In our new blog series, Alumni Life Hacks, we ask one of our alumni how life is treating them after their time at AMS. How did they develop themselves, how is AMS still playing a role in their lives, what are their dreams for the future and what can they advise other alumni? For this edition, we spoke with Winnie Kisakye, who followed the master’s program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Winnie was born and raised in Uganda. When comparing her own youth to how people grow up in Europe, she finds that in Uganda family life is valued more. Winnie: “Children often grow up in extended families and I also live in a household consisting of ten people. Here, children are raised to be more independent from their parents.”
"They were also glad for me that I was able to get a different kind of education."
She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, majoring in Finance. Then she decided to follow a master’s degree at AMS. “When my family heard of my plans, they were happy and sad at the same time.” She had to spend over 14 monthsfar away from home. “My father was worried that something might happen to me, but they were also glad for me that I was able to get a different kind of education.”
While Winnie mostly acquired theoretical knowledge during her bachelor’s degree, she got to practice everything she learned in her master’s program at AMS. “In Europe, at AMS, I experienced a more practical kind of learning, which has been very instructive. It was life changing for me.” Winnie is currently working on her start-up Hercules back in Uganda. She entered the Master in Innovation & Entrepreneurship through the AMS fund. That fund is meant to help students from underdeveloped countries to develop a business plan at AMS and then help them to implement it at home.
Doing it yourself
It was actually the situation in Uganda that motivated Winnie to become an entrepreneur. “Either you start a business, or you sit at home. You have to know someone. My country is filled with so much corruption and nepotism. Corruption is rampant in the employment sector in my country and this makes it tough to genuinely secure a job. So I have always wanted to start something, but I just didn’t know how to do it.” That is why she chose to follow a master’s program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
"I have always wanted to start something, but I just didn’t know how to do it."
“In the Master in Innovation & Entrepreneurship, I could get the skills and the knowledge to implement something back here. I developed ‘Hercules’, a tow truck company. Simply speaking, when your car breaks down, you can call us and then we pick up your car.” She intends to start small, but aims for growth in the future. At the same time, her objective is to give back to society.
Hercules has not yet kicked off, but Winnie is working hard to prepare for business. She’s still in touch with her coach at Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs (Ondernemers voor Ondernemers). Because of her sound business plan, the organization offers Winnie support and will help her find an investor. “Right now, we are in the process of looking for a truck that we can use here. All the trucks that I had in mind, that are common in Europe, can’t be used here because the spare parts are not easily accessible here. So that’s why it’s been taking some time.”
Lessons in management
Despite the challenges, Winnie strives to achieve her goal. One of the most important lessons she learned already is to listen to other people. Cooperating with other students turned out to be very difficult and frustrating sometimes. “I was doing two business plans at the same time and I was working with people who handle things differently. You have people who are dominant, who want things to go the way they want. There are those who just talk down on others’ ideas. And then you have people who hardly contribute or share their opinions.”
"Most of the decisions we make are based on our education, our upbringing and our experiences."
Prof. Jamie Anderson taught them a valuable lesson in that regard. “He told us that most of the decisions we make are based on our education, our upbringing and our experiences. How we’ll react to something is different from how someone in Belgium will react to it. For example: if I had so much money, I would think of giving to people. And then someone in Belgium might think: Oh, I need to buy a new pair of shoes.”
This is how Winnie picked up the major lesson of listening to others. Winnie also stayed in touch with some of her fellow classmates at AMS. “They also created start-ups and we’re encouraging each other.”
Winnie, the female Hercules
Winnie wants to use her recent insights as a future employer. “It’s not because you are their boss that you are smarter than them. They can have better ideas than you do. You have to listen to them. That is how you will grow together.” Also, Winnie wants to empower her employees by giving them trainings and having them develop new skills. That’s how she wants to contribute to society, something that resonates with the vision of AMS. “And I too want to keep learning. The fact that I don’t have any experience in the technical, mechanical business, makes me want to obtain these skills."
"You have to listen to your employees. That is how you will grow together.”
In ten years, Winnie sees herself leading a company consisting of at least 50 employees. “I’m sure there will be more, but I’m just on the safe side!”, she says, laughing. At the same time, she wants to become a spokesperson. “I see myself as someone going out to speak to the youth, telling them how to do things and advising them. I hope to be a role model and to inspire others.”
"I hope to be a role model and to inspire others.”
However, the fact that she is a young woman does not make that easy. In Uganda, she feels that sometimes her gender is held against her. “In the generations before us, women could not have businesses,” she explains. “That was a man’s thing. But today, a few women are occupying important management and public service positions.” One of her role models being Oprah Winfrey, Winnie hopes to be a part of this group of women. “I feel that I am able to manage it. But I cannot predict how hard it will be. I will tell you after I tried.”
“I try to see the good in everything. If anything goes wrong, I see it as a learning experience.”
In any event, Winnie is the type of person who keeps her head up. “I try to see the good in everything. If anything goes wrong, I see it as a learning experience.” And the most important advice she could give to others is not to give up. “You will find so many challenges on the road, but you have to keep on striving.” Even when money becomes an issue. For Winnie, that is the beauty of growing up in a country like Uganda. “You’ve seen it all. You’ve lived in situations with no money. You’ve seen both the bad and the good. You have get through it: keep on striving and keep learning.”