Master your craft and while at it, build a brand

Friday December 11 2020
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Ssali says before making a decision, her main criteria is that the project or initiative must have the greatest impact on poverty reduction. PHOTO/Edgar R. BATTE.

By Edgar R. Batte

What does your job entail?
We work with government ministries, departments, and agencies as well as the private sector to conceptualise, develop and implement trade facilitation initiatives that help to unblock the bottlenecks that hinder international trade (imports and exports). 
How would you professionally describe yourself to a stranger?
I am a Ugandan Afro-optimist with a natural interest in business, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I have had a career spanning over 20 years with over 15 years in senior management roles. My career journey started off in the United Kingdom, and as a professionally trained accountant, with a career peak as a Finance Director in the financial services industry, in the City of London, working with one of the world’s largest hedge funds. 

In 2013, I relocated to Uganda and transitioned my career into trade development and started working with one of the world’s largest Aid for Trade agencies, TradeMark East Africa (TMEA). This was after obtaining a Master’s in Business Administration, from France’s Grenoble Graduate Business School, with a specialisation in Innovation and Technology Management. I also had dreams of setting up a venture capital fund to support innovative young Ugandans with seed funding to scale their ideas. 

Over the last two years, I have engaged closely with the Ugandan fintech community in an effort to raise the profile of informal cross border trade to the fintech developers so that technology solutions that address the challenges in this sector can be developed. I host a weekly online show titled Damali Ssali Ideation Corner where I have discussions with Ugandan entrepreneurs and personalities that have conceptualised, developed, and implemented great ideas.
What is the best career advice anyone has given you and how has it impacted in your career?
Master your craft and while at it, be visible and build your brand. Whatever you are doing, whether running your own business or in employment, become an expert in your field. Attend webinars, read content, write content, and learn all you can. We must master our craft, whatever that is, daily and most importantly talk about, write about, post about, and share what you are doing. Also, equally important is to surround yourself with the right people. It is said that you become the sum of the five people you spend most of your time with. Therefore, we must ensure that the people who are influencing us daily are people whose opinion we should respect. 
What do you consider before making a decision while on the job? 
During my time when I was working in the financial services sector at the hedge fund, the main criteria for my investment decisions was that the investment had to be both ethical as well as have a minimum return on investment. Now that I am in the trade facilitation world, for me the main criteria is that the initiative that is being implemented must have the greatest impact on poverty reduction. It is those initiatives that have the greatest impact on poverty reduction as I would prioritise for implementation.  
What professional ethics do you uphold, and why?
My professional ethics are based on my background and upbringing. I was taught integrity, honesty, keeping time, and honouring my word, by my parents. It turns out that these are the same values that are taught in the professional world and at business schools. However, for me, these lessons had been taught to me as a child and I had seen them practised by my parents daily. So, they were not alien to me when I started my professional life and they have been quite easy for me to live by. 
When was the last time you felt your courage tested?
My mother passed away in 2012, though it still feels like yesterday, it is the greatest loss I have ever suffered and it took me a very long time, years actually, to recover from it. This loss also greatly contributed a lot to my decision to Uganda. 
Do you take work home? 
Actually, we have been working from home since March 2020, so in a way, home has become the office and I do have an improvised workstation (former dining table) where I try to do all my work related activities. In the beginning it was hard to separate work time from personal time, but eventually I mastered the art of ‘working from home’ and I quite enjoy it now. I certainly do not miss all that time that I used to waste every morning and evening stuck in traffic. 
What kind of literature do you read, and why?
I read for two main reasons. Firstly, for professional reasons, I do read literature connected to my work in trade facilitation because I am a firm believer in continuous learning. I always want to be better than I was yesterday, to have more knowledge today than I had yesterday Secondly for personal reasons, what I read depends on the season. Lately, I have been reading a lot more about philosophy, the study of life; basically, how does one live a peaceful, happy, and fulfilled life, the study of life itself.
A couple of months ago a friend of mine introduced me to the stoicism concept. At its root, it is focused on minimising the negative emotions in your life and maximising your gratitude and joy. Basically, stoicism is a tool to amplify your human experience, both internally and externally. So currently, I am learning more about this, but if we meet again in the next few months, I will have started learning about something else.
What do you do to let your hair down?
Jogging, dancing, reading, listening to music and meditation normally relax me. Also, I do love to travel around Uganda, but I have not done enough of this. I still have so many places on my bucket list that I am yet to visit like Bwindi to see the mountain gorillas, Ssese Islands, Sipi Falls, Kidepo National Park, Rwenzori Mountain, the hot springs in western Uganda, the list goes on. I had great plans to travel to all these places this year, unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic grounded me.