Sunday August 24 2014

The man behind today’s cancer run

Rotarian Stephen Mwanje during an interview

Rotarian Stephen Mwanje during an interview recently. PHOTOs BY Joseph Kiggundu. 

By Henry Lubega

Rotarian Stephen Mwanje, the brain behind the cancer run, is a man of many coats; a former banker and lecturer, turned financial consultant and businessman. He conceived the idea of raising money for a noble cause in 2010 after participating in the Dar Marathon in Tanzania where six rotary clubs organised a marathon to raise money for different social causes each year. “I was touched by what these rotary clubs in Dar es Salaam were doing through running and said why not try it home,” explains Mwanje.

Pregnant with the idea of starting a project that benefits all Ugandans, he didn’t know how much it would cost or where to get the money from, neither did Mwanje have an idea of what kind of project it should be. All he was armed with was the zeal to serve.

“I started off with organising a meeting for the country’s top 100 Chief Executive Officers in July 2010, where the Governor Bank of Uganda and I were the guest speakers. I told the CEOs that they have big corporate social responsibility budgets but their challenge is having trustworthy people to use that money. I told them that for every $100 they give, only 60 per cent gets to the beneficiaries,” he says.

Serving as a Rotary District Governor then, Mwanje assured the CEOs that for every $100 they donate to the cause spearheaded by the Rotary fraternity in the country, the beneficiaries would receive $120.

Following the breakfast, the question now was what project they were going to take on.
“When I convened the breakfast with the CEOs, I had no project idea. However, when I saw their response I called a few friends to brainstorm over the project. Just before the meeting started I got the news that a very close friend of mine had passed on due to cancer. That’s when the idea of having a cancer ward came up and we all agreed to it.”
With the ideal project identified, it required both land and money to start it off.

Mwanje was not going to ask the CEOs to donate land, they didn’t have it. “When the idea was approved I reached out to Dr Martin Nsubuga, the medical director Nsambya hospital, also a Rotarian, to talk to his bosses about our cause. Luckily, they agreed to donate a piece of land where to construct the ward.”

According to Mwanje, different rotarians came together and came up with the structural design and the costs totaling to Shs1.3 billion for the single storeyed building with a capacity of 36 beds.
“Each floor will accommodate 18 beds, with the women occupying the ground floor and the men the upper floor.”

“By the time I got the Shs1.3 billion budget, not a single coin had been raised yet. I went knocking on different CEOs offices and the first breakthrough came from Centenary Bank with a Shs300m cheque. This was the beginning other CEOs and individuals came on board,” Mr Mwanje says. However, there was need to bring as many people as possible on board.

“I got a team of committed Rotarians headed by rotarian Sarah Odongo to organise the cancer run in 2012. We had set ourselves a target of five years in which to have raised the money and have the construction completed.”

The 2012 run saw 8,000 participants taking part generating Shs200m. The first run was like a curtain raiser for the 2013 run in terms of participants though this time the cash raised fell short of the first run. But according to Mwajje the short fall was filled with donations from corporates.

“As Uganda celebrated 50 years of independence, Crown Beverages through their Pepsi Cola brand donated Shs1 million for each year of Uganda’s independence [Shs50 million] towards the project, National Housing and Construction Company offered to do the roofing.”

According to Mwanje, the construction was planned for five years but thanks to the generosity of Ugandan corporate CEOs and other individuals who have generously donated to have the structure in place ahead of schedule. “One year ahead of schedule, we have a balance of Shs300 million which we hope to raise in this year’s cancer run, to finish the construction before time.”

The final run to be graced by former Tanzanian president Ali Hassan Mwinyi is believed to be the last run to raise money for the construction. “Mwinyi is passionate about running despite his advanced age. He is almost 90 years now, when I extended an invitation to him he accepted and he will participate in the 10km category.”

With the construction almost done, it is the equipping and training of the personnel to run the facility that Mwanje’s focus is turned to. “When it comes to equipment and training of personnel, we shall use our rotary friends in the developed world for assistance,” he adds. Once equipped and operational, there are plans to expand the ward to cater for children and outpatients affected by the disease.

Born in Jumba village, in Nakifuma County, Mukono District in 19xx, Stephen Mwanjje is a holder of a Bachelors degree in Statistics and Masters in Business Administration. He started his carrier at Makerere University, Institute of Statistics and Applied Economics where he taught for two years before moving to Uganda Commercial Bank.

He served the Bank for 15 years and opted for early retirement to go into personal business. He was also board member, PostBank 1999 to 2003 and later Board Chairman up to 2008. He is a Rotarian from the Rotary Club of Mukono and was District Governor, 2010-11 for Rotary District 9200 which covered five countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.