Derreck Kayongo
Derreck Kayongo

Book: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Review by: Derreck Kayongo, CEO, National Center for Civil and Human Rights

I chose to read David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell because it explains my career and life journey in ways that I could identify with, especially given my recent appointment as CEO of The National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

While I might not have been the most likely candidate and an outsider lacking the appropriate civil-rights pedigree, when I read the book and reflected on the characteristics Gladwell stipulates as necessary for one to triumph, the very conditions of my life are the keys for success in my job as The Center’s CEO.

In summary, the book explores the conditions faced by people with unusual circumstances that tend to rule them out as potential candidates for success. In actuality, these very conditions are what position them as uniquely qualified to make a remarkable contribution. David was the last thought/choice to challenge Goliath, and that is because the decision makers were totally unaware of the milieu that made David the most qualified candidate to fend off Goliath. The experiences he (David) had endured, prepared him immensely for his moment of greatness.

To that end, my milieu growing up positioned me to become the CEO of the Center for the following reasons: I was born in Uganda to entrepreneur parents who made soap and ran other businesses. I learned a great deal about innovation, building businesses and managing them. When my family lost everything due to a war started by the dictator Idi Amin, we became refugees. It was then that I witnessed several human rights abuses, one of which was death and a total lack of sanitation and hygiene because there was no soap.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to come to the U.S. to go to school. When I checked into a hotel and discovered that they throw away tons of soap after only one use, I decided to turn that into a successful recycling business and founded the Global Soap Project. I went on to work for Amnesty International as regional representative where I came to understand the power of civil rights and then moved over to CARE International where I worked on promoting human rights. I championed many causes such as a girl’s right to education and the right to clean water. These experiences prepared me for the CEO position that I now hold because I observed, I was a victim of rights abuses as a refugee and I built a company to address some of those key issues.

While my experiences might have disqualified me because I was not a child of Atlanta’s civil rights movement and frankly, didn’t know as much about the history, my life’s journey became the very experience I needed to prepare me for my current position.

I recommend this book because it will empower you to turn your experiences into opportunities if you are willing to innovate around those events to change the world. It is humbling and gratifying to surprise those who may underestimate your capabilities because they don’t know how deeply experienced you are or consider you to be to be an outsider. Your experiences have shaped your worldview since childhood and for a reason. Use them!

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...