Derreck Kayongo and his family fled a civil war in Uganda and relocated to the US when he was just ten years old. He attended college in Atlanta and then graduated from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. After moving to the US, Kayongo was shocked to find that hotel soap was thrown out after just one or two uses. That shock led to inspiration and the creation of the Global Soap Project, an organization that takes used soap from 5,500 hotels, cleans and reprocesses it for shipment to impoverished nations where hygiene can make the difference between life and death. More than 90 countries across the world now participate in his effort. Kayongo will be here at AMV on May 10 to talk about his organization and how to transform your ideas into action. We wanted to learn more about where he gets his inspiration, his family life and what he likes to do for fun.
Q: The Global Soap Project is a simple, but brilliant and life-changing idea. What advice would you give others to be able to see the potential in seemingly routine activities to impact the lives of others?
A: There are so many things one needs to do in order to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. My sense is that among the ubiquity of what needs to happen there are three keys. First is the power of observation. Scientists can teach us something about this process. Isaac Newton it’s said discovered gravity thru simple observation.
Second, is understanding the gumption and dedication it takes to stay the full course of getting things to happen. Mediocrity is simply not enough when courting success because failure is a fierce guardian of her close sister success. So one has to have the grit it takes to have impact. Lastly, is the intentional work it takes to do “Power Networking.” This is where you figure out what problems you need to solve and then match them with powerful people, meaning knowledge-centered people who can solve them.
Q: You and your wife, Sarah, have two children. How do you instill your sense of responsibility to others in them?
A: Through our actions which as the adage goes speak louder than words. We tell them about our African heritage and the amount of courage it took for us to come to an entirely new country and built a business from scratch. This work that exemplifies a Puritan approach to life we hope will rub off on them.
Q: How do your children explain to others what you do for a living?
A: I really don’t know that they have a standard answer other than “simple recyclers to help Mother Earth.”
Q: You’re quite the dapper dresser and have been known to shop in the women’s department on occasion. What’s the one accessory that can add some pizazz to your wardrobe — male or female?
A: Jewelry is always a great accent to the language of fashion. For Madam [Madeleine] Albright, it was the broche that distinguished her fashion.
Q: When you’re not saving the world, what do you like to do in your leisure time?
A: Dancing to Latin music and dining out a lot. Good food and a dance after is pure joie de vivre.
Q: Your fitness routine includes running and salsa dancing. Which one do you prefer and why?
A: Salsa because it involves a beautiful woman as my partner and that whole thing is glorious. It helps me forget all my frets in life and I am lost in the Falstaffian allusions.
Q: What’s your favorite brand of soap?
A: That’s unfair! I love all manner of soaps! But Global Soap is the best soap for what it represents. Innovation, entrepreneurship, tenacity, grit and most cardinal Hope!