Uganda is calling

“Dear Africa and dear Uganda,

Once again, I say thank you because you stole my heart in a way that no other place has ever done. Your landscapes were breathtaking and your people will be unforgettable. Two months to get to know a new country and fall in love with it. Uganda taught me to be patient, to be creative, to appreciate the little things and to give nothing for granted. Working in an environment without wifi and sometimes not even power helped me to face different challenges, find new solutions and change perspectives.

But the truth is that Africa can’t be told, it must be lived. I could spend hours telling my stories, struggling to make my friends and family understand why my smile is so real and my voice is so calm and peaceful when I am over there. But it won’t be enough. Only if they spent some time in Africa, they would be able to understand what amazed me so much.

Mwebale Uganda, you stole my heart and it was very hard to leave.”

I like to describe my time in Uganda with these few words that I wrote when I came back from this beautiful country and represent exactly how I felt in that moment.

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In Kampala I lived an experience very different from any other experience I had in my life. Unlike the other two times I had been to Africa, this time it was not about volunteering. Instead, it was about actual work. In particular, it was about working in a University, with grown up students who were more than willing to learn, who were curious, passionate, enthusiastic and excited.

I took the chance to discover another little world and, with the must-have moka pot in my luggage, I caught a plane and left home for 8 weeks. The organization that gave me this opportunity is the E4Impact Foundation, a Pan-African Initiative that offers MBAs in Impact Entrepreneurship in different universities around the continent, with the goal of training a new generation of entrepreneurs who want their businesses to have a positive social impact. In particular, I had the chance to work with the local team at Uganda Martyrs University and I am not kidding when I say that I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my summer holidays. They welcomed me very kindly and taught me a lot about both the program and Ugandan culture. I have to admit I knew very little about this MBA before travelling to Uganda, and I knew almost nothing about social entrepreneurship.

I spent the first month working together with Alessandro, another intern from Milan who had been in Kampala since May, and he really helped me a lot to acclimatise and understand what my job was about. The very first weekend of my stay we travelled 7 hours by bus heading north to go and visit a farm from one of the students at the University. This student and entrepreneur, Emilio, showed us all the work he had put in place and welcomed us in his home; we met his family and spent a very nice time with them.

Working in Africa is not easy for people like us, always paying attention to respect deadlines, be on time, have everything ready and under control. On the contrary, with most people in Uganda I had to be very patient, repeat things many times and in different ways and, above all, expect the unexpected. Of course, the lack of resources didn’t help; the University was located in a neighbourhood where almost every day the power didn’t work and the Wi-Fi did not even exist.

I established both a good professional and personal relationship with the team at work. We enjoyed also some time together after work, one day having dinner, another day tasting home made African beer at some local friends’ house. We went to the beach in Entebbe, visited the main campus of the University, which was located 80 km away from Kampala, and had the chance to attend interesting events outside the city, where we met entrepreneurs interested in the program and did networking.

When they apply, the students of the MBA must hand in a business idea or the concept of an existing business, which means they are already entrepreneurs. The job of E4Impact, our job, is to provide the right tools to help them to take their businesses to the next level. This was my task, to assist the entrepreneurs in moving from the theory learnt in class to the reality of their companies.

During my internship, I have never wanted the students to see me as a teacher or a coach; I am sure I don’t have the competencies and the skills to be so. I have always preferred to say I was there to give a new perspective and see things from a different point of view, asking questions the entrepreneurs may had never asked to themselves before and help them to give concrete answers.

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I have returned to Milan with the desire to travel back to Kampala in one year, when the students I met in the Initial Boot Camp will be writing and preparing their final business plan, while those ones attending now the 1st Edition will be graduated and hopefully will be running thriving businesses. I would like to see how far they have gone, what they will have achieved and which challenges they will have faced and overcome.

Thank you Uganda,

Thank you Kampala,

Thank you E4Impact.

Sofia Zanello

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