In this episode of Five Minutes, we speak with Stephen Tugume. In his first ever interview, Stephen opens up about his unfortunate upbringing and his lengthy battle with HIV. Stephen now works with Ask Without Shame, a non-profit organisation aimed at tackling HIV.

This is Five Minutes with Stephen Tugume, on the Fight Malaria Blog.

What is your biggest life lesson or key takeaway from this interview that you would like to stick with readers?

My biggest life lesson that I would like readers, or people listening to this podcast, is learning to discover themselves and to know who exactly they are to them and to the world, or the community they are living in.

Briefly tell us what Social Innovation Academy, Uganda is.

I was once at SINA (Social Innovation Academy) as a scholar and I got to discover about SINA through a social startup. This social startup is called Ask Without Shame and it was started at SINA. This social startup is into sexual reproductive health and HIV so when I learnt about the startup, I went ahead and discovered about SINA, that’s when I got to know that Ask Without Shame was started at SINA. Before I go further, SINA is Social Innovation Academy, located in Mpigi, about an hour drive from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.

In this place, at Social Innovation Academy, it’s a very well presented environment, a learning environment, where youth go and get exposed to empowerment and training programmes to nurture them into innovators and social entrepreneurs. Before I went to SINA as a scholar, I was inspired by Ask Without Shame’s story and the fact that I have an HIV background; my parents died of the HIV virus and when I came across Ask Without Shame, I was inspired to join such a group of people and bringing impact to the Ugandan community and African community at large. Not forgetting the world, because Ask Without Shame’s vision is to make it global.

When I discovered about it, I was also eager to know where Ask Without Shame originated from. And that’s when I discovered Social Innovation Academy, SINA. I went ahead and I wrote an email to the people in charge of communication and I spoke to them and all of a sudden had to meet them and, when I got into the place, I was inspired and enrolled as a scholar where I was exposed to mentorship and training programmes which even inspired me more to become someone who is really eager to cause a social impact in a community.

Tell us more about yourself. What is your passion?

I am an orphan, I have an HIV background. Of course, I don’t feel ashamed to talk about myself in that manner, that telling everyone that I am HIV positive and have an HIV background, my parents died of the virus because it gives me the energy to move on, despite the fact that I’m a victim of HIV.

Furthermore, about myself, I love Digital Marketing, I love any kind of Freelance Marketing online. I love sharing with young people about HIV and other life skills, empowering them, encouraging, and also motivating them, that’s what I love. To be honest, by myself, I have so many passions, my biggest passion is making a change. But there are other passions that I share with people in the community I live in.

What advice would you give to others wanting to start a social enterprise or a nonprofit organisation?

My advice to someone who is in need of starting up a social enterprise, or an NGO, is that starting, kicking off to innovating a social enterprise or an NGO is being committed. Innovating something involves searching around information, being motivated not to give up because sustaining an NGO or social startup really involves a whole lot of effort.

For instance, if I started a social enterprise, it would involve me searching around for opportunities financially to raise funds, to sustain this NGO whereby sometimes, I might find myself getting discouraged and all of a sudden, I am making my vision a success. So really, someone who wants to start an NGO, I would advise that person that it’s not really an easy path to take and if you are motivated and inspired and really willing to make a change, I would encourage you to go for it.

What were your biggest challenges up until now?

My biggest challenges, until now, is the fact that, in my country, the population is too high and dominated by young people. If you look at Uganda’s population, most people are youth and, being the fact that they are youth, they lack what to do for a living so there is a lot of unemployment, people not sure what to do to sustain themselves.

And the other challenge is that I was born HIV positive so, during the time I was recognised as HIV positive, I felt a lot of stigmas. At the moment, I am trying to overcome it, that’s why I’m getting involved in the cause to get the impact to try and end this stigma because it really pushed me to a whole lot of depression, so I am trying to minimise it.

What were your happiest moment with the Social Innovation Academy in Uganda?

My happiest moments when I was still at SINA was that I got to meet various people because I was at SINA last year and I spent three months training in such a self-learning environment. I learnt a lot and what made me happy was a sudden event that linked up Global Changemakers, where I got to meet various social entrepreneurs, other young people who are really bringing change in their respective countries they came from. That really made me happy.

Then the other thing that made me happy is the comfort zone challenges, because when I had just joined SINA as a scholar, every lesson we were exposed, as a scholar, to an appraises. My biggest appraise was going for a comfort zone challenge where we went into the forest and got involved in a comfort zone challenge. These are challenges where you go through two tunnels, follow the rope where we are blindfolded, going through the forest (a thick forest) then that was my very first time to get into the water and, of course, the water was dirty. That was my first experience of swimming in dirty water, that really made me happy. Then the people were really friendly, everyone at the Social Innovation Academy is kind, is free, loving and whatever need comes across can be solved.

What kind of future do you hope to create with the Social Innovation Academy?

Well, I have already left SINA. Although I left I am still a part of it through Ask Without Shame as a Social Media Manager, but I am serving in that post as a volunteer so I am still a part of SINA that’s why I still see myself as someone making a change. When I was at SINA, since I have a passion for staying online and surfing, virtually interacting with people on social media.

When I was at SINA, I was a Social Media Manager, I was in a Connections learning group to help me boost my skills in that area which really exposed me to a whole lot of opportunities. I got to discover that there were certain things I didn’t know in Digital Marketing of which I’ve moved a step to teach them to myself through making research.

How can readers and listeners participate in helping to achieve this future?

At the moment, I do most of my Digital Marketing work and Freelance on my phone so I really have a challenge. At times I miss out on so many opportunities that I go and grab. My phone has less RAM, it has less storage and I would wish to get a larger gadget that can help me and expose me to broader resources to expand my experience in Digital Marketing, and also meet other Digital Marketers online.

Of course, sometimes, I find myself going offline because my gadget blocks out in about two to three hours after charging it so I really find myself frustrated having lots of things to do when I come back online so I really need a gadget with a stronger battery.

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