Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Alumni Impact Awards
U.S. Mission Uganda Alumni Impact Awards | Sheraton Kampala Hotel | January 21, 2023 | (as prepared for delivery)
Wow, that video was amazing! Let’s have another round of applause for director Hosea Jemba and all the alumni featured in the video. As you saw in the film, our alumni come from and work in locations across Uganda. And those you saw are just a very small representation of our alumni community and the work they are doing.
As we celebrate 60 years of the United States’ partnership with the Ugandan people, I can think of no better way to honor the work we are doing together than by celebrating the impact of our exchange program alumni. In September, we celebrated the first African Fulbright Scholar, the late Professor William Senteza Kajubi, who went to the United States on the program in the early 1950s before Ugandan independence. He went on to do many things to support the development of this country, including two separate terms as Makerere University vice-chancellor. Following his inspiring example, so many alumni of our programs return home to Uganda and make an impact in their respective sectors, be that academia, education, public management, civil society, the arts, medicine, the media, or business.
There have been over 4,700 alumni of U.S. Department of State exchange programs in Uganda since the start of our relationship 60 years ago. I wish we could gather everyone in one place, including alumni of various other U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, but we have to start somewhere and it is incredible to have so many of you together tonight. We have alumni from the Young African Leaders Initiatives (YALI and Mandela Washington Fellows), Fulbright academic exchange programs, the International Visitors Leadership Program, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, and many more.
Among these, I would like to highlight a few individuals, names I’m sure you will recognize, in addition to those nominated tonight. We are proud to have among our alumni ranks:
Community Solutions alumnus, Current Member of Parliament the Honorable Richard Anywar, a former child soldier who founded a non-profit organization called Friends of Orphans, which helped re-integrate former child soldiers back into normal life;
Fulbright alumnus Prof. Jasper Ogwal Okeng, renowned malaria scientist who founded Gulu University medical school and Lira University where he currently serves as Vice Chancellor;
The leading anti-human trafficking campaigner and Deputy Chair of the National Prevention of Trafficking in Persons office, Hubert Humphrey alumna Agnes Igoye;
And, Joyce Mpanga, Fulbright alumna, distinguished educationist and former politician who was the first Ugandan woman to hold a master’s degree, which she received as a Fulbright student from the University of Indiana in 1961.
It is an honor to see so many of our distinguished alumni here tonight and forgive me that I cannot list all of you by name.
Sometimes people ask me why the United States government invests so much in sending Ugandans to the United States, to Nairobi (where the YALI Regional Leadership Center is located), or to training programs here in Uganda.
First, we believe in investing in people, or as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield explained it to a small group of alumni last August when she visited, we focus on software – the critical systems that keep organizations and institutions running. By providing you the experience, networks, and new perspectives through our programs, we believe that as alumni you will use that experience to positively impact the communities in which you live and work. As I’m sure you remember from your applications and interviews, we run a competitive process where we look not only at your technical skills and knowledge, but also your interest in community and ability and willingness to give back. This is one area where I will claim a lot of credit on behalf of the many diplomats and local staff who have worked at our Embassy over the years. They absolutely chose well! Look at the accomplishments you have all had since returning from your programs! You not only succeeded in your respective areas, but you brought your communities and the next generation up with you.
Second, we invest in these programs to bring our countries closer together. We hope that by connecting you to Americans and American-style training through our exchanges, you will have a deeper understanding of our country and have the opportunity to share Uganda with the people you meet. And on occasion, these new interactions can lead to new opportunities. I recently visited a company owned by an alum and he’s looking to expand his business to the United States, building on the ties he developed there.
And third, we see you as our partners. You have a special connection to the United States because of your experience, and we hope you share that knowledge with your family, colleagues, and community. You are in a better position to understand U.S. perspectives – whether you agree with us or not – and we welcome your ideas. As an example, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the more successful vaccination drives was because alumni at KCCA proposed we hold it there and then worked hard to make it happen. We look to you – and rely on you – as bridges between the people of the United States and your communities.
Tonight, we will have the opportunity to honor many alumni working on important issues across Uganda. I heard we had over 150 nominations for the awards tonight, and I know there are even more alumni who could have been nominated for the incredible work they are doing. You have leveraged the skills and knowledge from these programs to lead in fields ranging from education to the environment and business to healthcare – spaces that will define Uganda’s future. You have already made a difference in your respective fields, and we can’t wait to see what you and your alumni peers accomplish in the coming decades of Ugandan-U.S. partnership.
At the U.S. Mission, we are bolstering our alumni engagement. As many of you have heard, we are thrilled to have recently hired Kato Chrysestom as our Alumni Coordinator. I hope you enjoyed his recent edition of the Alumni Newsletter. You should look forward to some photos from tonight’s event in the next edition.
We are also lucky to have incredible partners among the alumni community. First and foremost, I would like to recognize the YALI-RLC Executive Committee for the work they have done to put on this event tonight. Can I ask Faizo Muhumuza and the entire YALI Executive Committee to stand up and be recognized? Thank you all for being such incredible partners and bringing the alumni community together for this important event. I also love your outfits, which I know were designed by one of our very own alumni of Jose’s House of Creations. Thank you, Jose!
And now it is time to turn to the main event for the evening – the Alumni Impact Awards! I look forward to learning more about the alumni we are recognizing this evening and celebrating your successes to date and those ahead of you as leaders across Uganda.
On with the show!