3 reasons I’m excited about my Balloon Fellowship


Usaama Kaweesa, Balloon 2016 Fellow

Someone once said, “History is more than the path left by the past. It influences the present and can shape the future.”

I recall this quote because I’m beginning to appreciate more and more how my history has and continues to shape my present and my future.

Some of you may be surprised to know that I was actually born in Uganda. A country Winston Churchill once called “the Pearl of Africa.” A country with a population of almost 38 million people and one with incredible natural wonders like the source of the Nile River and a diverse cultural heritage represented by more than 10 ethnic groups.

However Uganda is also one of the world’s poorest countries with an estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV and AIDS. Furthermore you’ll be shocked to know its young people make up over 70% of Uganda’s population and yet 83% of them are unemployed. That’s the unfortunate state Uganda is in at the moment.

Now I know quite a bit about this poverty because I lived there until I was 6 years old. But whilst I don’t remember all the details of my early years, I do remember travelling back to Uganda to visit family as I was growing up.  I remember feeling upset by the poverty that I saw when I went to visit family in rural communities. Unfortunately back then I didn’t understand why such poverty existed. I knew that what I was seeing wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

Then when I was 22 I applied to volunteer overseas with Restless Development on their International Citizen Service Programme. I was first sent to South Africa and a few years later to Uganda, where on both occasions I worked alongside local volunteers in rural communities to address the issues local young people faced.

Volunteering with Restless Development was a life changing experience. It taught me that I could make a difference to the poverty that I’d witnessed in my early life, and that we, as young people can have an impact on complicated issues like HIV/ AIDS, no matter what our background.

It’s with this passion and knowledge I’m now looking forward to returning to the ‘Pearl of Africa’, on the Balloon Ventures Fellowship, to work with inspiring entrepreneurs to grow businesses that change lives.

I’m excited about this unique voluntary opportunity for many reasons and here are just my top three.

  1. We can finally defeat poverty sustainably through business, not simply aid.

I’ve always believed that there’s no greater generator of personal wealth and innovation than a sustainable system of free enterprise that unleashes the full potential of individual men and women. For me that’s what I really hope to contribute as part of the Balloon Fellowship – to assist local entrepreneurs to start up and grow micro-businesses that will have a long-lasting impact.

  1. I want to unleash the entrepreneur within me and other people.

I strongly believe anyone can be an entrepreneur because everyone has ideas. Successful entrepreneurs are only those individuals who have the courage and resources to turn those ideas into successful businesses. Therefore as a Balloon Fellow there’s nothing I’m looking forward to more than developing my skillset in enterprise and putting them to the test alongside local entrepreneurs in Uganda.

  1. Young Ugandans need to be at the forefront of change and development.

With 77% of the population under the age of 30 and a high youth unemployment rate, we have the opportunity to reach out and engage those young people who are looking to enterprise as the solution. Uganda has an entrepreneurship rate at 28% which I’m really looking forward to supporting by working with the most innovative and successful entrepreneurs in and around Mbale.

I honestly never thought I would ever get the opportunity to return to Uganda to make a difference in this way, but through this Balloon Fellowship I’m about to get the chance to do just that. The chance to return to my birthplace in order to address some of the biggest issues on poverty that have plagued me my whole life.

Usaama Kaweesa