Remarks by Ambassador William W. Popp to the Public Managers Leadership Graduation
November 17, 2023, American Center, Kampala
Thank you, Shallon, for inviting me here today, congratulations to the graduates, and good afternoon to all. I’m delighted to be with you to share some thoughts on leadership and the importance of public service.
I would like to acknowledge the work that you, Shallon, are doing to create thoughtful leaders among your peers and young professionals across the country. Your spirit embodies the vision of leadership set forth by President Barack Obama when he established the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010 — leaders giving back to their communities, and that is what you are doing here today.
As a public servant myself, I am well aware that the term does not always engender the most positive sentiment. For some, the term “public service” brings to mind government agencies, policy changes, and bureaucracy. For others, it represents the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to save others in healthcare settings. And for others, the concept of public service is more multifaceted, encompassing everything from a charity for vulnerable children to the nurses administering vaccines at the community health clinic.
Choosing a career in public service can be motivated by the desire to make a measurable difference in the lives of others. That is why many of my colleagues in the U.S. government chose their career – we want to support our own country and make a positive difference in the lives of people around the world.
The array of public service career options is endless, especially as the lines between government, nonprofit agencies and the private sector become increasingly blurred in modern economies. Regardless of where your passions lie, public service presents opportunities for a rewarding career.
I want to commend you all for devoting your personal time to improving your leadership skills and thinking about what it means to be a good public servant.
The motivation to become a public servant varies from person to person. For some, it’s rewriting policy to advance a program or an important issue; for others, it’s providing life-saving assistance in health crises like the recent Ebola outbreak, and for others its being the source of emergency aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
For some of my colleagues, it’s recruiting participants for a U.S. government-sponsored exchange program that will support them in becoming even better public servants. I know that you have heard about some of these programs.
Shallon is a very good example of an alumnus. But it is important to clarify, we do not make leaders or instill a sense of loyalty to the community. We select people who already exhibit those qualities. We select people who, like Shallon, will use their knowledge and experience to lift up others.
Public service is not easy. At the Embassy often we work long hours away from friends and family to manage our diplomatic relationship and all the programs that comprise our nearly $1 billion annual investment in the Ugandan people.
This has been true for more than six decades, as we continue to strengthen our partnership with the Ugandan people for a healthy and vibrant society where every Ugandan child, woman, and man can achieve their full potential.
One thing public servants must take seriously is the transparent stewardship of taxpayer dollars. The United States has an obligation to ensure that the investments of the American people in Uganda are accounted for, that U.S. trade and investment is secure, and that American citizens are safe.
At our Embassy and in Washington, we have many public services working to ensure funds are spent appropriately, projects are monitored, and we evaluate our activities to make sure the funds achieved the goals we set out for them. We even make our investments public so that U.S. taxpayers, and Ugandan citizens, can hold us to account for the work we committed to doing.
As many of you know, the U.S. government is working to strengthen democracy in Uganda through our diplomatic and assistance programs. In essence, our work is about supporting Ugandans to have the opportunities and public services they deserve – good health, education, prosperity, and respect, dignity, and equal treatment under the law. That is what the Ugandan people consistently call for what all public servants should strive to deliver.
U.S. law requires us to ensure that our support does not fund entities that discriminate and that the support will be used for its intended purpose. Integrity in public service is absolutely key to the advancement of a society.
That is why it is so important to have young people of integrity and commitment in public service – to push us towards a brighter future, both in the United States and here in Uganda.
Our hope is that as Uganda’s democracy strengthens with support from public managers like you, the Ugandan people will enjoy better health, prosperity, and stability.
That is our hope for Uganda’s future, and it is leaders dedicated to public service, like you, who can help make that future possible.