Katie Hoffman (Kinawataka Women’s Initiatives - KIWOI): Katie received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and international studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She then served for two years as a city coordinator for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF Tap Project, which raises money to bring clean water to children in developing countries. At the time of her fellowship, Katie was pursuing a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree at Georgetown University with a concentration in international development. At Georgetown, Katie was the Vice President of Hoyas United in Graduate Service and managing editor of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. She also served as a graduate mentor for the Georgetown Women in International Affairs.


16 Jun

I’ve been in Bugolobi, a suburb of Kampala, for a little over a week. There’s been much to observe and get used to – new food, language, city.

I’ll get to those things later. The thing that sticks out to me most, right now, is the spirit of entrepreneurship I’ve seen.

In the U.S., I’ve become accustomed to thinking of entrepreneurs as creating something in the hopes of making billions of dollars. Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter. Ideas that, if successfully executed, set you up for a luxurious life. Granted, there’s usually a bit of risk: start-up investments, leaving a day-to-day, generally secure job. But, generally the idea is that if you go off the normal path and take a risk, you have the possibility of a big reward.

I’ve never really thought about entrepreneurship as a necessity. When there is no normal path to take, you have to create one.

But that’s what I’ve seen at play here. Six years ago, Benedicta Nanyonga was facing a need to find income for herself and other women of Kinawataka, a slum in Kampala. So they found a creative way out, given the resources at hand.

They began collecting straws that clutter and block drainages throughout Kampala, pressing them and weaving them into various products, such as shopping bags and purses. Kinawataka Women’s Initiatives – and a way of sustainable income for women who wouldn’t be able to find it elsewhere – was born.

That entrepreneurship hasn’t been limited to Kinawataka. We’ve met with the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda a few times now, and the meetings have been full of similar creativity. Of the group of small business owners we’ve met with, one man was starting up a private kindergarten. Another, a graphic design business. One woman was working on developing a jam business and another, a publishing business. Most talked about how they started their businesses not for some grandiose advancement but because they could not find a job elsewhere.

The Private Sector Foundation, a state-run organization, seemed keen to capitalize on their entrepreneurship to advance what so many countries, developing and developed, are struggling with these days: job creation. Talk centered on the obstacles the businesses faced in moving to mass production. For most, including Kinawataka, that principle obstacle is a lack of capital – and thus a lack of machinery.

The foundation’s officials spouted off plans for potential partnerships or donors to overcome those obstacles.  More than that, they’ve followed up with visits to discuss those plans in-depth. It’s great to see the government, so far at least, paying more than just lip service to small and medium business development.

While still not in mass production, Benedicta’s endeavor has grown since starting six years ago. She and her group have sold more than 50,000 items domestically and 15,000 internationally, mostly shopping bags, which people use in place of plastic grocery bags.

But don’t expect an IPO anytime soon. She uses her share of the funds to train other women to make their own straw products – creating jobs, in a way – as well as housing and educating orphans in her home. Here’s to hoping for more entrepreneurs like her!

Posted By Katie

Posted Jun 16th, 2012

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