A Leadership Triumph From the Slums of Uganda Africa

“The most important aspect of the game is integrating the game’s principles into their life.” Robert Kantende

In the United States and the developed world, when we discuss leadership we often talk about things like culturewinning, strategy, developing otherstaking risks, etc. What if you are in one of the largest slums of Uganda, one of the nastiest places on earth? What if you are tasked with working with kids that live in shacks where babies drown in heavy rains because their shacks are washed away? What if these kids are starving and sometimes go for days without food? What if you are a gifted soccer player but realize some kids can’t or won’t play? How do you engage them?

I just described the situation of a man named Robert Katende. Growing up as an orphan in the slums of Uganda, Robert beat the odds and was able to complete a higher education than most boys from the slums. He returned to the slums to work with Sports Outreach Institute, to minister to kids through soccer. A gifted soccer player, he realized that some of the kids that attended the soccer clinics were not participating. Honestly, many simply came because they received a bowl of porridge. For some, this would be the only food that ate all day. Robert’s challenge was how to engage them. He came up with the idea to teach them the game of chess – a game so foreign that there was no word for it in his native language. As he began teaching a small group of boys, he noticed a young girl watching every day. Robert encouraged her to participate. The girl learned quickly and eventually became so successful that she was able to fly to other countries to compete. Her name is Phiona Mutesi and her story is told in the book The Queen of Katwe written by Tim Crothers, a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated. The story is also being told through the Disney Movie, The Queen of Katwe releasing later this month. (See official trailer.)

“No matter how few pieces you’re left with you stay with the same goal.” Robert Kantende

The Loeblein's with Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi, the Queen of Katwe form the Slums of Uganda

My wife and I with Robert Kantende and Phiona Mutesi – “The Queen of Katwe”

“Whatever you learn, I want you to teach it to someone else.” Robert Kantende

Katwe Slums of Uganda - Photo by Leigh Ann Loeblein

Photo by Leigh Ann Loeblein – Katwe slum Uganda

February of 2015 my wife and I had the privilege of serving with Robert, Phiona, and the Sports Outreach Ugandan team members. We were able to see first hand a poverty that doesn’t even exist in the United States. That trip had a profound impact on our lives. Whatever leadership challenge I face today I often reflect on what I learned from Robert and the power one has to transform a life.

Regardless of your circumstances, your ability to transform a life is limited only by your imagination. Robert Kantende’s ultimate goal was to transform the lives of the children. He simply used the game of chess to transform not only Phiona’s life but to teach numerous others life lessons.

Life Lessons From the Game of Chess Shared by Robert Kantende
  1. You must think abstractly
  2. You must strategize
  3. You must stay focused
  4. You must instill discipline
  5. You must remain patient
  6. You must watch from all angles
  7. You must respect and trust your opponent

“How can I use what I have to get what I don’t have?” Robert Kantende to his chess students

The Queen of Katwe is a remarkable tribute to the impact that one leader can have in the life of another. Read the book. Watch the movie. Then consider how you can better impact the lives of those you lead.

Who are the non-participants in your world? What could you do to engage them?

Tom Loeblein, Sports Outreach Trip Participant