Since childhood Undergraduate Transfer Scholar Ousmane Kabre dreamed of studying in the U.S. and, despite a number of setbacks, the young man made his dream a reality. Through hard work and a bit of creativity, he moved to America to pursue his education and has been successful in his endeavors ever since.
At age 12 Ousmane began delivering baked goods to neighboring families after school, while his brother took the morning shift. But even after years of doing so, he didn’t have the money to travel from his home country of Burkina Faso to America and couldn’t speak any English. Some of these difficulties were simply out of his control, but, as he mentions in an article for his school paper, Ousmane’s nickname is also one of his great defining features: flexible.
To remedy the situation, he asked six of his closest customers if they would be willing to help him get to college. Five said no, but, as it turns out, he only needed one "yes." Helene, who Ousmane calls “Aunt,” said she would invest in his education with a loan to study in the U.S. In any speech or conversation about his life, he mentions Helene. “I called her just yesterday,” Ousmane told me.
After traveling to the States, Ousmane enrolled in the Wisconsin English as a Second Language Institute in Madison but did not stay long. It took a mere four months to learn the language and begin classes at Madison Area Technical College in pursuit of an associate’s degree in science. He was then selected as an Undergraduate Transfer Scholar by the Foundation and transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study accounting.
Making a move across the world, learning a new language, and getting into college is a success in itself—but Ousmane did not settle there. He became heavily involved with the student government at his university, was elected its president, and started a nonprofit with peers from a leadership class. Today, Leading Change has six employees stationed across the world. In addition to staff in Madison, the organization has workers in Burkina Faso, China, and Germany. The goal is to ignite change not just in Ousmane’s small West African nation, but on the entire continent—as his company’s boundary-less logo suggests.
With an adult literacy rate of just under 30 percent, Burkina Faso is known to have one of the bleakest educational systems in the world and is one of its poorest countries. However in October the country’s 27-year-long regime was ousted, one which Ousmane says did little to help its schools and their students. This, he suggests, might be a reason for optimism.
Leading Change hopes to remedy the situation in Burkina Faso and has detailed plans to do so. The team’s first goal is to build a local, IT-based library available to all community members in an attempt to “bridge the computer literacy gap between the country and the rest of the world and accelerate the country’s economic growth.” A modern library will be created in phase two of the project, one that will provide books and materials necessary for scientific research. Lastly, the organization plans to create a technical college for students of low-income families, which will utilize MOOCs and other courses to provide a practical and cost-efficient curriculum.
As for Ousmane, he gently crafts his plans for the future with an understanding that circumstances change. After graduating in May 2015, he hopes to pursue a master’s degree in accounting and work in that field for around four years. He knows that by immersing himself in the business world, he can gain the know-how necessary to provoke real change in the areas he is most interested in: education and politics. And of course, after around five years, he will return to Africa and continue to pursue the long-term goals of Leading Change.
Read more about Leading Change and consider contributing to the company’s GoFundMe campaign. For more information on Ousmane, check out these two articles in The Badger Herald from March and November 2014.