Two months after the close of the FORTUNE/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership program, Vital Voices interviewed Rehmah Kasule, the first participant from Uganda. Her mentor, Barbara Goodstein is the Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Vice President of Marketing for AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company.
Ms. Kasule operates her own marketing firm, Century Marketing, in addition to an entrepreneurship development agency, which supports women interested in starting their own businesses in Uganda. She is also a devoted mother.
Vital Voices: What did it mean to you to be the first Ugandan in the program?
Rehmah Kasule: I think for me it brings a lot of challenge because people expect so much from me. It gives me no excuse to say “so and so” do it, because it’s up to me to do it. It has opened up a lot of opportunities for me and my country.
VV: What were some of the most important lessons you took back from Barbara Goodstein and AXA Equitable?
RK: From Barbara, one she is so grounded, and she has a lot of passion for her work. She knows how to balance her career; she’s always running from work to the children. And that I find very inspiring because not a lot of women can juggle those two. And of course the other thing, she’s really creative as a marketer. She has very cool innovations she’s brought to the company. She has a lot of passion for life, she’s always laughing and joking! I thought, I need to learn a bit of that.
The company, they put a lot of emphasis on the people. I was always joking with them saying people in my country only stay three years in one job, and here I was seeing people have stayed 15 or 20 years in the same company. It is because the company supports them in their careers. They give them training. They help them to plan their careers.
VV: What inspired you to start your own Entrepreneurship Development Agency in 2007?
RK: A lot of people in my country are unemployed and when you talk to them about leaving school and what are they going to do they are always looking for work. I realized that someone must come in to teach people how to start their own businesses. Otherwise, there is a big gap between the people being churned out from universities and then what happens after that. A lot of them end up doing nothing. [Editor’s note: Since the agency’s creation, Rehmah has counseled over 3,000 people.]
VV: You wrote once that women don’t hear enough success stories from other women in a professional or business arena. Why do you think these stories aren’t shared, or how do you think they could be better shared?
RK: Women aren’t known for celebrating their successes. They feel as if it is a secret and they don’t say it because people may it take it as if they are blowing their own trumpet. So people in my country don’t celebrate their successes. They feel like if I get something, it is just for my family and people that know about it. I try to share my stories of success because the other day I was talking to a school about leadership, and I asked them to mention women leaders they know in my country. One girl said I don’t see any! I don’t see any women leaders! So it’s good we share for others to hear and believe that it can be done.
VV: If you could send a message to young Ugandan girls, what would it say?
RK: Your background does not determine your future it’s up to you to look for your destiny and go for it. And do what you have to do with passion.
VV: Do you think boys have better access to education in Uganda, and if so how can more girls find educational empowerment?
RK: Definitely yes. I think the government is doing a lot of things to empower women. However, it is up to the women to really run it because the government can say this is the law, this is how women should be treated, but it is up to the women to say how do we really implement this? And if the women don’t feel like its up to them, the rights will go.
VV: What is your ultimate goal?
RK: For myself, I really want to become a role model in my country where I can motivate, inspire and guide any others to unleash their potentials.