Winnie Byanyima:’Being different is a powerful force. I never hesitate to be myself’


Most leaders have to overcome conflicts to survive and rise within the organization, but few have faced the kind of front-line experience that Winnie Byanyima overcomes.

As a Ugandan, she survived the post-colonial turmoil in her country and gained a place in a top university. But forced to flee the persecution, she and her family soon passed through Kenya and became British refugees. She studied again at the University of Manchester, where she performed well in male-dominated aeronautical engineering and environmental science subjects. Then she rejected the American scholarship, returned to Uganda and entered politics.

“I am a nomad,” she said. “As a curious person who is passionate about social justice, I dabble in different things.”

As a political activist and community organizer, when Milton Obote’s rule turned to the dictatorship of his deposed predecessor, Idi Amin, Baian Imma joined the Ugandan militant movement to help Overthrow him and support Yoweri Museveni.

After representing the Ugandan government abroad and working for an international organization focused on women’s rights, she was appointed as the head of Oxfam International in 2013. There, she took the lead in efforts to “decolonize” the charity, which was co-founded in Oxford by a “very privileged” donor and moved its headquarters to Kenya.

Before being appointed to lead the United Nations HIV/AIDS Program (UNAids) two years ago, she also helped oversee the response to the sexual abuse scandal.It corresponds to the concern about the virus Internal harassment issues.

Byanyima recalled becoming angry and scared under Amin’s authoritarian rule. “I saw my friend was picked up at school and came back a week later to shave his head-it shows that they are mourning the loss of their father and cannot even bury him,” she said.

“A woman doesn’t know what she can do. Any soldier can take you out of the street and marry you, and their parents dare not say a word.”

Her mother was a teacher and her father was an opposition politician, which inspired a belief that “social justice is what you insist, enjoy, do for yourself and others, pay the price and move on .” She criticized the regime with her classmates, and at the same time “feared that my father might die, and then she was afraid of herself.”

As a student in the UK, she recalled the experience of overcoming prejudice, including one in which her professor summoned her after she got the highest score. “It’s always surprising that I can do so well-it’s because you are an African and a woman, you can’t be so good.”

She participated in political debates, but was disappointed by Britain’s narrow focus. “although Greenham Public The protesters were engrossed in [US] Nuclear weapons, we were killed by small arms in Uganda,” she said. “Radical feminists talk about physical autonomy, but I thought,’When will they talk about political liberation, ending dictatorship, and eradicating poverty? ‘They never did. “

After returning to Uganda, she tried to solve the problems of corruption and exploitation. She stood before the current minister of her own party as a parliamentary candidate, who she believed was not enough to serve his voters. “The male candidates held a large rally on the podium,” she said. “I walked into the slums, walked into people’s kitchens, and talked to women.” She won convincingly.

In addition to values, she also reflected on other important leadership skills. “Know people and how to work with them. You need to be able to know what you can provide, what you need from others, and what they need from you.”

Another important quality is toughness. “You need to adapt,” she said. “Everything will throw new things at you. You must be able to fall and get up quickly. I have fallen many times.”

During Oxfam International, she promoted its transformation from a humanitarian aid agency to a campaign group, and provided a greater voice for branches in developing countries. “The work we do to support the community to gain a foothold is loved by people. But it’s not enough. Most poor people live in middle-income countries. The problem is inequality.”

In order to trigger reforms, she tried to influence the global elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Swiss Alps. They have a lot of evidence and arguments. This sparked reflection on another leadership characteristic she considered essential: authenticity.

“I would walk into a room with 30 to 40 men in black and gray suits, and some corporate women in small black suits,” she said. “In my country, we wear green, yellow and red. The default setting is to blend in and reduce threats. But why is it a little different? I will overcome my fears and continue my message in the most sensitive way. Being different is very different. Strong. I never hesitate to be myself.”

During the second half of her tenure at Oxfam, she was overshadowed by allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by frontline staff, including after the Haiti earthquake-although she was under the supervision of the UK office and was largely early For her tenure.

Once the claim was exposed, the charity was criticized for its slow response. But Byanyima said she persuaded her board to appoint an external committee to review problems, make recommendations, share them publicly, and implement them.

Then in 2019, she won the competition to run UNAids, and the organization is also under pressure to reform after allegations of staff harassment. She emphasized her experience in managing crises and the need to focus on campaign activities and working with community groups.

She also drew on her HIV experience that was hit hard in Uganda. The disease killed her brother, and she said that he ultimately died not because of lack of treatment but because of shame, which made him reluctant to visit the clinic regularly.

Four years after AIDS was first detected and killed as many as 1 million people every year, she focused on community action to lead the response and mobilize the government to introduce more enlightened policies.

Some people believe that organizations such as Oxfam and UNAIDS need strong technical programs to provide services as well as community activism and campaign activities. For Byanyima, with his own skills, the latter is the priority.

Byanyima rethinked his management method and said: “You have to face power, analyze who has power, and establish a more shared structure so that everyone has a voice. This is a servant-style leadership style, in this case , You may put yourself behind so that others can lead and see yourself as a promoter of others.”

Three questions of Winnie Byanyima

Who is your leading hero?

Michelle Bachelet. She has values, cares about social justice, and is a feminist. She was a victim of a brutal dictatorship, who turned her pain into public service; a doctor who worked in the public health system and studied military strategies to understand the thinking of the people who killed her father. She is the President of Chile, fighting inequality, is an advocate for reducing inequality in Latin America, and reforming the education and health systems. When she stepped down, she respected the Constitution. She leads a simple life and her leadership style is very humble. This is the leader I respect.

What was the first leadership lesson you learned?

My father always insisted that you must stand up for the right thing, and if you must, you must pay the price. Don’t follow what everyone is doing. This is not about popularity, but about values ​​and doing the right thing.

If you were not the CEO/leader, what would you be?

I like gardening and community organization, especially working with young people who have learning difficulties.

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