Ousmane Kabre (BBA '15, MAcc '16) first arrived in the U.S. just five years ago from Burkina Faso, and has worked tirelessly to build his skills as a leader ever since—pursuing first a BBA and then a master’s of accountancy from the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and starting an international nonprofit, Leading Change, to help improve educational resources in Africa.
Kabre (center) looks over a project with his study group partners Scott Hughes (MBA, '16, L), Cassie Begalle (MBA '16, R), and Tanner Engman (MAcc '16, not pictured) before their Tuesday evening class.
That’s why Kabre was selected to speak at this month’s National Council of Student Leadership (NCSL) fall conference in Washington, D.C. He will be one of four students from across the United States who will be speaking about their leadership in social justice, and how they’re changing the world.
“There are a lot of conferences out there, and this is one of the few that really focuses on the student life aspect and leadership in that role,” says Dani Barker, associate director of admissions and pre-college programs for the Wisconsin BBA Program at the Wisconsin School of Business (WSB). “Osumane’s energy and passion are obvious when you talk to him. He is always working to become a better, stronger leader.”
Kabre is currently interning at Ernst & Young, where he’ll work full-time after he receives his Master’s in accounting this May, all while continuing to serve as CEO of Leading Change.
His leadership potential started at an early age. Growing up poor in West Africa, he had dreams of going to school in the United States that motivated him to start a business when he was 12 years old.
“I asked myself, how can I provide service to people who don’t have a lot of time to go to the bakery?” he says. “If I can bring the bakery to their house, I might make less than a dollar, but I could put that toward my education.”
Kabre would wake at 4 a.m., go to the bakery in his hometown, and order bread. He then sold the bread door-to-door for almost seven years. The benefit from building up this long-term clientele served him well as he looked for someone to help fund his travel to Madison, Wis.
“I asked six families for help,” he says. “There were five families that turned me down because my plan wasn’t solid enough, but one person said, ‘Yes, I believe in you and I can help you.’ Then I thought, ‘Wait a minute: Somebody helped me. I can’t just take help and walk away. How can I give back and replicate what I’m getting right now?’”
Kabre (R) shows his Wisconsin spirit with Matt Soderberg (BBA '15) and Lea Yamaguchi (BBA '15) during the BBA Graduation in May.
Before he even left Burkina Faso, he had made a solid plan for his education. First, attend the Wisconsin English Second Language Institute (WESLI) to hone his English-speaking skills. Next, attend Madison Area Technical College for two years to complete his cursory studies while saving money. And finally, his big goal: Attend UW-Madison, and the WSB specifically, to study accounting so he could launch a business that would, in the end, give back to his home country.
“I wanted to attend the Wisconsin School of Business, which is among the top 20 business schools in the world for accounting,” says Kabre. “I did my research and learned that WESLI Institute and Madison College have a great partnership with the UW-System. Madison College was a great economic investment and the transfer to a top-ranked school was smooth. That's why I chose Wisconsin.”
He threw himself into every opportunity he could as a Wisconsin BBA student, including the six-day workshop at the School’s LeaderShape Institute to further develop his leadership skills.
“They asked me to think about how I can leave a legacy,” Kabre says. “I wrote down two words that day: Leading Change. I thought that 10 years from now, I want to be able to say that I’m the CEO of an organization that brought real, positive change to Burkina Faso, West Africa, provided education to people, gave them an opening, and told them that dreams are possible. I kept a copy of that exercise in my room to remind me where I’m coming from and what I need to do.”
Kabre will speak about leadership and his organization, Leading Change during the conference’s Social Justice Salon, a panel of four students from around the U.S. hand-picked for their civic engagement initiatives in sustainability, service, or social innovation.
“I feel like this is a really great opportunity because the people who are going to be there, the main speakers, are people who’ve written books that I’ve read, and I want to connect with them and learn from them,” he says.
His organization currently has five members working to build programs that would improve technological and educational opportunities in Burkina Faso by creating an IT-based library to bridge the computer literacy gap; opening a modern library as an extension of the IT-based library to support higher education; and creating a technical college accessible to local families.
Leading Change recently achieved its 501c3 status, but it still short of its initial $20,000 fundraising goal. This amount would allow for the pilot program to kick off, by installing 20 computers in a Burkina Faso high school classroom.
The group is applying for grants to try and make up some of the fundraising gap, Kabre says, and the NCSL conference this fall may give him the visibility he needs to raise funds for his organization.
Having a Wisconsin School of Business student chosen to speak at a national conference is a pretty big deal, Barker says.
“Ousmane always goes above and beyond and has remained involved,” Barker says. “For him to be recognized as a national speaker, it’s incredibly powerful. He’s truly living out his vision. It shows other students if you do that work, and you engage in it, it pays off.”