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Auma Obama: three characteristics of change makers

Community activist, sociologist and author, it seems like nothing can hold Dr. Auma Obama, founder of Kenya’s “Sauti Kuu” (powerful voices) Foundation, back. But what does it take to bring about positive change? The half-sister of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, presented three characteristics that game-changers share at Julius Baer’s Global Young Partners Reunion in January.

“Poverty is no excuse.” 

“Development aid has to be linked to economic development.” 

“Once others hear your voice loud and clear, they realize you exist.” 

These are only some of the convictions that Dr. Auma Obama has – and she is not afraid to shout them from the rooftops. The passionate community activist was born and raised in Kenya before leaving for Germany, where she completed her doctoral degree in Philosophy at the University of Bayreuth. After returning to Kenya to work for CARE International, the half-sister of Barack Obama established the Sauti Kuu (Powerful Voices) Foundation in 2010. 

What makes a change-maker? When did you last inspire someone? When did you last say: “I want to be a better person, I want to do greater things, I want to give my best?” Take some time to reflect on these questions because they are important. 

Wealth does not define you. Wealth does not make you a better person. Wealth does not turn you into a lioness or a lion. The formula to achieve this can only be found within yourself. You cannot be passive and complacent. You must take up every challenge that comes your way because every challenge is also an opportunity.

I frequently get invited to events to speak about myself, my foundation and my family. After I have completed my presentation, however, a lot of people approach me and ask, “But what can I do? Where am I in this? I can’t achieve all of these things because I don’t have a big name behind me, I lack of something, etc.” It took me a while to understand that it’s not about me. It takes a certain personality to be a change maker. How you see yourself and how you feel about yourself is crucial. In my opinion, it all boils down to three characteristics:

1. Change-makers dream big Most of us do not even try to change the status quo because we are governed by fear. Change-makers, on the other hand, dream big, are creative and think critically. 

Many years ago, my brother Barack visited me in my small one-room apartment. While lying on his camp bed, he told me that he would quit community work to study law. He wanted to enter the American government because he believed that this was the only way to make a change. He was dreaming big. 

If I had told Barack at that time that he was not going to make it, he simply would have replied, “Of course I am!” The word impossible does not exist in the vocabulary of these people.

2. Change-makers fail – but do not give up Confidence is another defining attribute of change-makers. They tell themselves “I can do this, even if I’m afraid.” They fight their fear and pick themselves up from the floor, even if they made a mistake or failed. And they fail many times in a row. The difference is that they keep on going and strive for the best. Leonardo da Vinci called this “stubborn application”. “I will do it stubbornly because I’m sure it’s going to happen anyway” was his life motto.

3. Change-makers are human and compassionate Finally, yet most importantly, true leaders carry humanity and compassion in their hearts. They realize that they could be the beggar in the street and never judge a book by its cover. Change-makers know that they are not better than anybody else and that they could not have achieved anything without the help of others. 


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