Noeline Kirabo has built a very vast experience base. She is the director of the New Generations Mentoring program, the founding president of Christian Women Entrepreneurship Network and Kyusa, and has attended many fellowships including Acumen in 2018, YALI RLC in 2017 and Kanthari in 2013. The achievements I have stated here are not even half of her story. She has indeed learnt a lot and done a lot with her knowledge. I wanted to know more in this second part of the interview. You can read the first part here.
What are you most passionate about?
“People and justice. These are things which just awaken me.”
It’s clear to see that there is passion for people and justice in her eyes as she explains with an intense facial expression how certain things bothered her from a young age such as seeing elderly people burdened by heavy luggage. She even says she doesn’t understand how people can stand to watch graphic and gruesome news and stories such as situations where a woman is being battered. I am touched by her genuine concern for justice.
Tell us a bit more about Kyusa, your first baby. (she had earlier referred to Kyusa, her first venture as her first baby)
“As Kyusa, our mission is to empower out-of-school youth. We are targeting urban-slum communities and empowering these young people to leave with economic opportunities. People with papers already struggle to find employment. Now people who aren’t able to go for higher education are automatically thrown out of the system. So we help them get in the market space either by starting their own businesses or helping them be able to leverage the available opportunities. Having gone through a similar situation myself, I know how hard it is. I realized there is a way out of this and you can still beat the system. I use my own story to inspire others and help them find their way. Kyusa does business start-up programs as well as well business acceleration for small and micro enterprises. So we help young people navigate the process of starting and managing businesses.
We also do ICT to help young people leverage opportunities online such as free online courses and networking to aid with their professional development. In addition, we also link them up with mentors who are successful adults doing what they want to do and can help them walk the journey. So in a nutshell we do youth empowerment and encourage employability. Our audacious vision is to eradicate youth unemployment in Uganda.”
As someone who is involved in different ventures and programs, how do you balance all you do?
“Sometimes I also wonder how. I can’t say I have mastered it. I am a work-in-progress but one of the things that’s been helpful for me is being able to touch base with other leaders and learning from them how to do it. One of my lead coaches – mentor, pastor and friend – Moses Mukisa, who has been mentoring me for the last three years runs a whole lot of stuff. I keep telling myself that if he can do it, so can I. One of the things he’s taught me is having a patterned way of going through your day and that goes hand in hand with scheduling. For example on Monday, I focus on Kyusa then on Tuesday I focus on the mentoring program and on Wednesday I’m focusing on the Women’s program. That kind of pattern makes it easier. When I wake up I know what I do when. That way I am operating in automatic mode.
Thirdly, it’s accountability. In my second year after starting Kyusa, I had a burnout. I tried to be the superwoman and do all these things but I learnt to get accountability partners, people that keep me in check. These are friends who are very invested in me as a person but they are not afraid to challenge me or call me to action if need be. So having people that help you keep a balance in all the areas of your life is important. It makes all the difference, like someone asking a very simple question like when was the last time you did something fun and interesting? They kind of bring you back to reality.
Lastly, being intentional about having my Sabbath rest. If I need to switch off my phone and rest, I will. That balance is very important so that I can recoup.”
It is impossible to grow without any partners, how did you leverage partnerships for your different ventures?
“Through being coached, I was pushed to go out of my comfort zone to seek out people. My first office belonged to a friend. It was a barter trade where I did some work for him and he gave me space to do my own work. When it comes to partnerships, it thrives on relationships. The people that I started with were my friends who bought into my vision. The first people that worked for me were my friends and they volunteered for a year where I couldn’t really pay them. The most I could do was transport and lunch allowances. However, one of things I’d do to create a win-win situation is capacity building. Nobody works with Kyusa and leaves the same. They too, are trained and provided with knowledge. So when you think about partnership, it has to be win-win. It’s not just what can I get from you but what can I offer you in return. We need to focus more on what we can offer the other party than what we can get from them. In addition, over the years, I realize it comes down to relationship building whereby you share ideas with people who are already in your space. This calls for being authentic and interested in people. A lot of the people that I have partnered with are people with whom I have real and healthy relationships. I stopped going into meetings and immediately giving out business cards. I now go into meetings to listen to people because if I make friends, I may not need their help immediately but perhaps I might in five years. It becomes easier to ask someone who is my friend already and yet if you are just another contact, people will lose you as soon as the communication is cut. So for me the focus is how I can give back and also how to build the relationship.”
What was your most proud moment?
“Receiving my first award which was in 2014 when I had just started Kyusa. I did an interview with a lady who worked in an American TV station. That story was picked up and they gave me an award. I was flown to Texas for an event called South by South-West which is a big annual event. I didn’t even know how big it was and how people pay and struggle to get into the event and yet there I was. I looked at the profiles of the people I was being awarded with and I got speechless. I didn’t know what to say because I was just starting. I took that award in honour of my mum and all those who fight to make a difference. So for me that was a very emotional and life-transforming moment. That Dewey Winburne Community Service Award is right in my sitting room and is one of my treasured possessions. Sometimes when I think of giving up, I remember that moment and it gives me new energy.”
What do you do for fun?
“If it scares me, it thrills me. I love things that are high adrenaline, high adventure activities such as biking. If it’s a car for instance, the faster the better. I love the thrill. I also love traveling and it’s not so much about the destination but the journey. It’s therapeutic. Water is very therapeutic for me. I don’t swim as much as I’d like but that’s something I love to do. And then by default I love reading. In fact I could forego a social event to read a book, though I’ve had to find a balance. I’m not a movie person because I feel it’s such a passive activity. I want to be actively involved.”
We both laughed in response to her desire to be actively involved in her fun time event. I could clearly see her need to be a person of movement. Noeline, who is a thirty-five year old third born of three with an older brother and sister, and was raised by a strong single mother, is definitely a woman of strength and virtue herself. I was keen to find out who she looks up to.
Who are your mentors and role models?
“I’ve had different mentors at different points of my life. In the most recent years, the person who has really challenged me is Moses Mukisa. He has stretched and inspired me and got me to think beyond my wildest dreams. He’s one of the people that I look up to, highly respect, and emulate in so many ways. Part of my writing career was challenged and inspired by him.
I have been mentored and inspired by another gentleman called Emmanuel Sakira who is the chairman of the Kyusa board. He’s my mentor, friend and father figure. One of the things I really appreciate about him is he is one of the people who has handled me as Noeline outside of the titles. He saw me as a person, as a daughter and as a lady and he taught me to appreciate the different facets of my life. I can just be myself with him and that space has allowed me to grow without feeling like there is a pressure to perform and be a certain way.
My mum definitely is a role model even though she is a silent person. In addition, she prays for me like crazy. In fact when I find myself in a difficult situation, sometimes I say, “Lord, please nudge my mum to pray a little more.” (She laughs as she says this.) She has prayed for me so many times and her just being able to listen to me makes a difference too. She may not say so much but she listens as I pour out my heart.
My family has generally been very supportive.
My elder sister is like my second mum who encourages me to go for anything I want to go for. They’ve given me the liberty to dream, spread my wings and fly. I have the security that no matter how far I go, even if I don’t succeed, I always have a family to come back too and that’s very comforting.
On the wider scale, Michelle Obama is one of the people I love. I love her energy, caliber and character.”
It is indeed important for one to follow in the footsteps of others and have a good support system. Join me again, next Sunday on this same blog for the last and final installation of this interview – the wrap up.
Have a fruitful week and thank you for reading. You are awesome and brilliant beyond your wildest imagination. Keep dreaming. Keep believing. Keep acting.
With the best of regards,