When he was a boy, Derreck Kayongo’s life was turned upside down when dictator Idi Amin took control of his home country of Uganda.
During the ED (Filene) Talk on Sunday at CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC), Kayongo explained his journey from a refugee from the genocide Amin perpetrated to the founder of the Global Soap Project, a $10 million business active in 90 countries.
The Global Soap Project recycles soap from hotel rooms, turns it into fresh soap, and sends it to people in need in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, populations where people die on a regular basis due to a lack of basic hygiene.
Kayongo described the Global Soap Project in terms the GAC audience understood well.
“It’s people helping people. And that’s the remarkable part about this business, and that’s what you guys are doing, as credit unions,” he said. “You’re people in a business, helping people.”
Kayongo, a credit union member, praised the cooperative financial model for meeting the needs of member-owners.
“You as an industry, part of what you’ve done so well is serve in the communities where you live. Credit unions are part of who we are,” he said. “It’s through service that you see the needs of society. Serving keeps you humble, it helps you stay connected.”
Kayongo said he found his niche by examining and overcoming the “yuck factor”—the part of a business that might be off-putting. In his case, that means taking used soap and turning it into something that saves lives all around the world.
Find inspiration in his journey, Kayongo urged GAC attendees.
“Is the credit union business into helping people for real? If so, my story is one that should encourage you to stay the course,” he said. “I took the little story of my life as a former refugee, and turned that around into something. I turned it around because I believed in this country, and this country believed in me. When you give someone a chance, give them an education, trust them, and have faith in them, this is what happens.”