spaces. I remember in the 90s, FM radio caused a storm. Crowd funding has two aspects to it;
- It is very much a casual dialogue that gets everyone on board. It is very important, as part of our digital lives, these issues make you reflect on what is happening in society. Lulu’s case for example raises a very important issue on girl child education.
- Crowd funding is a massive ethical exercise. It is important especially for Esther’s work, to sustain the idea of accountability. We are surrounded everyday by stories of scandals. Amidst this crisis of ethics, crowd funding allows families and individuals to hold on to things that matter. I would like to congratulate everyone involved in it and everyone who has intentions of crowd funding. They should go ahead and do it.
LJ: Robert, you might not know this but Angelo is my mentor and has been for the last 16 years ever since I walked into he Daily Monitor. And he was one of the first people I told about my crowd funding. I would encourage other people to find someone whose work you admire and check in with them. Even when I was going through that online stuff, I would always check in with him. So I am glad you called on him.
RK: Angelo and I have a history. Thank you very much, Angelo.
Mary Apolot: To Lulu, Siima and Bernard, most of the crowd funding that has been happening has not been coming through Ugandans, what could we do as Ugandans to build a culture so that we can be able to crowd fund and support some of the projects that breed up from home. Thank you.
Cynthia Mpanga: Thank you Robert, the challenge I have found trying to be active on social media as a banker (with our profile) is that there is this mixed feeling of how much is too much, how can you engage and all these limitations that people project on you. I decided to be active as a test but it is a breakout because you are not abiding by the norm in terms of how everybody should behave or act as a banker.
Secondly, how do you strike a balance; you have a job to keep and a cause to realise?
Tracy: How do you fundraise and not be worried because you run a day job?
2) How do you crowd fund to people you don’t know? That wedding was the weirdest coolest thing I have ever participated in. most of what I have done are people who know my story. How do you get to know people to buy into something they are not a part of? I am asking breast feeding mothers to donate milk. I am working on establishing a breast milk bank. It’s such a hard thing having to fund a project that you not really lived or experienced.
EK: Speaking to Tracy; it’s not like you don’t know anything. There is no expert but you. When I started this, I had not run an orphanage. I was talking about orphans when I wasn’t one myself. I was asking people for money I didn’t know they had. It was just the passion. The story has gone on to touch people’s lives differently. I would like to encourage you to carry on. The first converts are the people you want to stick to.
There was a time we were not speaking about mental health now it is part of every conversation.
Lulu started a conversation of education being very important for girls and women. The contribution happened.
What will people think about me? People will talk anyway. That’s fine. My conscience is clear at the end of the day because I did what I promised I was going to do. If you want to run a cause in your name, it’s your life, go on with it. Covid has really taught us that tomorrow is not guaranteed. If you have anything to do, the time is now. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. Knock on the door. Knock again. Try the next one. I don’t know how many rejections I have had yet I am still here. Try again.
HA: On finding resonance to your project. Always show people why you are running the cause, what you are trying to raise money for. Why does the cause matter? A lot of times it is for personal reasons, but if you can show how that project will have a benefit to other people beyond you, that will be important.
BM: For me, it’s about recognising the changing face of the world. What we are going through now is not something we thought of 20 years ago. I tell a 20-year-old today that the dreams I had at 20 are not the dreams you should have today because the world has changed. The internet has opened up new doors. There are things that are going to make us uncomfortable. There are things against the realm but when you believe in your thing you do it, and sell the hell out of it. That way, when it comes to fruition, it makes all of us who made a small contribution smile. Embrace the numbers. It is young people who pushed us and got the attention of all these corporates. 6 months after the event I was still getting offers. You can’t substitute the emotional aspect.
Many people have been asking us to do an anniversary party where we can support another cause. Let us leverage this and do more campaigns.
SS: To the creatives out there, be ready to adapt and to evolve. But remember to love yourself first but remember you cannot pour from an empty cup. If you are drained, you are not going to be able to deliver. Also don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let me end with a quote I first heard from you, Robert: “It’s easier to ask for forgivingness than to ask for permission.” So whatever you’re thinking about, go ahead and do it. Don’t forget to drink water and mind your business.
LJ: Thank you Robert for hosting us. I will start with what Cynthia and Mary said: remember to keep it brief, interesting but relevant. Statistics and links are your friend. Always back up what you are saying. Focus on what you are passionate about and people will hear about it eventually.
Secondly, you need to put yourself in a wider context. You may not have done a lot. For example, if you are a doctor with less than 5 years of experience, you may not have done a lot. Talk about the necessity to have more doctors. Talk about the relevance of your going to school.
I will end with the Ugandans on Twitter. When I put out my campaign, I was not targeting Ugandans. I assumed they would laugh and make fun of me. Someone shared my crowd funding on twitter and I got so much support. UOT are so supportive. In saying that as well, when people support you, you also have to give back. You can go and volunteer. I help with editing scholarship applications but I do not guarantee that you will make it through. Reach out and if you are passionate, you will find the support you need.
RK: The #360Mentor is all about keeping the conversation going. So this is the start. Let the conversation go on.
Secondly, I am so proud of you. We are now ready to handover to your generation. Thank you all.