GOT ISSUES? Connect with MARK KAIGWA

Published : February 2011

Mark Kaigwa has so many achievements under his belt that you would think he is much older. A risk taker and go-getter, he takes advantage of any opportunity life throws at him. Not one afraid of failure, he has turned hobbies into thriving business ventures as he narrates to EDNA GICOVI.

The Internet has opened up a world of opportunities that would not have been possible before. Mark Kaigwa is one young man who has embraced the possibilities made available by the World Wide Web. He is part of a group of five friends who, for the past two years, have been running www.gotissuez. com, a website where anyone can raise a complaint of any kind and get a response. It is also an online platform that enables consumers of various goods and services connect with companies and other consumers.

“The site keeps companies accountable and consumers informed,” says Mark, adding, “For instance, if you receive poor customer service, you can talk about it on the site. This way, you will make the service provider aware that he needs to improve on customer service and you will also interact with other consumers of that service who are likely to give you valuable information.”

The website provides people with a chance to vent their concerns and have their issues resolved, hence its name ‘got issues’. It also provides companies with an opportunity to show they care about their clients.

While most of his youthful peers use Facebook and Twitter to connect and chat with friends and family, Mark has managed to tap into an even greater potential of social media that most people have only started to realise. He recognises Twitter, a social networking site, as a very powerful tool. Through this social network he has managed to get hold of opportunities that most people only dream of. Mark once interacted with the course coordinator at the University of Cape Town and got to travel to South Africa to lecture at the university’s graduate school of business on gaming, social media and messaging. He is now a guest lecturer at the institution. He has also found job opportunities through Twitter.

He also works at Plug In Africa, a social media and mobile marketing consultancy firm, where he is putting his knowledge of social networking to good use. He is an online and marketing strategist and helps companies to create plans to engage their clients and potential clients online. Moreover, he does marketing and social consultancy on his own and also predicts future trends for marketing and technology for various companies.

Dawa The Film

“Growing up I did not know what career I wanted to take. Maybe my mother remembers what dreams I had then, if any,” says Mark, recalling that he loved the arts. He took art classes and was involved in drama and music while at St. Mary’s Primary and Laizer Hill High School. Acting and drama stayed with him, leading him to involvement with the Maisha Film Lab, a non-profit training initiative for emerging East African film makers.

It was here that his script writing skills were honed when he wrote and directed Dawa The Film in 2009 – a short film that tells the story of a con artist duo made up of an old man and his grandson, who move from the city to the village to attempt their biggest con. The nine-minute film has been shown in Uganda, the USA, and in Europe and was featured in the Durban International Film Festival and the Kenya International Film Festival. He mentions that he got the opportunity to screen the film at the Durban International Film Festival through his Twitter profile. Anyone can request a screening of the film through its website – www.dawathefilm.co.ke.

“Being able to express myself to an audience at a young age has made me a better story teller and also enabled me to get people involved in my story. It has helped me to make what I know into a story,” he says.

His family has played a big part in his involvement with the arts. His father, the late retired Major George Kaigwa and his mother, Bella Kaigwa, an interior designer, formed part of his support system. “My mom and dad have always been among my best friends. I have always talked to them as friends and they understand me. They know where to draw the line between friend and parent,” he says. Sadly, his father passed on two years ago. Mark has a brother, Tweli Kaigwa, who is studying engineering in Japan.

Other people who have had an influence over his art are his uncle, Keith Pearson and his aunt, Mumbi Kaigwa, who once appeared in the popular Australian soap opera Neighbours, and in the film The Constant Gardener. Both his uncle and aunt are in theatre arts and also train actors and playwrights. Mark recalls attending a play writing workshop they had organised and learning how to write a play. In fact, it was that particular experience that later opened an even greater door for him.

Pamoja Mtaani

It was at that workshop that he met and interacted with Robby Bresson, a director and script writer, who connected him to Warner Brothers, an American entertainment company. The company was looking for screen writers for an African video game. Mark, who enjoys video-games as a pastime, jumped at the opportunity, wrote and submitted his story.

Shortly afterwards, he left the country for the US where he did a course in Leadership and Youth Ministry at the Institute for Global Youth Studies. “It was a very enriching experience as I learnt how to work with people,” he says. He also joined the staff at the institute as they travelled around the US teaching leadership and youth ministry through conferences, plays and camps.

It was during that time that he was shortlisted as one of the writers for the African video game by the Warner Brothers. He co-wrote the game with other writers, among them Cajetan Boy, a Kenyan film maker. “I worked on the game while still in the leadership programme and it was a sacrifice I was glad to make. We had 18-hour-days and six hours of sleep and I used two or more hours of my sleeping time to work on the video game,” he recalls.

This experience taught him online collaboration and how to be effective in a team without being physically connected. Perhaps the biggest reward to the time and effort he sacrificed is the Global Business Coalition award that the game, Pamoja Mtaani (together in the neighbourhood) won. Pamoja Mtaani is the first African video game and is now played in selected centres by Kenyan youth.

Don’t fear failure

“In order to succeed, we must learn how to fail,” says Mark. He feels that how one responds to failure is more important than how he responds to success. “I think failure is looked down upon, when what should really be looked down upon are people who don’t try at all. They are far worse than people who try and fail,” he says

Mark is encouraged by the famous basketball player, Michael Jordan, who once said that his problem was that he made what he did look too easy. He said he failed more than anyone else in the court and missed more shots than people would ever imagine, but the times he succeeded were what people always remembered. He said it was through failing over and over that he succeeded.

Mark says that it is important for parents to allow their children express themselves and make mistakes, adding he is grateful to his parents for letting him be. “People fail harder in the creative world, not because creativity encourages failure but because to be a good creative person there must be the absence of the fear of failure. You must allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them and grow in your creativity,” says Mark.

A word to fellow youth

“No man is an island. You will always need people, especially mentors who can point you in the right direction. Never be afraid to ask. Never fear failure. It is the fear of failure that limits us,” advises a confident Mark.

Future plans

“I’m constantly looking for different ways to tell stories, so over the next couple of years I hope to be involved in more film projects. I’ve been lucky to travel out of the country a lot and I hope to do more of this and see more countries in the course of my work,” he says.

He adds that he would like to create a social media network that would change people’s lives online, whether it’s a service or a tool, almost like what he and his friends have with the website www.gotissuez.com. While the opportunity to work in another country has presented itself, he thinks Kenya has many opportunities that are worth taking a risk on.

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