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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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The Power of a Woman in My Riches to Rags to Riches Story

By Derreck Kayongo |

After a couple of years of procrastinating and wondering what to do with my life, I had not forgotten my life’s desire of starting the Global Soap Project (GSP). Long story short, a new woman came into my life that would bring a greater dimension to my environment and experience. That woman, who has become a great friend of mine, is Vicki Gordon.

Vicki has a long history in hotel management as the Vice President of the InterContinental Hotel Group. If you ever meet her, you would understand why the GSP has become the instrument of change in the hotel industry that it’s become. Vicki is a redoubtable woman of character, elegance and an utter symbol of articulation in the way she’s put together. She is forceful when it comes to implementation and an apt networker with a hint of Southern-belle charm and gentility that woos any that come within her universe.

In Vicki I have learned that anything is possible and so when I first spoke to her for the help I needed to start the GSP, she listened attentively and smiled back with this jagged look that I hadn’t seen all the years I had known her. I asked why the irregular smile and she humbly revealed, “I am so sorry, Derreck, but I am ashamed that after all these years working in the Hotel Industry I have never thought of this incredible idea of recycling soap.” I said I understood but it takes just one person to pay attention to the environment in which they exist. I told her my father was a soap maker and also a printer. From him I had that thought of soap making tucked away in my head and when I saw the waste generated by the hotels, the idea came so quickly, it was as if I was meant to do it.

After telling her my personal story, Vicki was kind enough to grant me a meeting with the Buckhead Hotel Association in an elegant suburb of Atlanta. I had five minutes to make my presentation and quickly I made the case for my organization. The rest is history.

To be sure, in the past blog posts the key moments I have been talking about are ones when riches come through events and parts of life that you experience. I typically discuss the moments when life deals you a supposedly bad deck of cards, be it cancer or war, which end up determining your destination. But wait a minute — what about the people along the way that you meet who have the potential to play a remarkable role in shaping that destination? Can they help you shift the destination of death without impact or lead you to success in business? In this case, Vicki Gordon, like Marge and my mother, was a woman who sincerely knew how to channel my refugee environment, dream and vision into building an entity like Global Soap.

To that end, today I want to say to you, make sure that in your Rags to Riches story you identify that one or two people that hold one of your keys to success. These “key holders” make life easier and less dramatic in terms of fighting uphill battles. Because of Vicki’s extensive Hotel career, she knew folks at the Hotel Association and she was able to get that important meeting for me. If I had done it alone, I probably would have eventually gotten the meeting, but I would have had to make several calls and also had to make a much more tougher sell because I was new to the hotel industrial complex. With Vicki’s introduction, I was able to get the benefit of a doubt from this group of hoteliers. That very day, I was able to register most of the hotels in Buckhead! Essentially, Global Soap started because of my vision but it was brought to life thanks to a network of friendships and people that believed in me like Vicki.

If you want your Rags to Riches story to come to fruition, the first resource you need is a network of capable and experienced people who add value to your vision. Short of that, you will be caught in a web of the unsuccessful and unconnected, and that guarantees a climb to success that is much more difficult and slow, and could lead to the demise of your dream. Next, I think women have always been undervalued when it comes to their ability to get things done. I can guarantee you that I have found the connection to Vicki and her clairvoyance, to my network of women as a clear lighthouse to my vision. Women are not like men in my view. They have one thing that men don’t have much of in networking in that they are more emotionally intelligent about the purpose of the networking process. Vicki, for example, gave me not only her expertise; she also provided me with emotional support when I was losing a bit of hope. You see, one of my fears was the worry that if Global Soap outgrew my basement, what would I if I needed bigger warehouse space and more resources? Vicki quickly said that we could only cross that bridge when we came to it, and in the meantime, stay true to the basics. Keep picking up the soap from the hotels and I will work the other parts, she said.

One day she called me and told me that she had a meeting to see about the factory space… I was overjoyed when we got to the meeting to learn that we had a donated space to operate Global Soap for an entire year! Vicki did this behind my back without any excitement or fanfare, in other words she under-promised but over-delivered. Men, unlike women, tend to ask you to suck it up when the times are hard and detach emotion and the fatigue it carries with it. Women, on the other hand, create a soft landing for what promises to be a tough experience of hard work and negative experiences.Take what Lillian Vernon once said: “I became successful due to several reasons. I never gave up and I never let anyone or anything get in my way. I use the power of positive thinking to tackle obstacles and challenges so they don’t defeat me.”

This is so important when building entities like GSP because you come out the other end a whole human rather than a broken, unromantic, imbalanced and not-so-warm social entrepreneur. This is just my experience and I’m sorry if I’m generalizing, but I think those who have ever been coached by a woman will attest to my experience.

A key lesson here is that much as we treasure capital as a fundamental in building business, its equally as important to harness human capital by way of serious networks of people who can actually give you the same sort of resources that money brings to the table. Without people on your side, money is probably not going to get you far. Remember that. Hence the foundations to my Rags to Riches journey, built on this relationship with an inspiring, encouraging woman.


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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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One thought on “The Power of a Woman in My Riches to Rags to Riches Story

  1. Woman of Alien…

    Perfect perform you may have done, this web site is absolutely neat with great information and facts. Time is God’s technique for maintaining all the things from going on at the same time….

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