- The biggest challenge that has persisted is the failure of women business to expand. Most women businesses stay at the level of just supporting the family without growing into serious enterprises.
Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited (UWEAL) has been in existence for 30 years. What are some of the trials you have had over the years?
Our challenges have been many. We have worked on some and others continue to persist. Our major challenge when we were starting in 1987 was bringing women together. Many of the women acted as individuals, so few and marginalised. That is why our founders decided to form an Association where we could have a common voice, lobby and advocate for what we need as business women.
Secondly, women businesses, for a long time, were making losses, especially in agriculture where most of our members belong. However, we encouraged them to diversify in other sectors such textile to mitigate their losses.
Beyond this, is the stereotype with which society treats women and the challenge of balancing between business and family. Many people thought that women are only meant to stay at home and look after the family. This is a challenge. We have had some successes but our aim is to eliminate it totally. Today, women are able to do their business and look after their families without being judged.
However, the biggest challenge that has persisted is the failure of women business to expand. Most women businesses stay at the level of just supporting the family without growing into serious enterprises. But we have encouraged women to seek support from various government programmes to grow.
Have you had any progress in terms of mitigating women business challenges?
Yes we have, especially in encouraging women to keep records for their business. If you realise most of our partners are into capacity building. We encourage women to be proactive in terms of keeping documents for record purposes. Women should be able to register losses and profits to see how far they have come and where they are going.
Women should also ensure that they start owning property. If you look at the last 10 years, only 10 per cent of titled land belongs to women. This means women have had low access to capital, which could explain the slow growth of their businesses. However, even without titled land, women can access funding through the Women Enterprise Fund, where women can access funds at a relatively low or no interest rate.
We encourage women to produce quality and competitive products. We have assisted some to obtain quality marks.
The challenge of market access continues to be a serious problem. How have you assisted women in that area?
This is one area that we are seriously focusing on. A number of women have and continued losing their share of profits to the middleman. However, through different efforts, we are bringing many women in a single pool which will assist to create a wider and more reachable market as well as exchanging experiences that will assist to improve and inform others of available market for different products. Through this, many women have been able to sell their products to different people who either consume them or use them as raw material for other products.
Technology is driving business. How have you equipped women to adjust to the new tests of technology?
Most of our members are still using rudimentary tools such as hand hoes and this makes it impossible for them to compete and make marked progress. Therefore, we have proposed to different stakeholders to establish an incubation centre where we can assist women businesses in different aspects of shaping their business and exchanging ideas to leverage on available technology.
What is the future like for women entrepreneurs in Uganda?
We prepare women businesses to take on opportunities that come their way. Our focus has been moving along with government’s desire of consolidating our market and taking advantage of East Africa’s open border policy. We want them to have access to the market not only in Uganda but also within and beyond East Africa. This is why we train them to open up to new opportunities and challenges.
We have also, through the Cross-border Trader Association, linked women to new markets by identifying demand. Through such strategies, we have created sustainable demand for own productions as well as creating new frontier markets that will help in market expansion. This strategy has been supported by a number of different stakeholders such as Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) that has organised training sessions to ensure that our women understand both internal and cross-border markets.
How would you rate the current business environment?
Many people have insinuated there is no money in the market. Indeed, there has been a noticeable drop in purchasing power. People are buying less, which is stressing demand and the supply curve. Perhaps this has been a result of sustained individual and government development. Many people are constructing or building houses, which makes it difficult for them to have enough income to spend on other necessities, especially consumables. However, this might also be a result of the cost of doing business that has continuously grown over time. For instance, interest rates and cost of electricity, among others continue to feed into business processes which make the final products expensive.
Despite these challenges, we are seeing many opportunities when Uganda starts producing oil. Almost every sector will benefit from oil. However, the question is: How you have positioned yourself to benefit? Those who will are the ones that will be prepared. For this, we are trying to assist our members by registering their business and helping them to be tax compliant to position them for the future.
How have you assisted women in this area not to miss the opportunities?
We have taken advantage of a number of things such as encouraging them to register in the suppliers’ database as well as making women aware that there are opportunities in such and such areas with specific requirements. That is why we have engaged agencies such as Uganda Registration Services Bureau and URA to register women business and help them to be tax compliant.