Last week I returned from Uganda and Kenya where I spent three weeks working with Winnie. During my visit, I couldn’t help but reflect on her amazing journey with Village Enterprise. When I made my first visit to the field over three years ago, Winnie was a “volunteer” business mentor. I still remember how impressed I was with this passionate young woman with a dazzling smile and charismatic personality. When I watched her speak to our small business owners, I immediately understood the transformative power of our business mentors.
Like all of our mentors, Winnie grew up in the community where she first mentored Village Enterprise entrepreneurs. Her knowledge of the local ways and her commitment to give back made her extremely effective. But Winnie is not just effective; she is exceptional.
Village Enterprise is committed to empowering our local staff and promoting from within the organization (see Stanford Social Innovation Review article). To increase the impact of our program we have significantly invested in increased training and mentoring, innovation, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and, most importantly, in our greatest asset….our people. During the last three years of rapid growth, Winnie has been promoted four times and assumed increasingly greater responsibility in her roles as business mentor, field coordinator, assistant country director, and in her current position as country director.
Although she is a natural-born leader, Winnie’s success was against all odds. The last born of 15 children, she was sent to live in a mission when she was just 7 years old. The Catholic priest, Father Eneku who ran the mission saw great promise in the precocious young Winnie. However, it was not clear at the time if she would ever have the opportunity to live up to that promise.
When Winnie was 10 years old, her older brother took custody of her. He cared for her like a father and made sure that she was able to attend school. But in another tragic turn of events, Winnie’s brother passed way when she was still a teenager. Her brother’s close friend (“Auntie”) promised that she would take care of Winnie. She also saw greatness in Winnie and told her that she was special.
Upon completion of secondary school, Winnie was awarded a full scholarship from the prestigious Female Scholarship Initiative of the Carnegie Foundation to attend Makerere University in Kampala. In 2008, she received her BA in Education. Before coming to work at Village Enterprise as a business mentor, she worked at Alliance High School as a teacher and then at Erimu College as an administrator.
Winnie reflected on her work with Village Enterprise when I spoke with her at the end of my visit: “We are trying to write a new chapter in the lives of those we serve. We are fighting the stigma that is caused by poverty. The change we make is a change you can see and feel…there is nothing more exciting than helping make that change happen.”
Chief Executive Officer