As part of our 125-year celebrations, we interviewed alumnus, Director of Philanthropy and Private Sector Engagement for Crown Agents and Founder and Director of the Abantu Impact Foundation, Keith Kibirango. Keith attended LSE's Department of Law, studying a LLM Master of Laws in the 2006/2007 academic year.
Keith, tell us a little about yourself and your career
I was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, to a family of 12. My mother was the kind of woman who worked three jobs to take her children to the best schools in the country. And so, hard work was instilled in me from a young age, as well as the value of education. I think there is a lot of my mother in me.
I went to law school in Uganda, and I recall my first job being in legal aid, where I served women and children at an organisation called FIDA Uganda. Then in 2005, while I was working for Concern Worldwide, I saw an advert in the paper for a higher education scholarship with the Ford Foundation and applied. I think there were 500 applicants that year, and we were first whittled down to maybe 13. I then went to the British Council and had an interview. That year perhaps eight or nine people got a scholarship, and I was one of them.
Amazing. Was that the start of your journey to LSE?
Yes. The scholarship team were so generous, we were asked, "So where do you want to go?" and I said, "I want to live in a big city". I wanted to live in London, of course. It's an incredible place and I had some family there, so it was a no brainer. I also wanted to go to the best university in London, and that is LSE.
So, I applied to LSE. I had to do a personal statement and I was very nervous about writing it. I did it, I re-did it, and re-did it again. Then one fine morning the big envelope arrived, and I had an offer from LSE. I was over the moon, and I must say my life has never been the same again, really. I got the offer in 2005, and my studies began in 2006. I arrived perhaps a month before school time for the English course, and then term began for my master’s. I've never looked back since.
Whilst you were at LSE, what were the defining political affairs of the time, and how campus was involved?
I recall there being a number of things that the students were involved in. First of all, certainly on the issue of legalising gay marriage. There was a huge movement at school in aid of this. Secondly, there was a budding awareness of our environment and of climate change, so many students were involved in that. Then there was the whole issue of addressing race and privilege within UK society. We were really strong at both tackling and advocating for these issues respectively, as students.
Do you have fond memories of being on campus?
Oh, yes. First of all, my undergraduate university was on a hill away from the city, with a big wall around it. So, it was fascinating for me to attend a university in the city and to live so centrally. I was at Butler's Wharf by Tower Bridge. I loved the walk from Tower Bridge to Holborn and back, you couldn't experience a better version of London. I got the chance to see a full breadth of students who were not on my course, from different years and different departments. We would all have the kitchen as a centre point, and we got to know each other this way. LSE is basically the world in a condensed space.
That sounds so wonderful and vibrant.
I know, I picked up a lot from other students, other cultures and new experiences. In my little group alone we had a Canadian, two Americans, a Ugandan, a Ghanaian, as well as a Dutch and a Thai student. This really transformed how I walk into a room and how I interact with people.
Did your experiences at LSE help shape your post-graduate path?
A hundred thousand percent. I'll say this, at LSE I learned how to use language to my advantage. It also helped me be able to navigate the international job scene. Because my education helped me to lift the bar and realise, "Okay, if this is what they want, I'm going to deliver that, and then some".
There is also the brand of the university, the people that have been there before: the prime ministers, presidents, professors and Nobel award winners. When you go into a job interview or talk to people, and they hear you've been there, there is a grand reputation associated. I also feel that the university allowed me to apply for jobs that I never would have applied for. The experience turbo boosted my career. Since leaving LSE, life has gone boom, boom, boom, boom, and now, I'm almost getting to the top of that ladder.
On the academic side of things, did you have a favourite class or a favourite lecturer whilst you were here?
Conor Gearty. He was my favourite lecturer, and he was also the Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the time. With Conor, it was also the first time I had heard the Irish accent. I found it fascinating! He was fantastic and very generous with his students. Also, because I stood for leadership in my class, he agreed to be a referee for my first couple of jobs. When we graduated, he came over and said hello to my parents. It was lovely. The people who were teaching us, the way we were taught, the way I was allowed to express myself, the way I was encouraged to be argumentative, the sheer calibre of education – it was all life changing.
What advice would you give LSE students of today? How about students who aspire to work in development and social impact as well?
LSE has given you the tools to be able to make it out there. I think sometimes when we are surrounded by so many bright people, we tend to think that we are not special. But this is not true. I find that the School gives you the tools to think, to argue, to reason, to wade through so many different complex ideas and solutions. If you have been to LSE, you also probably have good friends in several other countries. So already, you are international. The teaching is so practical too, you're being taught by people who have actually worked in the field and this benefits you also.
The LSE alumni community is global, especially in the international development sector. This gives you a huge advantage, as you can reach out to other graduates in the sector. I would say you are on your way there, and you will enjoy the field, because you'll find so many kindred spirits. The university has prepared you for that. From my experience, I was able to say, "You know something? I have something to say, and if a few thousand people enjoy hearing it, why not to say it and say it properly?". That is not as succinct as Maya Angelou would put it, but that is my take.
A couple of highlights from your own career as well?
Being able to set up the Africa philanthropy program for Save the Children. It's the first time that anyone anywhere in the world has been able to set up a program that raises millions of pounds, from African philanthropists. So that was a really huge highlight for me. Secondly, being able to set up an organisation that is addressing poverty through empowering social enterprise, and that is the Abantu Impact Foundation. I was able to bring impact investment, philanthropy and the principles of the private sector together to create something that is slightly different, and that hasn't been done before.
As I sit here today, I'm addressing that India COVID-19 emergency. We have been able to respond very quickly. This is because we are driven by the international development principle of doing what is right, and from the private sector, the notion that you need to do it fast. When you merge these ideas together, it becomes something really powerful. So those, for me, are the career highlights. Then of course, and meeting Princess Anne twice.
Is there anything else you'd like to cover?
I would say, I just want the university to continue doing what it does in its pursuit of excellence and in producing alumni that want to benefit the world. Also, I think that LSE should think of ways in which it can attract more students from the African continent. For everyone I know who has gone to LSE from Africa, their lives have skyrocketed.