Ham Serunjogi, a recent graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa, traveled widely before landing a job at Facebook. He has a passion for making connections that give back.
Swimming from Uganda
Ham Serunjogi, age 23, grew up in Uganda and started swimming competitively at age 6. His parents encouraged his academics and his athletics, and Ham excelled in both. In 2010 he enrolled at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya.
On his way to Kenya, he competed in the Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010. At AKA Mombasa, he trained and studied hard, learning leadership and teamwork. He became president of the AKA Student Representative Council.
At AKA he became fascinated by digital communication. In 2011 he conducted a school project back home in Uganda, where he interviewed the IT manager at Cineplex Uganda. (See more about Ham’s time at Aga Khan Academy in this piece on the AKA website.)
Ham’s drive got the attention of educators. After graduating from Aga Khan Academy he received a scholarship to study in the United States. He pursued a bachelor’s degree at Grinnell College, where he majored in Economics.
With a fellow Grinnell student, Ham developed an app that allowed users to send short, encrypted voice recordings that would self-destruct after they were played. It was a smart solution that anticipated the rise of privacy concerns in technology. The app works in places where voicemail systems weren’t common, like Ghana, where his app partner grew up.
The habits cultivated at AKA continued to bear fruit, he says. “The education I gained at the Academy had an emphasis on critical thinking,” Ham explains. That critical ability for problem-solving fueled his achievement at Grinnell, along with a conviction that he had something to contribute.
Taking New Ideas to Facebook in Europe
As he prepared to graduate from Grinnell, Ham let himself dream big. He set his sights on the biggest social media giant he could find. “I took an unorthodox approach,” Ham said of his strategy for getting a job. “Instead of applying online, I sent an email directly to Sheryl Sandberg.”
He received responses to his email within hours, urging him to apply online. Soon recruiters were calling to set up interviews. The interviews led to an internship on Facebook’s Global Accounts Team in New York during the summer of 2015, before his final year of study at Grinnell College. There he enjoyed a surprising degree of autonomy to tackle issues that he cared about. In his first weekly one-on-one with his supervisor, she asked him, “What are you most passionate about?” He took that as encouragement and created a new initiative.
“My role required a lot of problem-solving and thinking outside the box,” he explained. His creativity gained supporters. In August of 2016, Ham started a full-time career with Facebook in Dublin, its international headquarters. He’s now responsible for managing partnerships for some of Facebook’s largest advertisers in the U.K, for which he travels to London every month or so to meet with clients and represent Facebook at various events. On a recent trip to Facebook’s Headquarters in Menlo Park, California he met with Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg.
Ham is amazed by where life has taken him.
Keeping up Connections and Giving Back
Again and again, Ham has drawn on his experiences from AKA Mombasa, and the bonds among his AKA friends remain strong. Before starting his new job in Ireland, he visited friends and family in Uganda. He still connects often with his AKA roommate, Aleem Mawji, now a student at the University of British Columbia. Ham’s friend from the AKA swim team, fellow Ugandan Joshua Tibatemwa, followed his path as an AKA swim team star and student president. Joshua also followed Ham’s example to Grinnell, where he’s now a student. Joshua competed for Uganda at the Rio Olympics last summer.
Ham took time away from settling into Dublin life to watch the Olympics on television, hoping to catch a glimpse of his friend.
Ham has launched into a life of active engagement, creating networks that make people’s lives better. He has seen how such networks make a difference. He shows dedication to paying it forward.
This post is part of the #humansoftheworld series on our blog—a collection of tales we can both relate to and marvel at. Here, we share stories of appreciation, self-reliance, and strength from across the Aga Khan Development Network.