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Derreck Kayongo

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Derreck Kayongo's journey from child refugee to fearless visionary is filled with moments of inspiration that make him one of the most popular — and authentic — speakers on the circuit today. From Africa to Atlanta with nothing but a dream and tenacity, Kayongo beat the odds, earned an education, became a naturalized U.S. citizen, and has served in leadership roles in some of the world's most respected NGOs since 1994. He has worked with the American Friends Service Committee as Program Director for the Southeast Peace Education program; joined Amnesty International as the Director of the Southeast Region; and currently serves as Senior Advocacy Coordinator for the Southeast region with CARE International.

In 2009, Kayongo and his wife Sarah started their own NGO, The Global Soap Project, which focuses on repurposing partially-used soap from hotels into new soap for needy populations, particularly in Africa. To date, The Global Soap Project produces 30,000 bars of soap per week with capacity to produce over a million bars annually and has been able to donate over half a million bars of soap to over 20 countries some of which include Afghanistan, Iraq, Swaziland, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Haiti, and Malawi. Derreck's business acumen was able to attract big corporations like the Hilton Corp, UPS Corp and the Center for Disease Control onto his board because these businesses saw the value and brilliance that he brings to issues that face the poor around the world.

Kayongo has been recognized as a 2011 CNN HERO; won the Maxx Entrepreneurship award; received the Refugee Services Award; honored by Congressman John Lewis with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition; has been featured in more than 20 news stories and on TV programs such as Fox News and CNN. He is currently writing his autobiography. Derreck is a fantastic speaker on key issues that concern women empowerment and brilliant role in business, Social Entrepreneurship, Successful business practices in the 21st Century et al. His audiences span from corporations to universities, no audience is too small for Derreck for his passion goes to everything he puts his hands on. To book Derreck for a speaking engagement, please contact Lindsay Samakow at, and for information about Derreck's NGO, please visit There you can see his Facebook friends and the work he and the Global Soap Board have been able to do in the past three years to fight global poverty through health and sanitation.

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Entrepreneur Fathers … and Their Daughters

By Derreck Kayongo |

In the past few posts I have talked about the influence that women have had on my life, and the impact that influence has had on my approach to business. Recently a thought crossed my mind that caught my attention. What about my daughter — she is a woman in my life, isn’t she? How come I hadn’t given thought to her as an influencer?

Perhaps she hasn’t influenced me in the same way other women have, but she’s had an impact on me nonetheless. How do I, and can I, influence my daughter’s life with the same wisdom I have learned over the years? How do I share with her the strength and character of these forerunners in my life without my ego getting in the way? I don’t know if I should leave it to her mom and just stick with being the loving Dad that disciplines and admonishes where needed.

As I struggled with that thought, I discovered that there was something more insidious about this idea than I had realized. The reason I had this question in my mind in the first place was because I was thinking seriously as to how to guide and groom my son to take over my businesses once I hang up my entrepreneur boots. After all, I figured, as a boy and my first-born child, he is the logical heir! Huh. How did Kevin immediately become the heir therefore the automatic owner of the business, while I leave Lauren behind? I quickly realized that culture was at play.

Most of you know by now I am Ugandan and therefore very “African” in my orientation when it comes to institutional beliefs. In my culture, even though I was raised by these two powerful women, Margie (the American missionary from Pittsburgh) and my biological mother Miriam Kayongo, I still have and had been influenced by a culture that favors boys way too much. I don’t think this is just an African cultural foible alone, because I have seen it in so many other cultures all over the world, including American culture. Because of this, it is natural for me to think in terms of boys being the leaders over girls based on how society views them.

But wait a minute, I ask myself, wasn’t the whole point of me being raised by women to mature and naturally be balanced and carry no bias towards women? I knew this was one to sit down and have a long conversation with myself over. In fact I started to read about gender and run into an article that had the following hypothesis: “the most striking finding in the study of gender is that in most areas the similarities between girls and boys far outweigh the differences.”

In my experience, it’s true that when fathers with sons and daughters become successful entrepreneurs, that they raise expectations for the boys and somehow lower them for the girls. This notion is very tone deaf and can be damaging to the girls. Even after the women and men have grown up, the story doesn’t change: we still pay women less than men for the same qualifications and work! There is nothing more telling than that. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Women are almost half of the workforce. They are the equal, if not main, breadwinners in four out of ten families. They receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2010, female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 23 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation.

So what are my digressions against my own daughter? I then remembered that I had taken Kevin to my companies’ board meetings so he can see how business is run and learn about board etiquette, just like my father did with me. I would take Kevin to my speaking engagements so he can see how important being a leader is, just like my father had taken me to political campaigns as a Member of Parliament speaking to his constituents, hoping that Kevin would see how he should act when he takes over the reins. All the while, Lauren was left behind with mom.

This came to me as a surprise because I consider myself very much pro-girl power, yet as I thought through my natural inclinations as a father, I was sort of soft when it came to Lauren, and accepted the fact that she didn’t really have to be that much of a super star, like I expected Kevin to be. Wow, is this who I really I am? I immediately realized that the real lesson that I had sort of missed all this time was that the teaching that my mother and Marge had tried to impart on me.

So I decided to start thinking about my daughter as a partial owner of our business, not as a platitude to placate my stupid cultural sentiments, but to really develop a plan to get Lauren groomed for success in business just like I had developed a real plan to get Kevin groomed for success.

While all parents may dream about our daughters as loving, yet helpless, little princesses, the truth is they grow up and, from what I understand, are really tigers when it comes to doing everything that boys do, sometimes even better. But this can never come to fruition if, worldwide, we continue to see girls as second-class citizens. Our notions of women — beginning with my own — must be reprogrammed to seeing them as first-class citizens and equals who can do way more than we have ever imagined.

So in the next couple of blogs I am going to speak about the five keys of raising a girl into a successful woman by her entrepreneur father. The first key we shall look at is “Can girls handle it?” Stay tuned.

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About Derreck Kayongo


Derreck Kayongo

Derreck Kayongo's journey from child refugee to fearless visionary is filled with moments of inspiration that make him one of the most popular speakers on the circuit today. Kayongo has served in leadership roles in some of the world's most respected NGOs — and started his own in 2009 — and has been recognized as a 2011 CNN HERO. Read bio and latest posts → Read Derreck's latest posts →

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