This is how I was greeted (in Luganda) on arriving at the airport, at my hosts’ residence in Kampala and at UWEAL, and how I am commonly greeted around town. Although it’s clearly just the formal version of the simple “welcome” I’m accustomed to, it has taken on a new warmth for me here. It also seems a fitting greeting for business in Uganda. After only one week in Kampala, I’m beginning to see the city and the world in terms of an opportunity to sell, to hustle, to do business. Kampala is open for business, and Ugandans are taking advantage.
Several of my Vital Voices/The Advocacy Project counterparts in Nairobi and elsewhere have been struck by the stark inequality that separates poor from rich. A few live relatively opulent lives — defined here as having multiple well-paid servants, computer(s) and internet access, running and hot water, and other luxuries — while most live more simply, and others in far worse conditions. One northerner tells me that the proliferation of non-governmental organizations has dampened many Ugandans’ traditional spirit of hard work, initiative and economic independence. But this obscures the contribution of a vibrant Ugandan middle class made up in part of hundreds of small and medium-sized business owners who are creating wealth from the ground up.
This group of thriving entrepreneurs did not always include women. Limited access to credit, legal restrictions on the ownership of property and other assets, and pervasive norms around gender roles severely restricted women’s freedom to do business in Uganda. Enter UWEAL in the 1980s. UWEAL has become a source of information and inspiration, as one board member puts it, for women in business. This Association of over 700 women does not exist for it’s own sake. It trains women in marketing, administration, finance and other key business issues; it connects Ugandan women with their counterparts in the region, around Africa and all over the world; it mentors new businesswomen and it cultivates a spirit of entrepreneurship among girls. This group of experienced, capable, professional and entrepreunerial women will serve as my mentors for the next three months. Please follow me online as we research how UWEAL members successes, ongoing challenges and opportunities in life and in business.
Posted By Annika Allman
Posted Jun 19th, 2010