Standing at the peak of 23,000-foot Aconcagua in the Andes Mountains, Patrick Kabahanga Mbonye could see further than he had ever seen, literally and figuratively. He recalls feeling “awful” 600 feet below the summit and summoning the will to keep going. “I had to count one-two-three meditatively to put one foot in front of the other,” he says.
It’s that way in business, too, Mbonye believes — you have to keep moving if you want to survive. “I’m always looking out for just enough information to make my next move.”
Mbonye’s adventurous spirit — he also runs marathons — is evident in his 15-year journey as founder and CEO of Q-Sourcing, a management consulting firm that specializes in staffing and recruiting. The inspiration for the business came after Mbonye consulted for the World Bank on a microfinance project in Uganda, then managed a United Nations program for small enterprises. “I realized that quite a number of the businesses we worked with began to struggle after a year or two. I was intrigued that all the support they’d received hadn’t produced sustainable results,” he says. He started Q-Sourcing to bridge the gap between companies hungry for skilled workers and people eager for more training.
“I dream of a world where no one is disadvantaged because education and learning are accessible to all,” Mbonye says. Now located in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan, Q-Sourcing has placed more than 53,000 people into skilled jobs. “Learning is a leveler. It leads to discovery, and that is how we make life better.”
What personal experiences fueled your passion for learning?
I really love to work with people and enjoy exchanging knowledge through conversations. I also grew up in a home that welcomed everyone. It was always crowded with cousins and other relatives, and we shared the little we had. My mother emphasized the importance of education, so I realized pretty early that it was an important tool for growth. I noticed how acquiring skills and knowledge narrowed the divide between those who were more advantaged and those who weren’t. That’s why I’m a very ardent believer in learning.
Q-Sourcing grew from a modest beginning to become a large operation with many functions. Describe how that happened.
Unexpectedly, my first client’s request concerned recruiting. Until then, I hadn’t even considered it a business, but I knew I could deliver. Setting up operations and finding the right people was like second nature to me and, at 32, I was eager to excel. Soon enough, Q-Sourcing gained ground in recruiting and managing outsourced staff, and some of our manufacturing clients proposed we take over their entire operation. I was initially apprehensive: what did I know about running a factory? In the end, my team and I agreed to understudy their processes for six months to analyze their inputs and cost. We were in business after that, and Q-Sourcing grew another stream of income.
How did you turn skills development into business opportunities?
After several months of integrated project management for our industrial clients, I observed that the skillset of our local workforce compromised our output. I always had to engage an expat team to make up for technical lapses, and I often pondered over what made them more competent. I discovered that Western training was more practical and focused on industry standards. Determined to develop local talent, I secured accreditation for Q-Sourcing’s training arm. By a stroke of luck — not genius — we suddenly found that it was exactly what a lot of industries needed.
You clearly enjoy adventure and a good challenge.
I love extreme sports. I began mountaineering when a friend, who has since passed on, suggested we climb Mount Muhabura in southwestern Uganda. I’ve done it seven more times since then. I like to go back whenever I’m preparing for anything major.
Any lessons you want to share from mountaineering?
I see clear parallels between mountaineering and everyday life. For example, you might set out to achieve a goal, but you can’t always accurately predict the conditions you’ll face on your way there. Mountaineering taught me that what matters is preparing mentally, physically, and emotionally for whatever could be ahead. I learned to focus on taking one step then the next even as I pursue a grand plan. We make progress by taking every available opportunity, not just hitting the summit.
What impact did the Stanford Seed program have on you?
Three things stood out for me. Before the program, I believed my success or failure was nearly 100% my responsibility, but my first lesson was that it’s not always about me. I learned that leadership means pausing to listen to others, not just giving orders. The next was how to select the right team and put the right processes in place. That was a game changer. Seed’s Leadership Labs were also a great space to share and learn from other business leaders, because running a business can be a very lonely journey. Having access to Seed consultants and a coach like Harold Zagunis has been immensely helpful.
Then there was your visit to the university.
Yes, I was invited to Stanford to share my experience of doing business in Africa. It was such a memorable visit. I learned that the Meyer Library had been demolished and saw the landscaped space it had been replaced with. Students sat in the open with access to wifi to learn from the biggest library in the world: the internet. That truly represented design thinking to me, and it always inspires me to do things differently.
What did it take to grow from one company in Uganda to an international group that serves four other East African countries?
I just went with my intuition and decided to do business in each country once I had enough information to start. I partnered with a friend to set up Q-Sourcing Rwanda first. Kenya was a bit more difficult because businesses there initially didn’t think they needed our services. However, it quickly became clear that our model of fully outsourced operations was unlike anything else on the market. Then we established offices in Tanzania and South Sudan. I have always wanted to build a company that would outgrow me, so I explored international partnerships.
Where does Q-Sourcing go from here?
We’re developing a wider strategy for the continent with Servtec International representatives from West, Central and East Africa. Our primary objective is to grow the value of the company both financially and brand-wise.
Reflecting on Q-Sourcing’s progress so far, what strikes you as the driver of your success?
My story would probably not have been possible if I hadn’t grown up in scarcity. Challenges provoke deep thought and solution-oriented action. I often wonder what will trigger today’s African children to think harder about solving the problems we face, given the relative abundance they’re growing up with.
Photos by Louis Nderi