Sometimes you encounter a photo, a quote or a song that touches your heart and inspires you. The words of a courageous leader bravely transforming the lives of Burundi’s youth are ingrained in my heart. Freddy’s vision will be remembered when I feel powerless to overcome obstacles.
Freddy is the founder and leader of a large, growing organization in Burundi. Burundi is a landlocked country bordered by Tanzania, The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. It is a beautiful country that has experienced a succession of civil wars. As founder of Burundi Youth for Christ, Freddy has committed his life to meeting the vision of his organization. Burundi Youth for Christ’s vision is, “to raise up a generation of godly leaders to transform our society.” Freddy believes that Burundi’s development is dependent on the attainment of this vision. Transforming the lives of Burundi’s youth is his passion.
“I am going to continue until I see it happen or I die”.
Freddy, founder and leader of Burundi Youth for Christ
Twenty years ago, God gave me a vision: To raise up a generation of godly leaders to transform our society and I have been working on it without any stop; and I am going to continue until I see it happen or I die. I am ready for whatever it takes. As we learned in class: “Your purpose defines your relentless drive to achieve something of value”. My vision is spelled and written everywhere in all the centers of Burundi Youth for Christ.
I understood that the Lord has called me to take my people onto a journey in order to reach a particular goal; I am ready to take the lead: “Christian leaders are godly people of integrity and passion who take people from where they are to a place which God has envisioned the leader to take them through empowering church members to become what God has gifted them to be” (Wallis R. & Collinson J.; 2018).
It is a very big dream but with the Lord’s help, I believe that we shall make it as nothing is impossible for him.
God has called me to raise up a generation of godly leaders in order to transform Burundi, I am very sure about this and everyone around me knows that. Burundi has been so destroyed by poor leadership which has resulted in circles of civil-wars and genocides between our two major tribes like our neighboring country of Rwanda; we are the same people with the same challenges. I started Burundi Youth for Christ during the very dark years of Burundi when our two tribes were killing each other. I personally suffered so much by losing my brother who was just two years younger than me. I lost many friends. One of the saddest days of my life was the day when eight of my students were killed while they were sleeping.
It is in this perspective that God called me to stand up and start an organization which would be a solution to the division problem between our two tribes. By God’s grace, I have been able to build five schools, two orphanages and two medical clinics, etc. where all the tribes feel welcomed. “Vision is the world’s most desperate need. There are no hopeless situations, only people who think hopelessly.” (Winifred Newman).
Leadership always requires courage as leading people to a new place is always a challenge. This involves taking risks and failing at times, attempting what seems impossible to others and taking a stand when things get difficult. I need to plan better that I have been doing. As Peter Drucker says: “only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and under performance, everything else requires leadership”. I need to continue to raise up more godly leaders.
I am ready to go as Isaiah said:”Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8 (NIV).
I know that all leaders need courage and encounter challenges as they lead. Yet, few leaders that I have served and worked with have to contend with and go to battle against the forces that Freddy has. Although I only have known Freddy for a short period of time, his resilient and relentless pursuit of transforming the lives of Burundi’s youth is commendable.
Freddy’s words touched my heart. I felt compelled to include Freddy’s inspiring vision as another testament to the voices of African leaders activating praiseworthy and laudable servant leadership that is saving so many.
“Perseverance is the real test of leadership ability. It is one thing to set a goal or an objective for a group of people; it is quite another to persevere toward it and inspire others so that they are motivated to follow us.” (Cyril J. Barber in Nehemiah An Expositional Commentary, 1991).
If I had to narrow the choices down to one specific leadership quality that my Kurumbuka colleagues consistently activate it would be perseverance. Determination and grit describe their relentless pursuit of achieving transformation for their organizations and communities.
I began to understand their dedication and even stubbornness of action when many shared their testimonies of overcoming obstacles during their leadership journeys. What struck me was how devoted and faithful they are. Despite daily roadblocks, they never seem to give up hope.
My colleague John (name changed) is an exemplary model of perseverance and faith. As a coordinator of education for three new schools, John was tasked with training teachers in best teaching practices. When he started his new role, he visited the schools to discover the teachers’ learning situations and abilities. John soon recognized that the main challenge was that the teachers lacked knowledge of and application of teaching strategies. He discovered that there was a dire need for extensive teacher training.
In his own words, John describes the challenges that he discovered, the challenges the teachers faced, and his perseverance to overcome this obstacle, which hindered student progress. While gaining success implementing the teacher training during the year, John discovered an unexpected and potentially insurmountable impediment; the challenge of authoritarian leadership.
I was committed to helping these teachers, and without waiting, I organized the first teacher’s training on basic knowledge and skills. I introduced skills on how children learn and develop, how to introduce new curriculum. I had them visit model schools for observing how other teachers deal with how children learn and grow. The training went well and was successful. Some of the teachers started to apply what they had learned during the training.
I was amazed by how the teachers were picking up and applying what they learned so quickly. After eight months on the job with intense teacher training and monitoring, I recognized that some of the teachers were doing well, while others were not.
I wanted happy, active and engaging teachers but realized that some of the teachers were happy and enthusiastic during the training, but unhappy and quiet when they were at their schools. I started wondering why some teachers seem to have the potential to do well but were not. I wanted to understand them, their challenges, feelings, and thoughts on what could be done to help them do their job better and find out the problems they faced within the school.
During these discussions, teachers at one of the schools shared how they were treated by their headmaster (principal). I encountered leadership issues that I didn’t think would be an issue before starting the new job. Here are some of the challenges that teachers at this school faced;
The teachers could spend four to six months without being paid, while they knew that the school had money because the teachers were the ones who collected fees. The teachers were always afraid that they might be fired.
The headmaster refused to let them try out the new practices learned in training. They were only allowed to do what he told them to do.
After conducting my research with the teachers, I found out that the headmaster was difficult to work with and was even harsh to the teachers. Teachers were not allowed to ask him anything; he did things as he wanted and, he even locked things up so the teachers did not have access to equipment the children could play with. I also discovered that the headmaster did not trust the teachers and fired those he disliked and hired those whom he liked. He did not care about the teacher’s performance. All he cared about was that the teachers stay obedient to him and accept whatever he wanted.
I realized that I also needed to solve these leadership issues and not just focus on the teachers. So, I began to organize headmaster meetings and provide training to the headmasters. I wanted to obtain a shared understanding and shared vision on how leaders should lead. The training was conducted, and some headmasters started to improve their schools’ leadership while others resisted. Some of the problems were solved, teachers got their salaries, and the newer teaching strategies were used.
Even though some of the problems were solved, there is still a long journey to go. Other things need to be solved, such as transparency on school resource management, fair treatment of teachers, and flexibility to allow teachers to be creative and try new skills and strategies.
I learned that leading is a continuous process where you need to keep on trying, adjusting, changing, learning and teaching so that you can bring impact to a whole school system from students, teachers, leaders, parents and community in general.
John’s leadership was tested right from the outset of his new position. Although his initial perceptions of the teachers’ abilities were not accurate, he swiftly moved to purposefully overcome their inexperience by implementing a successful teacher training program. His intentional actions and perseverance addressed the initial challenge, which resulted in some teachers improving and some not. John was not satisfied, however. He continued his pursuit to ensure that all of the teachers in the training program improve. His diligence led him to discover that the authoritarian leadership practices from some headmasters alienated teachers, causing them to lose heart and motivation to learn.
John’s persistent journey to address the barriers were successful. Self-admittedly though, he still recognizes that more energy and effort is required. Knowing John, I am confident that he will succeed and, in the process, motivate others to follow him.
Phocas Ngendahayo writes today’s guest post on Leadership is Heart. Phocas currently serves as the Rwanda Country Director for Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions, which was created in response to a felt need, to walk alongside a new generation of leaders as they fulfill God-given visions to transform their families, institutions, communities, and nations. Seven years ago, Phocas and I met in the Land of a Thousand Hills, where I began my service with the Wellspring Foundation for Education in Rwanda. Phocas was operations director for Wellspring, and from the time I met Phocas, I knew I had met a leader full of integrity with similar a similar passion for raising other leaders through collaboration and sharing. Our friendship has grown in seven years, and I am forever grateful that we continue to serve together.
Today Phocas not only defines why it is so essential for leaders to collaborate, but he also outlines the benefits he has encountered when leaders share around a table of many.
Leadership is Heart’s new initiative, “from one table to a table of many” is timely. The project emerged as a result of Claudio’s involvement with the Abundant Leadership Institute (ALI), which was a precursor to the establishment of Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions. During the birthing process of Kurumbuka, Claudio coined the acronym, DEAL, to summarize his purpose and mission of developing and empowering African leaders.
Faithful to the call, Claudio is passionate about empowering leaders, and his current initiative may suggest a military plan, a business breakthrough, or a lucrative strategy, but none of this is the case. One can see instead an expanded circle of friends, of like-minded people and professionals who share what they care about together, in a circle of common interests.
The initiative is just what is needed for leaders in Africa. It invites people from diverse backgrounds to come together to find a space of stimulating and constructive ideas. A collaborative table is a circle of trust, equity and equality, building an ecosystem of learning and resulting in mutual benefits. The collaborative table is at the core of what Kurumbuka has and will continue to strive for.
There are benefits to sharing. A Swedish proverb says, “A shared sorrow if halved, but a shared joy is doubled.” A Rwandan proverb says, “Biryoha bisangiwe!” which means “it is sweeter when shared.” In French, it is said, “du choc des idées jaillit la lumière!”. This can be translated as, “Out of clash of ideas, light comes out!”.
Sharing enriches and sets one free. As people sit together around the table, collective wisdom emerges, resulting in a gain for the entire community. Sharing dignifies both the giver and the receiver. It sets free burdened souls and troubled minds. Truth is revealed, lives are built up, and transformation can take place.
During the last five years, I’ve seen graduates from ALI/Kurumbuka report that the program has been stimulating, inspiring and transformational. Methode, who works as a director at Youth for Christ, shared with me that for fourteen years he used to be a leader with an authoritarian leadership style. When he came to the ALI/Kurumbuka program, he learned about servant leadership. He went back to his school and applied the principles he learned. It didn’t take long for his staff to notice that something changed in his leadership style. He became approachable, and staff retention improved. Children became comfortable to come to greet him and hug him. Where there was gossip, mistrust and social polarities, slowly and increasingly, a new culture started to emerge within the school. A culture of ownership, care, accountability and trust. A culture of collaboration around a shared table.
Let us continue to seize this opportunity to build a collaborative culture, to make our voices heard, to share our best practices, generate collective wisdom that will bless our nations, our institutions, our families and our communities. We will be amazed how, in the end, we shall be enriched, united in our diversity. Our horizons will be broadened, our hearts and minds inspired and play a role confidently to make a better world around us to live.
It delights me to be among the many to engage in this sharing.
An influential voice is my friend and colleague from the Wellspring Foundation for Education Theo. Theo is the Senior Program Manager in Kigali, Rwanda. He leads, manages and oversees the School Development Program that Wellspring has successfully implemented in the Gasabo District. His primary responsibilities are to lead a team of qualified and experienced teacher trainers and community involvement trainers to assist school leaders, teachers, and parents rally together in creating a healthy learning environment for Rwandan children.
I have seen Theo in action purposely and intentionally demonstrate what Bill George in True North defines as the authentic leader. “The authentic leader brings people together around a shared purpose and empowers them to lead authentically to create value for all stakeholders… they are more concerned about serving others than they are about their success or recognition” (pg. xxxi).
How did Theo get to be a model of authentic leadership? I believe it is due to a strong leadership foundation built from an integrity-filled character that is also generating tangible results. (Covey, 2006).
I was privileged to learn about Theo’s leadership foundation when I facilitated a course that Theo was a participant. This course highlighted the need for leaders to define a personal leadership platform, including their vision, purpose, mission, guiding principles, and non-negotiable beliefs. Not only were the leaders called to clarify these platform components, they were also required to demonstrate the ways they would activate them.
When I read Theo’s platform, I understood why he is such an impressive leader; moving others to follow him, and in the process being transformed themselves as leaders.
Let me share a part of Theo’s insights in his words to give you a glimpse into what makes Theo an influential leader.
My Personal Leadership Platform
The personal platform as a concept is huge because it encompasses the purpose or vision and mission, the intents of one’s agenda, and guiding principles and values or beliefs that make some be the leader she/he is to people.
The summary here is an amalgamated mix of my personal values and beliefs, my non-negotiables I hold as a leader in the organization.
I will begin with what I strongly believe in as a leader and the practical results of my beliefs:
My Personal Mission Statement
Empowered to empower in humility and simplicity!
Practical Results of What I Believe In and What I Value
As a leader I believe in Empowerment through delegation of responsibility
When I led a team of 12 Quality Education trainers for my first time, I had a difficult time with them. They used to always wait for every decision and daily plans to come from their direct line manager. I started changing the course and I included more of them in decision making and program field plans. This initiative revolutionized my working relationship with the trainers. According to their personal testimonies, they became more motivated, confident and focused. Many leaders in our African context just hold power and want to do it all by themselves. This disempowers people in the organization and makes them feel anxious and frustrated because they do not know what they can do by themselves since in most cases they are blamed of not attaining work expectations upon some tasks that requires in-depth exposure and familiarity.
As a leader I believe in Clarity
Sometimes leaders just do not release information because they think that by releasing the information, they become less powerful and hence lose control. This is not always the case. There are times when a confidential piece of information should not be sharable with everyone in the organization but there is also another category of information that everybody in the organization should know about. In my team leadership, I ensure that I share every piece of information that is not confidential because I have seen that by communicating clearly there is fewer politics and people feel more secure and valued in the organization.
I value and believe in Listening
Listening is a powerful tool for any successful leader. When you listen, you discover the motives and agenda of the heart. When you listen, you understand deep issues and you are able to provide appropriate support in situations. There are times in the team I lead when the team thinks that a certain task is totally impossible to achieve. They present the case on my desk and I ask them: ‘Can we have time together as a team when we can reflect on that?’ Whenever we had this discussion together the unsolvable task became so simple and achievable due to the fruit of listening. Listening yielded guidance and inspiration.
I value grace and trust
As a leader, I had also other leaders who shaped me in my leadership journey. I realized that I was not always perfect, and I needed grace many times. A leader who does not have grace impacts less. Grace is a reflection of Jesus in how He himself handles us. He does not reject us when we mess things up. Instead, He listens to us when we approach His gracious throne with humility and repentance. I have learned that as a leader there are times when you have to just let things go because that is not going to cause the end of the world. I have learned that many people learn from their mistakes, so I have trained my heart to abound in grace whenever possible so that failure is not seen as an absolute incapacity but rather serves as a tool for growing skills we did not have before. I also choose to trust other leaders around me and give them full authority and responsibility to carry out with confidence what I have entrusted them with. As a result, I have received many testimonies of young leaders sharing with me that this has impacted their leadership perspectives.
I belief that I am not an end in my self
I believe that everyone has a contribution to make. I cannot do it alone. That is why I intentionally invite other people into the work so that we can accomplish it together. I have seen this working very well with the team I lead at Wellspring. After all, every time they have accomplished a task, they feel more empowered and say, “They have done it with less intervention from our line manager”. This makes me happy as a leader because my role is to help people do what they thought they could not do by themselves.
I believe that I am unique-There is no duplicate of ‘Me’
I believe that the Creator made me so unique that my contributions are also unique if I am serving where He intends me to serve. I learned to be confident while recognizing my areas of growth. My strengths make me respected by colleagues and I also respect them because of what they are very good at.
Theo has done a remarkable job as a leader, transforming himself, the organization he serves with, and the multitude of people he has served. His honest, clear, and vulnerable statements in his platform are a model that others should emulate. Theo is a prime example of how an authentic and humble leader can influence and impact by activating his knowledge and non-negotiable beliefs. His leadership platform helps to define his leadership. Even more importantly though, Theo “walks his talk.”
Theo is a leader worth listening to, and an inspirational voice around the Leadership is Heart table.
Florence, a committed leadership voice from Uganda, and a participant in the online Foundational Leadership Principles and Practices course I facilitated last month shared an observation that demonstrates the impact that shared learning and leading can have on individuals, organizations, and communities.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to grow as a leader and to develop an abundant vision. Your training has enlarged my vision and impact that now close to 5000 people from the community are beneficiaries.
The training Florence is referring to isKurumbuka Leadership Solution’s year-long leadership training program empowering leaders, connecting influencers, and multiplying leadership solutions.
Florence has completed the program and is part of a growing list of African leaders who have been equipped and called to now impact and influence their organizations and communities. These leaders operate from an abundance mentality and willingly serve to remove barriers to facilitate the transformation of the communities they lead.
Kurumbuka, which was birthed from the Wellspring Foundation for Education’s Abundant Leadership Institute, has been training leaders Since 2015. Beginning with a small initial cohort of fifteen leaders from Rwanda, the Kurumbuka leadership program now has trained leaders from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and The Democratic Republic of the Congo. This includes the group of leaders who have just completed the fourth cohort which Florence was part of.
The feedback and reflections received from the participants of this unique leadership development program have been affirmative and encouraging. Numerous positive outcomes have been communicated. Many of the leaders share that the program not only helped with providing more leadership principles and skills, but also has equipped them with practical and hands-on strategies to assist them in leading and transforming their leadership abilities.
Another consistent message articulated is that the program has empowered the leaders to stretch beyond their comfort zones and avoid isolation. They are reaching out and connecting; recognizing that there is strength in sharing and collaborating.
Phocas Ngendahayo, Kurumbuka’s Rwanda Country Director shares, “ it is exciting to read about how you are already planning to stay connected, to celebrate the learning and competencies you acquired, while finding ways to strengthen the already established connections and productive relationships, multiplying solutions to bless your respective institutions and communities to bless your respective institutions and communities in the region, with our shared vision, faith, our abundant heart and quality of service.”
As I read Phocas’ comments and after reviewing the comments of the feedback received from the participants, Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed came to mind. This parable, which describes the transformation of a minuscule seed into a tree capable of producing and sustaining an abundance of branches, is a vision of Kurumbuka’s leaders.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32 NRSV).
Kurumbuka’s mission may be lofty and ambitious, nonetheless, it is evident that leaders in Africa see a need for this type of leadership development program. More individuals from different communities and neighboring countries are looking to join the expanding table. The voice of Kurumbuka is growing and, “ just as great rivers have a very small source, so great movements in history often start in a single moment with an obscure thought, word or action…” (African Study Bible Commentary, pg.1164).
Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions is and will continue to be a key contributor and influencer in bringing African voices around the Leadership is Heart table. View the video to learn more about how Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions is impacting leaders and how to get involved.