Reflecting on 10 Years with Educate!
Ten years ago this March, Educate! launched in schools across Uganda, equipping our first ever class of Scholars with the essential 21st century skills to thrive in life after school.
A lot has changed since 2009: We’ve expanded our impact to Rwanda and Kenya, forged innovative new partnerships with schools and national education systems, and continually refined our model to ensure we are creating the maximum impact on the youth we serve.
2019 is an important milestone for the entire Educate! family, but it is especially significant for those team members who have been here from the start. To reflect on this journey, we caught up with Connie Mpirirwe, who joined the team more than ten years ago as one of Educate!’s first Mentors. Today, Connie serves as Finance Specialist in our Kampala, Uganda headquarters. We caught up with Connie to hear her perspective on Educate!’s first ten years and her hopes for what lies ahead.
What first drew you to Educate!?
I first encountered Educate! when I was 23 years old, after I saw an advertisement in the paper looking for Mentors [Educate! fellows who teach the Skills Course in partner schools and coach students in leadership and entrepreneurship]. “Mentor” was a new word to me, one I had not heard growing up. Once I discovered its meaning, I knew I wanted take on the role and support youth in my country. I was in the first group of Educate! Mentors – there were just six of us at first. Today, we have 333 mentors working in every region of Uganda.
What is your current role?
I work in the Finance Department at Educate!’s Uganda office. It is my job to update the Country Director on our financial status and produce all the financial reports, helping to ensure we put youth first with every dollar we spend.
What is most rewarding about your job?
First, I am incredibly passionate about Educate!’s mission and about youth across Africa. Everyday, I am able to come to work and think about the youth and what kind of future they will have.
I am also inspired by the growth I have seen at Educate!. When I started, it was just six Mentors and two staff members. Today, we have over 125 staff just in Uganda, and more globally. The growth is motivating because every child deserves the chance to discover their talents, and our mission is to support Africa’s future leaders – as we grow, we are able to impact more youth. We have to keep moving forward and striving for success.
What have you learned over the past ten years?
When I first learned about mentoring, it was a completely new concept. When I became a youth Mentor with Educate!, it was my greatest achievement. Going into the field and impacting young people is so amazing. You can feel and see a positive change occurring.
I’ve learned a lot through all the professional and personal growth I’ve experienced. After starting out as a Mentor, I moved to Procurement, then to Operations, and now to Finance. The past ten years I have really enjoyed constantly learning. Throughout all of these years, I have still held onto all of the skills that I learned as a young Mentor. I have been determined to remain a good role model for youth all my life. Ten years later, I still run my small poultry business at home – the one I started when I was a Mentor and coaching other youth on how to become entrepreneurs. I also crochet on a small scale, and my dream is to train women in my community so they are able to improve their household incomes. Once a Mentor, always a Mentor.
What are you most proud of?
My proudest achievement at Educate! has been seeing and experiencing our growth. I have watched our team manage the scaling process and have been with the organization as it has reached many milestones: impacting tens of thousands of youth, and even stretching beyond borders to Rwanda and Kenya.
I am also proud of Educate! for maintaining its culture. The culture is the same today as it was in 2009. Our cultural tenets are the same as they were in 2009 and they have remained steadfast due to strong leadership. The reason why we were able to grow so effectively as a team is because we started as a family. We have a very special bond, and the closeness and uniqueness of this bond makes you feel supported and at home.
How did you adapt to all the growth and change over the past ten years?
The culture at Educate! prepares you for change. It is open, flexible, and dynamic. Educate!’s leadership does an excellent job of supporting the staff, helping them to focus on both their professional and personal growth. We are always exploring and innovating, and this makes life more interesting.
There is a stereotype in Uganda that you have to be older to be successful. At Educate!, I have always loved the way the leadership and my fellow staff believed in ourselves at such a young age. I was a youth empowered to excel, design solutions, and to tackle new challenges for other youth. Educate! is truly “youth first” and the leadership believes in the power of people and the value of trust.
What is your hope for Educate!’s next ten years?
Our vision is to impact youth across Africa, and I would love to see Educate! continue to expand and equip more youth with the skills to succeed. I have seen so much growth already, and I really believe that we have to keep going.
Personally, I would love to see myself playing a larger role in the management of Educate!’s financials. I love our cultural tenant of youth first and I want to play a larger role in making sure that every coin impacts youth directly. I love honesty, I love integrity, and the best part of my job is making sure that our resources go to the right place to make the biggest impact.