Meet the Young Mothers Shaping Uganda’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

January 19, 2022

Image: Miriam Feeza and Hadijah Nabbale during the Youth IDEAthon Bootcamp.

The Youth IDEAthon, organized in partnership between the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab and the National Association of Student Enterprises (NASE Africa), was launched to drive youth innovation and entrepreneurship in Uganda and respond to growing rates of youth unemployment in the country, which currently sits at 13% (UBOS). Following a nationwide call in which over 4,000 young Ugandans registered business ideas in sectors of Agriculture, Health, Tourism, Manufacturing, Minerals, Creative Arts and ICT, the Top 100 Finalists were selected to participate in the Youth IDEAthon Bootcamp, an intensive week of mentorship, business workshops and pitching sessions to nurture their business ideas.

The Accelerator Lab team noticed some interesting trends when engaging with participants at the Youth IDEAthon Bootcamp. One of the more encouraging trends being that a handful of the Top 100 Finalists were young mothers, juggling their baby in one arm and their entrepreneurial aspirations in the other.

Miriam Feeza, 24 years old, is a refugee who fled Democratic Republic of the Congo due to political instability. She now resides in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Western Uganda where she was introduced to the world of entrepreneurship through the Social Innovation Academy (SINA). Through support from SINA, Miriam benefitted from internet access to submit her Youth IDEAthon business idea of Clay Cosmo, a natural skincare product. At the time of applying, Miriam was expecting the birth of her son. At the time of the Youth IDEAthon Bootcamp, Miriam and her son were in attendance together.

“I’m thankful for this programme,” said Miriam. “To include women, though we have responsibilities with us, we are included in such opportunities to show our potential and to inspire other women.”

We don’t have to create excuses. I’m having a baby, I’m having this responsibility, but there are a lot of opportunities here that are there to include us. We need to bring out all those things that we are passionate about and go to fulfil them.”

Watch a short interview with Miriam Feeza.

Image: Miriam Feeza pitching her solution at the Youth IDEAthon Bootcamp.

Atwine Scovia, 23 years old, resides in Kabale in Western Uganda and is a first-class graduate in Bachelor of Science from Makerere University. Following her pregnancy, Scovia feared that her career opportunities would suffer, until she learned of the Youth IDEAthon through her local FM radio station. Her business idea, a health drink derived from the Prunus Africana tree, is advocating for this tree species to be cultivated widely, not only for its potential health benefits but also to spur environmental conservation.

“Having a baby should not be a limitation,” said Atwine. “In case of any opportunity, I would call upon anyone to apply and don’t take it for granted.”

“I would advise young mothers, wherever they are, to take up opportunities. Even during these hard times of COVID, they can still make it. It shouldn’t be a limitation for their success”.

Watch a short interview with Atwine Scovia.

Image: Atwine Scovia pitching her solution at the Youth IDEAthon Bootcamp.

Through the Youth IDEAthon Bootcamp, in which the Top 100 Finalists were selected to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges, both Miriam Feeza and Atwine Scovia were selected among the Top 30 to receive additional support from UNDP and NASE Africa. They were both selected based on a rigorous judging criterion that assessed their pitch, business model, and the impact of their idea in terms of job creation and contribution to achievement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Lessons from the Youth IDEAthon

1.       With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting initial Youth IDEAthon engagement plans, including physical visits to rural areas of Uganda, NASE Africa and the UNDP Accelerator Lab decided to move all activities online. This had an adverse effect on some potential applicants, especially those who were unable to access Youth IDEAthon Zoom sessions or the online application portal due to limited internet coverage.

2.       Contrary to existing entrepreneurship literature which suggests that Ugandan women are more entrepreneurial than men, the Accelerator Lab and NASE Africa teams were puzzled by the gender disparity in applications, with applications from men accounting for 73% of total applications. As the NASE Africa team were tracking weekly registration trends, we were able to recruit more female influencers as a means of encouraging greater female participation. This measure did help raise the number of women applying. We are conscious that limited access to information, digital devices and internet connections remain structural barriers to women in Uganda in boosting their entrepreneurship capacities and abilities.

3.       People with disabilities were not adequately supported during the original Youth IDEAthon planning phase. As soon as this was brought to our attention, the team quickly pivoted and arranged additional support for people with disabilities, such as sign language services. Certain groups of vulnerable populations can easily be left out of development initiatives, unless specific targeting is undertaken to ensure no one is left behind. In future, UNDP and partners will adequately prepare tailored services for people with disabilities to ensure vulnerable groups can participate in the fullest capacity.

4.       The Youth IDEAthon attracted a number of applications from Ugandan participants living in Burundi, Zambia, South Sudan, DRC, UK and USA. We believe this to be a good opportunity to plan for Ugandans living in the diaspora through sharing the Youth IDEAthon exploits with other UNDP Country Offices.

5.       When assessing applications by sector, Agriculture (29%) led the way, but we found it difficult to attract ideas from Urban Development (5%), Tourism (3%), and Mining and Renewable Energy (2%). This was despite employing tourism influencers as a strategy to attract additional application in this sector.

Given the current rate of youth unemployment in Uganda, now exacerbated by impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to learn from these lessons and continue to devise strategies to help nurture the creativity of Uganda’s youth. Being intentional when encouraging vulnerable groups such as women, youth and people with disabilities is a crucial part of the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab team’s strategy to ensure that no one is left behind, as we continue to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among the youth of Uganda.

By Hadijah Nabbale, Head of Solutions Mapping and Ashley Prigent, Communications Specialist.