My Speech On the Occasion of the 7th Graduation of Greenbridge School of Open Technologies – Kampala
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, I lead a team of 10, supporting ICT for Watoto Ministries having previously worked with USAID and EGPAF’s STAR-SW Project in Mbarara. Before this, I led a team of 4 managing ICT at the International Health Sciences University, work that I took up after supporting the Ministry of Health’s efforts in Health Management Information Systems as far as Rakai and Bududa!
I have been fortunate to travel this country, from Laminadera to Bunagana, from Lake Katwe to Malaba – Uganda is gifted by nature; but most importantly, this country has potential in the multitudes of young people across hundreds of communities.
My work has also taken me to Nigeria, Ghana, SA, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. I have met more young people, lived through better infrastructure and you can’t help but marvel at flying back home. It’s beautiful here.
You also cant help but see that the world out there is changing so fast, I started out in this profession when my course works would fit on a3.5 inch floppy disk – and now, only a dozen plus one years later, they are gone! You can check blood-pressure on a wearable gadget, you can study without ever being in a classroom, and my preschool kids know their way around a phablet!
Education, Health and all of life is not what it used to be. The product of education is perhaps a most interesting thing – the world now desires a knowledge worker – fast, radical, with highly relevant and immediately applicable skills. There are 2 lessons that I have learnt in the last few years that I feel are profound in my profession.
Multi-Disciplinary Technology Evangelists
You see, traditional approaches to life have changed. Wealth and economic development in the information era has now shifted to knowledge, learning and innovation, which reside in the minds of people like you and me.
The challenge is to live and thrive in a world and community that demands more innovation. And the demands are off the keyboards and app-stores that we are so familiar with. The challenge is in the slum trenches, in hospital document stores and in government departments that are straddled with archaic use, access and management of information and systems.
But who will be the technology evangelist that will take interest in health systems? Who is interested in how citizenry access open data? Who will make ICT 4 Education their priority? Because I have learned that I cannot just be a great innovator and technology evangelist, I need to anchor into a social sector in order for my technology to be felt. That is what how I attempt to define ICT for development. The defining indicators for development are immunized infants, literate children, active young people, empowered communities and informed citizens.
Which sector will you influence with technology today?
Please note that there will be no quick fixes. Success will be intentional, over time with major commitment and dedication from leaders, knowledge workers, resource mobilisers and everyone. The starting point is a generation that has in equal measure an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit which can be supported with vibrant research and training (such as at Greenbridge) as well as innovative programming delivered by governments.
Being a Young Leader
That brings me to the second most important lesson in my life, one that I am passionate about and continues to be exciting and challenging. This is the question of young leaders – you see, this is not about age, after all that is just a number – “young leaders” is much more about leading in this generation; about identifying with the issues of this generation; and about connecting with this generation in their own unique way.
How do you lead a generation that prefers a mobile screen to face time? How do you connect with a language based on shorthand? How do you inform an informed generation? Moreover, how do you “hang out” with them – at their wells and grazing grounds?
You can, if you are one of us. If we let you lead us – something we do when we know that you understand our language and can communicate with us; but also that you can uniquely congregate us around the most important issues of our time. Jobs. Opportunities. Empowerment.
To be one of us, you have got to be young – literary and at heart. But you cannot be a leader without learning the most important aspects of being a leader:
- That Leaders Eat Last – That there is a social contract we sign with our leaders, affording them all the perks, privileges and rights; in order that they will stand up for us and protect us and identify with us. If you want to become a leader, putting others first is important. Always.
- That Leadership is Learned Over Time – Its not like an instant message; like a picture download, actually it feels more like a 6 semester course, spread over the rest of your life. And no, google does not work either, you cannot google leadership. To enjoy the perks andprivileges above, you have to work for it. To be in Hon. Anite’s shoes in 2016, you ought to have started, because leadership takes time.
I believe in young people, and I believe in their empowerment. I believe in the power of education to transform a generation and in the power of a generation to transform a nation.
But you must remember this, Uganda needs young technology evangelists who are ready to permeate all of life’s spheres of influence – The Arts, Education, The Media, Religion, Business, Medicine – with transformative technology.
Greenbridge and institutions such as this seek to curve out a different mould of a young technologically apt leader – are you the one Uganda is waiting for?
Lastly, I find this Alvin Toffler quote very interesting: ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’
Thank you for listening to me.
I knew I wanted to work with computers from as early as Senior 2, and I wasn’t contented with pioneering the computer club at my high school. Out of University my first job was far from computers, it was with children, orphaned children. They were singing their way to donations, inspiring people from other continents to provide for their needs. Those were the first seeds sowed against social injustice.
I was raised as a middle child, indeed my mother confessed to remembering me long when my diaper was leaking. Single mother, a house wife, I grew up in 7 suburbs in this city, and never in our own home. Those were the second seeds of consciousness to social injustice.
When I stopped looking after children, I was opened up to the world of health information systems – there I saw numbers. 327 HIV positive mothers; 45 malaria cases; any number you can name, we probably have a health statistic for it. On a computer screen, they are numbers, but in the field, they are people. Children, Mothers, Fathers – wasting away because there are no drugs; alas, there are no medical professionals to attend to them.
Now I couldn’t go back – it was not just a 3rd seed sown, it was time to be part of the solution.
We know that for people like me, ICT professionals, opportunities for us are scarce because our backgrounds are outside of healthcare. How do I use my unique skills in global health? At the same time, for those who work in traditional health fields, a lack of community with people (and professions) like mine limits collaboration, knowledge sharing and support.
GHC believes that a global movement of individuals and organizations fighting for improved health outcomes and access to healthcare for the poor is necessary in order to change the unacceptable status quo of extreme inequity.
GHC provides opportunities for young professionals from diverse backgrounds to work on the frontlines of the fight for global health equity.
In 2008, the Ministry of Health estimated that abortion-related causes accounted for 26% of all maternal mortality. This proportion is considerably higher than the World Health Organization’s estimate for Eastern Africa (18%)
In 2011, Uganda had a maternal mortality ratio of 438 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births—well above the average of 240 per 100,000 among all developing countries. Many of these were unsafe abortions. According to a survey of 1,338 women who received post-abortion care at 27 health facilities, on average, Ugandan women paid 59,600 shillings (US$23) for their abortion procedure and any treatment received prior to arriving at a health facility.
If you have lived in this city most recently, you may be familiar with civil servants who “erroneously” earn 96 million shillings a month (that’s about: $35500/mo; $222/hr), and you may have heard that our development partners are redirecting aid, and in some cases it will make the difference between a pregnant mother being tested for HIV and placed on option B+ or not… literary affecting our national dream for an HIV free generation.
In 2012, an estimated 168,000 women in Sub-Saharan Africa died from pregnancy and birth-related causes; 62,000 of these women did not want to become pregnant in the first place. Fully meeting all need for modern contraceptive methods would have prevented 48,000 of these deaths—a 29% decline in maternal mortality.
Every shilling spent on family planning/Contraception will save more than 6 shillings in post-abortion care services averted. The cost of providing contraception in Uganda for one year has been estimated at around UGX 57200/= per user, while the overall cost per case for treating post-abortion complications is UGX 340,600/=.
96 million shillings would provide 1678 Ugandan women a year’s needs for contraception. What else can it do now?
[The entire stipend needed for all of us 65 fellows this month!]
In this room, there are young professionals from all walks of life. You are here because you decided to be available for the Global health Movement. Something tagged at your heart and you answered the call. I challenge you, stay at your post. Remain present, remain engaged, and remain plugged. It is young people like you who are going to make a difference in the way we think about the future of this continent.
There are also partners, and the organizations where new fellows are going to be placed – you have made available room and board, time and space to tap into the passion in this room. I urge you, open up more doors; there are a lot of young unemployed (and indeed unchallenged) graduates who are willing to get their hands dirty. GHC has proved it, because the growth remains visible, next year, there will be more than 150 fellows!
Where do we go from here? This is Step #6 in how GHC Works: Fellows collaborate, Grow as leaders, Deepen Impact BEYOND the fellowship year.
Let’s see, my good friend Edward heads to Mbale to serve local communities with microfinance, as the country director for Spark MicroGrants; Cassandra has left Kyangwali Refugee community for medical school in the US – she’ll become a doctor soon enough. Brian? I will lead a team of ICT professionals – you can guess how they will turn out in a year – Global Health advocates! Many of us are going to do different things.
But oh how we are changed. How the fellowship has given us new eyes, I will never look at a health stat and not imagine the people represented; I will never lose consciousness of the health challenges of my community. I have not just grown professionally – learning what PMTCT is and the technical language around HIV and AIDS, I have also been intellectually stretched, when debating interventions for young people, and debating with my class about aid cuts and their impact on health. These discussions have made me grow, but perhaps more profoundly, I now question my own values, ethics, and motivations for engaging in this movement.
Joan, go and be a star! Brian, one year from now, you will be more than just a world changer. Sam, there is room for ICT professionals like you and me in the movement for Global Health Equity!
You and I, all of us have got to remember, we are part of a global community of emerging leaders to build the movement for health equity. We are building a community of change-makers who share a common belief: Health is a human right.
Once a Fellow, always a fellow!
Sundaram A et al., Documenting the individual- and household-level cost of unsafe abortion in Uganda, International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2013, 39(4):174–184
 Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services—Estimates for 2012, New York: Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund, 2012.
 Vlassoff M et al., The health system cost of post-abortion care in Uganda, Health Policy and Planning, 2014, Vol. 29, pp. 56–66