For entrepreneurial activist, Global Soap Project founder and Connect Texas keynote speaker Derreck Kayongo, a transition to Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights was a natural career progression. The move is the latest step in a lifetime of rights advocacy for the Uganda native, following stints at American Friends Service Committee as program director; Amnesty International as regional director; and CARE as senior advocacy regional coordinator. Kayongo spoke with Connect one week into his new role as the center’s CEO to discuss the details of his new position, his ambitious goals for the center’s future and his inspiration for creating a narrative around civil and human rights.
What attracted you to working at the Center for Civil and Human Rights?
I think being a former refugee and victim of a heinous crime against a country through [former Ugandan president] Idi Amin. When I visited the center before I was hired, I saw Idi Amin in there as one of the No. 1 abusers of human rights around the world—that really touched my heart. I knew I was built for this work because I’ve done this work for a long time. I worked for Amnesty International, where I fought for civil rights; I worked for CARE, where I fought for human rights, like clean water and a chance for girls to go to school. I think that work—plus having a background in business with Global Soap Project, where I did some entrepreneurial work—when you add those things together, it creates a formula for success.
What will your role as CEO entail?
I want to make sure people understand the importance and role of the center. When you have a spiritual problem, you go to church or the mosque or the synagogue to heal. When you want to eat, you go work for a company so you can get bread and butter. But where do you go when you have an issue around morals and injustices? When you want to empathize, where do you go? Where do you go when you want to lend a helping hand? Intellectually and also physically, you come to the center. So that’s what I’ll be doing, helping build a global understanding of human and civil rights.