Interviews of Famous People Series: Kayongo

In class today, students were reading an article on Derreck Kayongo, and I informed them that I used to work for Yahoo! Voices as a contributing writer and had interviewed Mr. Kayongo. Upon further reflection, I decided to upload the articles I wrote for Yahoo! Voices into my blog since the contract I signed with Yahoo! is no longer valid. Also, that branch of Yahoo has been shut down.

Here is the article with accompanying pictures from my camera.


Kayongo Challenges KSU Students to Go Beyond Soap

The founder and chairman of The Global Soap Project foundation posed several challenges to Kennesaw State University students during a speaking event hosted by the American Democracy Project, an arm of the University, on Tuesday, October 25, 2011, in Kennesaw, Georgia.

An agent of change, Mr. Derreck Kayongo, who has been nominated as one of The top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011, roused the audience with the initial question of “Can you be creative when you are hungry or are being chased out of your home?”  Resounding verbal “No!” and energized negative headshakes greeted his declaration.

With a passion for saving the world’s marginalized millions, whether through CARE or through his own foundation, Kayongo meshed the issues of global poverty, children’s welfare, women rights, creativity, history lessons, economic development (and lack of), environmental stability, global healthcare, social justice, and the crippling effects of culture in his hour-long delivery as a backdrop to his daring message to the students.

A child refugee himself, Mr. Kayongo, the social entrepreneur, warned, “Lack of rights is a bottleneck on economic development.  If women do not have the right to own properties, they cannot be a part of an economy and cannot obtain loans to better themselves and their families.  This is the crippling effect of culture on economics.”

Kayongo, who has given more than 300 speeches on key issues, added one more today as he challenged these future entrepreneurs. “Do not go out into the world with a lukewarm approach.  Have gumption, creativity, and ambition.  Find simple solutions that can save the world.  Build a network of creatively influencing people.  Combine your education with practicality.  Having an education is not enough.  What practical things can you do with it?”

Continuing his impassioned plea, the Regional Director at Amnesty International charged, “Travel.  Get the heck out of here.  Use your professors.  They are well connected.  Use them to boost more than your education.  Use them to step out into the world.”

The father of two children and the winner of the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, Kayonga jelled his message from CARE, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, with his message from his own non-governmental organization, which he started with his wife, Sarah, in the basement of their house two years ago, for which he cashed his 401K.  The hospitality industry’s soap wastage spurred the birth of The Soap Project.

“You have no idea how important soap is until you try taking a shower without one.  The bottom billion of the world’s 7 billion people cannot afford soap.  If labor is unhealthy with sanitation problems, diarrhea, malaria, or other diseases transmitted through unwashed hands, the other three factors of production are at a halt.  For every 15 cents invested in production, humanity saves $7 worldwide when all GDPs, from the most developed countries to the countries with only a $300 per capita income, are combined.”

Kayongo, whose childhood in an upper middle-class family was unceremoniously upturned one day in his native Uganda under the infamous dictator Idi Amin, spoke of governance and freedom as the two keys in human survival.  “With continuing poor governments globally, economies stay the same or get worse.  You have freedom, the only people who can knock on the doors of your congressional representatives, tell them off, and still be safe enough to come home and sit down to dinner with your family.  Use your elected officials.”

As he awaits the December 11, 2011, worldwide telecast of the outcome of the online votes for the finalist from The Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011, the former adjunct professor at Beulah Heights Bible College and the Senior Advocacy Coordinator for the Southeast region with CARE International never rests.

The donor of unopened bars of soap to homeless shelters is working with Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta to explore best avenues for increased volume and delivery to more recipients worldwide to accommodate the ever growing needs of millions to help him scale over the 20 countries he currently serves, including Swaziland, Kenya, Haiti, Uganda, and Ghana. Kayongo is canvassing inlets for finances and volunteers for his NGO.

Wrapping up his speech, the man who has monitored elections with former President Jimmy Carter in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, charged KSU students with, “Discover your passion with gumption, be visionaries, and let those visions save the world.”