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A leading light in rugby

The woman transforming rugby in Uganda

With help from the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Program, rugby in Uganda is rewriting its future.

What qualities does a leader need to create a better future? Experience? What about ambition and vision, or taking a team of individually talented people with you to work for a common goal?

Business and sport can learn from each other when it comes to leadership skills, and it is with those insights that the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Program is helping to develop the careers of women in rugby and rewriting the future of the sport.

Each year, as part of the program, scholarships are allocated to 12 women selected by World Rugby. The scholarships are open to women who are currently involved in rugby at a governance or leadership level, or who have the potential to be involved at a senior leadership level. 

One current scholar is Zakia Kulabako, from Uganda, and she came to the program with a deep understanding of the sport.

Developing rugby in Uganda

“I fell in love with rugby in around 2008,” Zakia says. “I went to see a game at Kampala Rugby Club after school and was hooked.”

Zakia knew immediately that she wanted to be involved with the sport, and looked at where she could best contribute to developing the game in Uganda. She started by finding sponsors for a local club and then studied sports management. Soon, she became so immersed in the management and marketing of rugby that she was asked to become a member of the Uganda Rugby Union.

Since then, Zakia’s major ambition has been to develop women’s rugby in Uganda.

“We started pushing for each club to have a female side,” she says. “There was always a strong appetite from women to play the sport. When we organized rugby tournaments, more girls would come along than boys, because younger boys tended to like football. We then pushed for and formed a women’s national team – and qualified for the women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens at the first attempt.”

Zakia says that in Uganda, it’s one thing to get girls playing, but another altogether to keep them involved.

“Our biggest issue is there’s a high rate of attrition. Girls tend to drop out of school early and get married early. When that happens, they stop playing rugby. In response to this, we’ve started running camps, where we encourage girls to come back and play again after getting married or having an early pregnancy. We’ve managed to bring many back to the game and have also been trying to secure an education for them, helping with fees so they can continue at school.”

Building skills through mentoring

Zakia’s drive and determination is obvious, so how does the Women in Rugby Leadership Program help someone like her – someone who already has extensive experience?

“When I joined the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership course, there were so many opportunities for adding to and improving my skills,” she says. “Through mentoring, I got so much from my amazing coach, Emma. She has given me direction.

“One thing I realized through her mentoring is that though people might be experienced, they are not always good at leading. I’ve always worked with a team of other people, but to lead a team is different. Women in Rugby gave me an opportunity to understand how to be a better leader.”

Zakia says that becoming better at delegation was one area she found she could improve.

“I realized that whenever I saw a team member was slower at doing something than me, I would take over and do it myself. Instead of empowering the team as I should have done, I wanted to show them my own abilities.

“Now, I’ve learned to delegate. I do much more collaborative work and offer guidance instead. Imparting knowledge is how you lead. If you keep knowledge to yourself, you’re not enabling people. I felt that when I learned to delegate and how to structure and strategize, everything else fell into place much more easily.

“I also learned that whatever your experience, sometimes you have to follow. You have to follow your team, rather than them following you. It’s something I learned from rugby. In a team sport you are highly dependent on your teammates. You can’t succeed alone.”

Leading for the future

Zakia has meetings with her coach in the Women in Rugby Leadership Program, Emma Salaman, every two weeks.

“Together, we discuss my action plan for the future. Emma also set me a task to deliver a project in Uganda that will help grow women’s rugby in the country. So, I have organized a camp for female rugby leaders where we’re going to develop their technical skills and mental health skills too.

“Leadership is educating yourself in how you build your dream. How do you stay focused towards achieving that dream? How do you align yourself in a way to succeed? You get that education through mentorship and guidance.”

Zakia says that she feels blessed to have joined a group of “intelligent, amazing women” who are part of the program. “For me, my dream is always to take something and make it bigger. Let’s go forward and compete with the giants.” With the help of Capgemini’s Women in Rugby Leadership Program, she is already driving that change for women’s rugby in Uganda.

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