Jacqueline Asiimwe: Bridging Traditional Philanthropy with African Feminist Movements

The 10 Most Influential Black Corporate Women to Watch in 2024

Jacqueline Asiimwe, CEO of CivSource Africa, has established herself as a formidable presence in Africa’s philanthropy space. Under her stewardship, CivSource Africa, an independent advisory firm specializing in philanthropy, has emerged as a trailblazer in bridging traditional philanthropy with African feminist movements. Her visionary leadership and focus on innovation are transforming communities beyond the borders of Uganda, her home country.

One of her foremost goals is to narrate the stories of others in a manner that not only shares their experiences but also has a transformative impact on their lives and the lives of those who hear these stories. “I’m committed to uncovering and chronicling the untold stories of Africa, highlighting the rich, diverse narratives that shape this vast continent,” she says.

Inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s ethos, she often reflects on her words: “Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.’” This mindset fuels Jacqueline’s determination to persist and excel even under the most challenging circumstances. Through the power of effective philanthropy and deep community engagement, she is crafting a legacy of influential leadership that is set to inspire generations to come.

Life before Founding CivSource Africa

For Jacqueline, who is a lawyer by profession, advocacy has always been her true calling. She established CivSource in October 2017. But, before founding of the organization, her life encapsulates a diverse array of experiences and challenges.

She began her career with the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Uganda), where she served as a legal officer. One of the most rewarding aspects of her role, she recalls, was traveling to remote Ugandan villages to conduct legal education sessions. During these sessions, Jacqueline would demystify complex legal concepts using relatable, everyday examples. She found these sessions “incredibly fulfilling” because of the widespread lack of legal awareness.

“My work extended to various advocacy campaigns focused on enhancing the rights of women and children,” Jacqueline says. She particularly valued the time spent with local women leaders. She would educate them about their roles and the significant impact they could make at the grassroots level. Her commitment to promoting good governance and electoral integrity also led her to participate actively in campaigns aimed at ensuring free and fair elections.

Jacqueline has briefly worked within the government as well. This experience provided her with invaluable insights into the complexities of governmental operations. She believes it enriched her understanding and approach to advocacy. Over the years, she has also collaborated closely with members of parliament in the legislative process, striving to amend laws that adversely affected women and girls.

Jacqueline also worked as a grant maker. This role allowed her to witness firsthand the transformative power of resources. “I traveled extensively across the country, engaging with community development initiatives and linking national-level efforts with local activities,” she says.

She has detailed adventures of her professional life in her forthcoming book, titled “Facing Mountains.” “In it, I recount the significant challenges I’ve faced, each mountain climb representing a pivotal season filled with both trials and victories,” she shares.

Challenges Encountered and Lessons Learned

Like most influential leaders, Jacqueline has encountered numerous challenges throughout her professional journey. One significant challenge has been managing team dynamics. According to Jacqueline, managing teams involves navigating complex emotional landscapes, which can be both rewarding and challenging.

She and her team faced roadblocks when CivSource Africa was still a new organization – an unknown entity. They faced skepticism due to the organization’s youth – which they ultimately overcame with a mature team. This challenge taught Jacqueline the importance of building trust and proving credibility. She has faced setbacks in securing funding as well. “Learning to process and bounce back from funding rejections has been essential for resilience and growth,” she says.

As a leader, Jacqueline had to overcome reputational challenges. “Addressing issues related to safeguarding has been critical in maintaining our integrity and public trust,” she points out. Additionally, she has to address challenges posed by the political environment. According to Jacqueline, operating within an authoritarian regime brings a unique set of challenges, especially during politically charged periods like elections.

On her path to success, Jacqueline also experienced personal challenges. For her, understanding her own limitations and fears has been a journey of self-discovery and adaptation. And she continues to navigate a host of barriers because of her race. “Being a Black African woman at the helm involves navigating and overcoming racial prejudices that could hinder our progress,” Jacqueline says.

She also points out that thriving in the international development industry as a woman of color has been challenging due to manifestations of racism, such as the predominance of white leadership in organizations providing funding to the Global South and remuneration disparities between expatriate and domestic staff. However, some INGOs, Jacqueline says, are taking steps to address these issues by adopting feminist frameworks, passing board resolutions on racism, raising awareness about biases, and establishing committees focused on anti-racism and social justice.

Achievements as the CEO 

As the CEO, Jacqueline has a string of achievements to her credit, one of which is organizational growth. Building from scratch, she has transformed CivSource from a single entity to a multi-national organization. It currently has three branches across Africa. The growth of the organization is a testament to her vision and strategic execution.  Under her leadership, CivSource has also pioneered initiatives in grant-making, leadership development, and storytelling, including hosting the first and longest-running podcast on local philanthropy.

Jacqueline has cultivated a cadre of leaders who are now influencing philanthropic practices and narratives both within Uganda and across the continent. Additionally, she has led discussions on shifting power dynamics in the aid sector, challenging the entrenched stereotypes and imbalances that affect how aid is distributed and utilized.

Jacqueline also counts youth mentorship as one of her great achievements. “Through initiatives like WE Power in South Africa and our philanthropy programs in Uganda, we focus on empowering young leaders and philanthropists, instilling a sense of responsibility and capacity to effect change,” she says. Her commitment to nurturing the next generation is also reflected in her consistent support for organizations like 40-40 and Raising Teenagers Uganda.

Walk Talk Connect Initiative, a personal initiative of Jacqueline, is another great achievement of hers.  This personal project not only fosters deep conversations with the youth but also led to the creation of Jackie & Buddies, which connects with young people in low-income communities to inspire and ignite their aspirations.

Success Is Defined by Meaningful Impact

For Jacqueline, success is defined by its meaningful impact – it is about instigating change that not only elevates individuals but also integrates into the wider community fabric. She points out that it also involves creating ripples that particularly uplift women and marginalized groups.

“My concept of success is inherently linked to progress and impact, as evidenced by various elements of my journey,” she says. For example, coaching, which Jacqueline has always embraced. According to her, success means knowing when to seek help and actively pursuing personal growth through mentorship. “I’ve consistently practiced this throughout my career,” she says.

Jacqueline’s ability to manage crises has shaped her definition of success as well. She highlights that successfully navigating through personal losses, the global disruptions of COVID-19, and shifts in funding has been crucial. She also views success as the ability to continually embrace change and innovate in response to new challenges. Overcoming fears is another cornerstone of her definition of success. Jacqueline believes that success involves confronting fears, venturing into the unknown, and taking bold actions.

Additionally, cultivating a successful community has been an essential aspect of her successful professional journey. She has built a supportive network, ranging from the Queens of Chess to The Chakra Village. “This community has played a critical role in our shared successes,” Jacqueline says.

And her definition of success is influenced by her zeal to expand every opportunity offered to her. “Starting with an initial financial support from WPF, I have utilized every chance to develop CivSource into a well-known entity throughout Africa,” Jacqueline says. “This growth has demanded persistent networking, trust-building, and strategic positioning in countries like Kenya and South Africa.”

A Dynamic Workday with No Set Routine 

Given the dynamic nature of her work, Jacqueline doesn’t have a “typical” day. Her mornings start early with physical exercise, which sets a productive tone for the day. By 9:00 a.m., she is usually at her desk, sorting through urgent emails. Jacqueline says that she spends considerable time interacting with her teams, gathering updates, and providing feedback.

“I value the practice of ‘walking the floor’—visiting different offices to engage briefly with staff, which fosters a strong communicative culture within our organization,” she adds. While managing her workload, she also keeps an eye on their compliance dashboard and addresses any financial issues that arise.

Jacqueline’s evenings are reserved for winding down. She enjoys reading, journaling, and reflecting on the day’s events. This, she says, helps her plan for the future. She also stays connected with the community through social media and other digital platforms, ensuring she is well-informed about global happenings and responsive to their network’s needs.

Despite her demanding professional life, Jacqueline maintains a work-life balance. It is because she adheres to a disciplined schedule that includes regular exercise – a routine she has maintained consistently since September 2022. She strives to end her workday by 5:00 p.m. to ensure that her professional commitments do not encroach on her personal life. “Despite the challenges of managing this balance, I keep a light and playful spirit, which helps me stay resilient, although I acknowledge the need to improve on taking proper breaks,” Jacqueline says.

She stays motivated, especially during challenging times, by writing encouraging notes to at least ten other leaders. This act of uplifting others, she believes, not only helps them but also recharges her own spirit, reinforcing the shared resilience across their leadership community.

About CivSource Africa and Its Exclusive Services 

CivSource Africa is dedicated to enhancing the practices and presence of philanthropic efforts across Africa to support genuine civic engagement. “As innovators at the intersection of philanthropy and civil society, we strive to create an environment conducive to developing mutually beneficial relationships and responsible management of allocated resources,” Jacqueline says.

The organization offers expertise in strategic financing models and leadership methods to promote effective philanthropy and civic participation. It also encourages open and insightful discussions on philanthropic contributions and civil society organizations.

CivSource oversees four main programs, Jacqueline informs. These are Funds, Leadership, Advisory, and Philanthropy.

  • Mopane Leadership Program:The Mopane Leadership Program at CivSource Africa is designed to enhance the leadership qualities and well-being of leaders through comprehensive support mechanisms. It provides essential coaching, mentorship, and opportunities for collaboration, alongside disseminating vital information and supporting capacity-building initiatives. It also offers financial resources aimed at fostering leadership development. The program seeks to develop leaders who are aware, radical, and transformative.
  • This initiative, according to Jacqueline, targets leaders across various sectors, including civil society, private, and public sectors. Its ultimate goal is to cultivate leaders capable of enhancing and replicating effective leadership practices at multiple levels.
  • CivAdvisory Program:The CivAdvisory Program offers specialized advisory and support services tailored for philanthropists and funders. It provides context-responsive advice, facilitates meaningful dialogue, and delivers bespoke accompaniment throughout the philanthropic journey. The program encompasses grantmaking support from initial scooping and due diligence to proposal development and strategic partnership formation.
  • CivFund:The CivFund, a non-profit entity operated by CivSource Africa, aims to strengthen civil society through flexible, responsive, and accessible funding solutions. Operating as a ‘fund of funds,’ it manages a variety of social justice funds, promoting a movement-building perspective that emphasizes intersectionality and collaborative networking.

Jacqueline points out that this fund adopts a feminist approach, prioritizing partner autonomy and the protection of privacy, thereby supporting the creation of a robust, equitable civil society framework.

Philanthropy: CivSource Africa is dedicated to fostering a sustainable, effective, and connected civil society across Africa, enhancing the dignity and amplifying the voices of all individuals involved. The organization seeks to transform the narrative and practice of philanthropy in Uganda and beyond through focused research, advisory services, and extensive networking within the philanthropic field.

“We are particularly committed to igniting the philanthropic spirit of the next generation, emphasizing youth involvement as a crucial component of our strategy,” Jacqueline says.

CivSource South Africa: CivSource South Africa represents a new initiative by CivSource Africa to expand its influence and operational scope within the region, promoting collaboration between philanthropy and civil society. It engages in mentoring, knowledge creation, and the promotion of good philanthropic practices, partnering with regional stakeholders like IPASA and WiPSA.

Jacqueline explains that this initiative’s core activities are centered on fostering the next generation of leaders in philanthropy and leadership, aiming to build a more cohesive, informed, and proactive philanthropic community in South Africa.

Vision and Plans for the Future

CivSource Africa envisions a future where philanthropy is seamlessly integrated with grassroots movements, creating a profound impact on the ground. To achieve this, Jacqueline and her team remain committed to continuous innovation and true to their mission, ensuring that their actions and strategies reflect the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve.

One of Jacqueline’s future plans is to broaden CivSource’s footprint. She has her sights on establishing a presence in  in West Africa and enhance their contributions to areas like climate justice and sustainable civil society development. The organization will also continue to focus on learning and innovation. Jacqueline and her team intend to stay abreast of the needs of its clients and the evolving landscape of civil society, ensuring that CivSource remains dynamic and responsive.

CivSource will continue to maintain a close connection with its clients, primarily from the civil society sector. This essential aspect of their strategy, according to Jacqueline, enables them to ensure that their services and interventions are effectively meeting their needs and advancing their shared goals.

“We are committed to enhancing philanthropic practices to ensure genuine civic engagement and to support leaders through initiatives like the Mopane Leadership Program and our philanthropy program,” Jacqueline adds.

Advice for Aspiring Black Women Leaders

Jacqueline has a series of valuable pieces of advice for aspiring black women leaders seeking to make a meaningful impact in their fields. In her message, she underscores the importance of building meaningful relationships that extend beyond mere transactions. “It’s important to always strive to add value in every interaction,” Jacqueline says.

As someone who believes in relentless determination to succeed and setting increasingly higher standards each year, Jacqueline encourages aspiring leaders to “compete against oneself” so that they can continually improve. Equally important, she says, is recognizing and appreciating the people who advocate for them even when they are not present. “These are the relationships that often propel us forward,” she points out. Furthermore, Jacqueline encourages aspiring leaders to create a supportive community or “tribe,” and to learn the art of self-encouragement, which is crucial during challenging times.

In her message, she reminds them that the only limits to their life and success are the ones they set for themselves. She advises them to let their imagination guide their potential and never cease learning – from everyone and everything around them. “Taking care of yourself and embracing your strength and uniqueness are crucial,” Jacqueline adds. “Don’t be content with just being at the table—strive to lead at the front.”