Everyone has potential to be a leader

Physician Bonaventure Ahaisibwe. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Bonaventure Ahaisibwe: A trained physician in public health, medicine and business administration, Ahaisibwe did not see himself in health innovation but circumstances around healthcare pushed him on this path.

Who is Bonaventure Ahaisibwe?
I am a trained physician in Public Health, Medicine and Business Administration. I am a family man, married with three children and a strong believer in justice and equity.

How did you find yourself in the field of health innovation?
My parents were health workers and at the height of the HIV/Aids pandemic, I saw many friends and neighbours die young. It was tough to see and I saw how my parents felt fulfilled knowing that they were making a difference in people’s lives. I was inspired, so when I finished High School, I had to choose between technology or healthcare. I chose healthcare.

After school, I started working in refugee settlements with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, where I learnt that resources can be scarce due to the amount of healthcare issues in the area. It occurred to me that we had to be creative with the resources we had, so I started exploring the journey into health innovation.

During my training in public health, I did a class on health technology evaluations and part of the training involved a placement in a number of pharmaceuticals that were making health commodities and working through the chain of development and product development. I got exposed and started developing an interest in health innovation.

I am now the managing director for Impact and nnovation at Seed Global Health, an International NGO collaborating with the World Health Organisation, Africa CDC and other global entities looking at creative solutions to issues such as climate change and how it is affecting health.

What challenges do you face in your role, how do you overcome?
Mentorship is one of my challenges. I am a physician working in health innovation and management, which is not a typical space to be in.

Getting the right mentorship to get into new spaces has been a challenge. I have navigated that by looking for different people who can bring the different aspects of what I do. If I know someone who has done health advocacy, I will look to them for support.

The other challenge is professional development. It is extremely expensive and at times I know what I want to venture into and grow in but the opportunities are not there. I have overcome that by devoting resources to professional development, it is a big priority.

What are some of the lessons you have learnt on your way to the top?
Cultivating my network and never underestimating anyone on my path to growth. Cultivating these relationships is important; people knowing what I need and where I am will encourage them to be a resource to my growth.

What are your non-negotiables?
Honesty and equity are the values that come close to being my non-negotiables. 

How have you balanced your professional and personal life?
I have learnt to set boundaries; routine work has to be done and it will never end, so it is essential to know personal time. I learnt that if I continue, I can burn out and productivity reduces.

What mistakes do you think most people in management roles make?
Authority comes with power and sometimes it can be blinding to the realities around a leader. It is easy to feel that you know everything and it is easy to be prescriptive because you are at the top. Those in management roles can fail to listen to others due to their prescriptiveness, yet some ideas can come from other people.

The risk of trying to preserve the status quo is another mistake. When leaders reach the top, they want to hold onto their titles and end up losing the opportunity to go to the next level because they are clinging to titles.

Can everyone be a leader?
Yes. Some people have natural attributes of leadership. I believe if someone can inspire and get to help people achieve what their vision is, that person is a leader.

Is this a field where you have always seen yourself?
I never saw myself going into health innovation, I was driven into innovation by the need and opportunity. I always wanted to be in healthcare, lead teams and provide oversight. 

If you were to choose another career, what would it be?
Mentoring young people; working with them to help them achieve their potential.

Who is your role model and why?
My grandmother was an illiterate woman who was married into a polygamous family under tough circumstances but she stood up for herself and advocated for what she deserved and I saw her set boundaries for justice in her community and family.

How do you spend your time outside meetings and consultations?
I belong to community groups where we attend meetups and work on community initiatives. I play baseball, soccer and volleyball. I practice indoor aerobics and spend more time with family. 

If you could turn back the clock...
I would have invested more time during my school days doing more community engagements and building my foundation of the issues that happen at the grassroot.

Advice for those interested in pursuing health innovation?
Find the spaces and show up, do not underestimate yourself. Do not self-identify yourself in ways that lower your esteem.