Making All the Difference: Youth Leadership in Uganda

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

-Albert Schweitzer

In January, with my “Seminar in a Suitcase” packed and ready to go, I ventured off on my very long journey to meet up with our in-country partners, The CEMM Group, and the HOBY Uganda volunteer team to help guide a second HOBY program in Uganda, the 2019 Kampala Leadership Seminar. The next day 100 Ambassadors arrived at Makerere University, a little nervous, a little skeptical but willing to see what this “leadership camp” was all about.

I’m always in awe of the universal language of leadership. Never did we speak about what grades students received in school, or the type of house they lived in. Not even what their political views were, if they were orphans, or if both their parents were still alive and living at home.

We talked about values and personality types and the seven habits.

We talked about what it means to work together to achieve a common goal.

We talked about the issues they see in their communities and country.

We talked about their dreams and goals, and yes, SMART Goals was hard.

But, we also talked about the reality that in a place where over 50% of the population is under the age of 15 years old… that these students must be willing to take positive actions together if they are to see positive changes in their lifetime. They are quite literally the leaders of today regardless of their background and economic access. That money and power does not equate to leadership, that leadership is a personal commitment. Leadership is example. Leadership is the choice we make every day to do something good.

It’s not enough to sit and talk about the government or the corruption they see, they must be willing to live and lead ethically, and the reality is, they want to – but for some, it’s just simply a case that no one has shown them how, and that’s where HOBY comes in.

HOBY transcends borders, politics and even language. Yes, we adjust the program to be culturally appropriate and the introductory modules are modified to fit the audience and setting and yes, perhaps we scale back on cheers that wouldn’t be understood or acceptable in that setting. But the core values of HOBY: volunteerism, integrity, excellence, diversity and community partnership coupled with the tenants of our curriculum of personal leadership, group leadership, leadership in society and leadership in action set the baseline for an amazing leadership development experience for both ambassadors and volunteers.

The ambassadors of HOBY Uganda want to make their communities stronger. They see the problems: domestic violence, poor sanitation, poverty, lack of access to education for girls, human trafficking, AIDS – there was certainly no shortage of identifiable issues and they want to be part of the solution. So, we showed them how.

On the last day of the Kampala Seminar, for our Leadership in Action projects, we took the entire group off campus. In the shadow of the Makerere University Main Campus, where the seminar was held is the community of Katanga, one of the largest slums in Uganda. Over 20,000 people live among the estimated 3,000 dwellings within this community where the average person lives on just $.65 a day.

Our projects were basic: pick up trash, clean open areas and build two small footbridges over the stream. But the impact was significant. I would guess that this experience is the one that will stay with most ambassadors and volunteers alike. The acrid smell that lingered in contrast with the bright smiles of the children that surrounded us while we were there will stay with me forever. This was the Ambassador’s opportunity to be an example of what leadership in action really meant, and in those moments, came understanding:

“The Katanga experience was amazing; I learnt to be hardworking and resilient. The sun was so hot and uncomfortable but through this I learnt that the situation around me may not be the very best yet you must persist in order to achieve change.”

“I felt motivated to volunteer in my community. I have learned to serve my community with love in what I am doing. I have made a transformation in the lives of those in Katanga and they have also been challenged to work with us to clean the area. I have learned that it’s not about me but about the people around me. I have learned that to work in a group and teamwork makes work easier and people agree on particular tasks and it gets done easily. So, I am going back to change my community through serving them.”

It’s never about telling young people what to do, it’s about opening the door to possibilities and inviting them to walk through. The youth of our world are eager to solve the problems they see in their community, they are eager to find solutions. This year we’ll do that at the World Leadership Congress, and I’m hopeful some of our friends of Uganda will join us there, not just because it will be a life-changing opportunity for them, but it will be life-changing for everyone else they encounter as well.  It’s a gift to be able to sit down and share a meal with another young person who lives halfway around the world, to discover in group-time about the commonalities you share and to collaborate to develop solutions to real-world issues that they may face in their communities.

Uganda has a long history of relief organizations conducting projects within its borders. There are likely thousands of organizations with wonderful missions and projects that are helping people to live in better conditions, stop of the spread of communicable diseases, provide safe drinking water and the like. HOBY is not a relief organization and that is not our intention. It is, however, our intention to continue to provide opportunities to the youth of Uganda and other African nations to find their voice, empower them to know that they can make a positive contribution to society today, and that they have within them the ability to lead, both themselves and their communities. And in that, lies the magic.


More than 450 students from 14 countries participate in WLC each year, including Argentina, Albania, Mexico, Turkey, China, Spain, Bolivia, Taiwan, Korea, and the United Kingdom. Students leave the WLC feeling empowered and equipped with the leadership skills they need to reach their goals and make meaningful contributions to society. As the global aspect on HOBY’s Pathway to Leadership, the WLC is a weeklong program designed to empower high school juniors and seniors to become mature, cognizant leaders and active global citizens. Click to learn more about how you apply to attend the WLC and: 

  • Interact with global leaders through keynote speeches, panels, and mentor meetings
  • Experience international diversity through mixed-culture student groups
  • Explore and exercise leadership through interactive workshops and activities
  • Participate in community service projects and field trips
  • Earn two college credits (optional)

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