Winnie Byanyima: ‘It’s powerful to be different. I never hesitate to be myself’

The majority of leaders have actually needed to browse disputes to make it through and increase within their organisations, however couple of have actually ever dealt with the sort of front-line experiences that Winnie Byanyima has actually gotten rid of.

As a Ugandan, she browsed her nation’s postcolonial chaos to acquire a location at a leading university. However she and her household were quickly refugees in the UK through Kenya as they were required to leave persecution. She used up her research studies once again at the University of Manchester, mastering the male-dominated topics of aerial engineering and ecological science. She then refused a scholarship in the United States to go back to Uganda and get in politics.

“I’m a nomad,” she states. “I’ve wandered into different things as a curious person who is passionate about social justice.”

As a political activist and neighborhood organiser, when the guideline of Milton Obote diverted towards the dictatorship of his deposed predecessor Idi Amin, Byanyima signed up with Uganda’s underground guerrilla motion to assist topple him in favour of Yoweri Museveni.

After a duration representing Uganda’s federal government abroad and working for worldwide organisations concentrated on females’s rights, she was selected head of Oxfam International in 2013. There she led efforts to “decolonise” the charity, which had actually been co-founded by “very privileged” wears at Oxford, and moved its head office to Kenya.

She likewise assisted manage its reaction to sexual assault scandals, prior to being selected 2 years ago to lead the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/Aids (UNAids). Its concentrate on taking on the infection had actually been held up by internal harassment issues.

Byanyima remembers maturing mad and terrified under Amin’s repressive guideline. “I saw my friends being picked up at school and coming back after a week with a shaved head — a sign they were mourning the loss of their dad and had not even been able to bury him,” she states.

“A woman didn’t know what she could do. Any soldier could take you off the street, marry you and their parents not dare say a word.”

Her mom, an instructor, and her dad, an opposition political leader, motivated a belief that “social justice is something you stand up for, enjoy, do for yourself and others, pay a price and move on.” She criticised the program with schoolmates, while living “in fear that my father might die, and then in fear for myself”.

As a trainee in England, she remembers getting rid of bias, consisting of an event when her teacher summoned her after she acquired leading marks. “There was always surprise at how well I could do — it was assumed because you were an African and a woman, you can’t be as good.”

She signed up with political disputes, however grew disillusioned with the narrow focus in the UK. “While the Greenham Common protesters were preoccupied with [US] nuclear weapons, we were being killed in Uganda by small arms,” she states. “Radical feminists talked about body autonomy, but I thought ‘when will they come to the issues of political liberation, ending dictatorships, fighting poverty?’ They never did.”

Back in Uganda, she looked for to take on corruption and exploitation. She stood as a parliamentary prospect versus an incumbent minister from her own celebration whom she felt did not work adequately for his constituents. “The male candidates held big rallies on a podium,” she states. “I went into slums, into people’s kitchens and talked to women.” She won convincingly.

Alongside worths, she assesses other essential management abilities. “To understand people and how to work with them. You need to be able to know what you can deliver, what you need from others and what they need from you.”

Another essential quality is strength. “You need to be adaptable,” she states. “Everything throws something new at you, and you must be able to fall and get up quickly. I’ve had my falls many times.”

While at Oxfam International, she supported its shift from humanitarian help firm to marketing group, providing a higher voice to branches in establishing nations. “We were best loved for the work we did to support communities to get themselves on their feet. But this was simply not enough. The majority of the poor were in middle-income countries. The issue was inequality.”

To trigger reform, she looked for to affect the worldwide elites at the World Economic Online Forum in Davos, in the Swiss Alps, greatly armed with proof and arguments. This stimulates a reflection on another management quality that she thinks to be necessary: credibility.

“I would walk into a room with 30 to 40 men in black and grey suits and a few corporate women in little black suits,” she states. “In my country, we wear green, yellow and red. The default is to blend in and be less threatening. But why be a bit different? I would overcome my fear and get on with my message in the sharpest way. It’s powerful to be different. I never hesitate to be myself.”

The latter part of her term at Oxfam was eclipsed by claims of sexual assault and exploitation by frontline personnel, consisting of after the Haiti earthquake — albeit managed from its UK workplace and mainly preceding her term in workplace.

The charity was criticised for a sluggish reaction once the claims emerged. However Byanyima states she convinced her board to select an external commission to scrutinise what failed, make suggestions, share them openly and execute them.

Then in 2019 she won the race to run UNAids, which was also under pressure to reform following the allegations of staff harassment. She stressed her experience in handling management crises, and the need to focus on campaigning and working with community groups.

She also drew on her experiences of HIV, which devastated Uganda. The disease killed her brother, whom she states died ultimately not from lack of treatment but from stigma, which had dissuaded him from regularly attending a clinic.

Four decades after Aids was first identified, and continues to kill up to 1m people a year, she is focused on community activism to lead the response and to mobilise governments to introduce more enlightened policies.

Some argue that agencies like Oxfam and UNAids require strong technical programmes to deliver services as well as community activism and marketing. For Byanyima, drawing on her own skills, the priority is on the latter.

Reflecting on her own management approach, Byanyima says: “You tackle power head on, analyse who has it, build structures where it is more shared and a voice is given to everyone. It’s a servant kind of leadership, where you put yourself perhaps at the back in order to let others lead, and see yourself as an enabler of others.”

Three questions for Winnie Byanyima

Who is your leadership hero?

Michelle Bachelet. She has values, cares about social justice and is a feminist. She was a victim of a brutal dictatorship who turned her pain into public service; a medical practitioner who served in the public health system and studied military strategy to understand the minds of those who had killed her father. She was president of Chile, fought inequality, was a champion of reducing inequality in Latin America and reformed the education and health systems. When it was time to leave power, she respected the constitution. She lives a simple life and her style of leadership is humble. That’s the kind of leader I respect. 

What was the first leadership lesson you learnt?

My father always insisted that you have to stand up for what is right and pay the price if you must. Don’t follow what everyone is doing. It’s not about being popular, it’s about values and doing what is right.

If you were not a CEO/leader, what would you be?

I love gardening and neighborhood organising, working especially with young individuals with discovering troubles.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.