Bootstrapping into a Different Life in Uganda

July 2013 4


Starting a business is not an easy task. Yet more than a few friends and colleagues have chosen the entrepreneurial route. Whether this trend is a result of job scarcity upon graduation, perennial optimism about being able to make change in the world, or a different sort of rebellion, millennial-style, it seems that the world of startups, new businesses, and home-grown changemakers is here to stay. The Kauffman Foundation recently released a statistic that showed business creation in to be at 0.28% in the US. Meaning that there are around 475,000 new business owners each month throughout the year. This number has in fact declined from recent years, suggesting an economic upswing in more traditional jobs, but the power of entrepreneurship, business ownership, and the skills accumulated during the launch of a company cannot be understated.

The case for entrepreneurship is particularly poignant in the developing world. In countries like Uganda, where the youth employment rate hovers around 83%, the need to be innovative in a troubled economy is essential.  This is one of the primary reasons that The School Fund has partnered with Educate!, an organization that provides leadership and entrepreneurial training to high school students.

At Uplands High School in Kampala, there was a common problem: kids arrived at school with dirty shoes, a dress code violation that often would get them sent home. Students from the Educate! Student Business club saw an opportunity where others only saw frustration. They now manufacture and sell their own shoe polish, which has become very popular with their classmates. Others noted how many students wanted something other than dry toast for breakfast, and started marketing breakfast jam. Others have found a way to use recycled paper bags to package the popcorn they sell. Their products might seem modest: popcorn, shoe polish, jam. But their businesses are booming. When you think about some of the businesses that take off in the US—Eggstracor, anyone?—it appears that these Ugandan entrepreneurs are providing goods that are more vital to the lives of their customers.

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Young entrepreneurs from Uplands High School, Kampala, Uganda.

These students don’t have access to angel investors or the sort of business accelerators that thrive on many American University campuses. Their potential customers don’t have much in the way of disposable income, and money earned is often earmarked for mostly essential needs. Engaging customers in Uganda takes a certain savvy—starting a business in a resource-poor setting, you have to learn to be creative with what you have. Students in Educate!’s entrepreneurial program have no choice but to bootstrap. More amazing, while these students are gaining the skills and confidence that come from starting a venture from scratch, they are not only succeeding, but they are turning a profit. This means more money for books, more money for uniforms, and near and dear to all of us at The School Fund, they are earning more money to stay in school by being able to pay their mandatory school fees.

The facts and figures that we learn in school are undoubtedly important, but the education that comes with learning to assess and measure your own potential, learning to utilize the right tools, and learning to create opportunities for yourself—that is the education that sticks.  We are so proud to support these young entrepreneurs, and honored to be a part of their ongoing educations.

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