When Derreck Kayongo learned that hotels discard millions of partially used bars of soap each year, he could have complained. Instead, the Ugandan refugee found a way to build on that knowledge.
“The point of America is to construct,” says Kayongo, who addressed the 2023 CUNA Operations & Member Experience Council and CUNA Technology Council Conference in Denver. “Look at what you’ve built in 249 years. That’s what the U.S. is all about.”
He used his story of growing up, becoming a refugee, and starting the Global Soap Project to show how embracing personal accountability and seeking out opportunities can create an environment where everyone thrives.
Kayongo created the Global Soap Project after staying in a hotel for the first time in the U.S. He was amazed the hotel provided and replaced three different soaps—facial, hand, and body—each day. He learned the hotel threw out the partially used bars of soap.
“I had an epiphany,” Kayongo says. “I was the son of a man who made soap, became a refugee, and had nothing, and they were throwing away good soap.”
U.S. hotels throw away 800 million bars of annually—2.6 million bars each day, he says. Kayongo set out to find a way to recycle the used soap to send back to refugees on his home continent to improve peoples’ hygiene.
“The idea of building a business was linked to me understanding the needs of the community,” he says. “As credit union people, you’re part of the community.”
Kayongo says his parents played a significant role in his upbringing and becoming the man he is today. One lesson he learned from his father was the need to construct a governing ethos: fundamental values that drive peoples’ decisions and actions.
Kayongo’s governing ethos is SELF: service, education, leadership, and faith.
Service. When serving his community, Kayongo says something positive happens and he feels the connection.
Education. Educated yourself on the needs of the community.
Leadership. In his culture, leadership is earned, not just given through promotions or years of service. Leaders achieve this by failing, learning from those failures, and asking for wisdom.
“A leader is invested in understanding the details,” Kayongo says. “The function of a leader is to take a human with many skills and make them fantastic.”
Faith. Understand that unexpected events will occur, but faith will see you through obstacles. “There’s a reason for the challenges, obstacles, and successes you face.”