How the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) is helping women entrepreneurs outlast the pandemicThis is a custom heading element.

ConsumerCentriX works closely with Stanbic Bank Uganda on both the COVID-19 Business Info Hub and the Stanbic Business Incubator. This article originally appeared on the COVID-19 Business Info Hub.

supporting women entrepreneurs through covid19

The Covid-19 Business Info Hub spoke with Winnie Lawoko-Olwe, Director of SMEs at the Uganda Investment Authority to learn how the Uganda Investment Authority is helping women entrepreneurs through the pandemic.

Ernest Wasake: Would you kindly introduce yourself and what you do at the Uganda Investment Authority?

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe:  My name is Winnie Lawoko-Olwe and I am the Director of SMEs at the Uganda Investment Authority.

Ernest Wasake: The COVID-19 Business Info Hub is looking to focus on how women entrepreneurs have been able not only to survive, but to thrive during the pandemic. Tell us about yourself, and your role at Uganda Investment Authority (UIA). How have you been able to survive and thrive during this pandemic?

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: COVID-19 came as a major surprise to everybody. And because of the nature of the Standard Operating Procedures and the activities around the pandemic, it required fast thinking and fast adaptation. As UIA, we immediately conducted research that where a total of about 385 businesses were interviewed. And of these interviewed, about 30 percent were SMEs, and of those 30 percent, we were able to interview 32 percent specifically women.

We know very well that the SME economy of Uganda is a very much a cash economy. The pandemic affected most women and challenged how they balanced finances for the businesses and finances for their families.

The assessment found that the businesses are distressed and needed additional money. The assessment also found that a intervention was needed to help businesses change their models from the direct channel of selling off the street to the effective use of mobile money, networks to deliver your business, and developing business products to what clients need the most.

Under the Rising Woman campaign, Investment Authority is looking at how we can take the women’s businesses into a next level of digitization in terms of marketing their products, in terms of effectively using mobile payments as opposed to cash payments. And we are running trainings in six areas for the newly developed digitization product for the campaign. We are going to be able to come up with a clear product rollout in terms of digitizing and e-commerce adaptation

Ernest Wasake: How has the Investment Authority supported the SME sector during the pandemic?

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: In this period of the pandemic, one of the major challenges is that our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have limitations on number of people that we can support. During the first part of the pandemic, our programs were supporting about a maximum of 10 people, thereby limiting outreach numbers. Given these limitations, UIA has started delivering capacity building programs that allow a few leaders from women organizations to be taken through the program and to pass on the lessons to other women. The training currently has narrowed down from entrepreneurial development to marketing and access to markets training programs. We are looking at digitization of business processes and we are also looking at using ICTs.

Ernest Wasake: Do you have testimonies of businesses that have thrived during the pandemic and what lessons can be learned from them?

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: Yes, we have had businesses that have thrived so far.  Businesses that have thrived have been able to place themselves into the e-commerce platform. We have a number of ladies who are doing sanitizers and foodstuffs that are currently registered on the Zimba Mart (an online e-commerce platform created by ZimbaWomen) I must say that Zimba  Women is one of those women-in-tech initiatives that we think will help and support to take women to the next level, because it is owned by women that can easily understand the dynamics of women and the challenges that women are having. The second group that we work closely with is the Business and Professional Women of Kampala branch who actually access the women groups, identified which is the most appropriate time to be able to help them to sell their products online.

Ernest Wasake: What can be done to increase the level of women entrepreneurship in Uganda?

 Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: To increase the participation and the overall input from women entrepreneurs in Uganda means that we need to be able to identify the supporters or service providers in specific areas so that women activities and growth activities are not duplicated. I want to talk about the three key things that women face: The first is access to effective networks that allow them to grow within different areas of growth.  The second is linkage for growth in terms of the value chain. The third is affordable financing that looks at one’s internal competitiveness.

I know that the Stanbic Bank Incubator Platform is doing quite a bit in terms of getting those value chains together. But I think that if I’m a woman entrepreneur sitting in Busia, where do I go to get that information? And that’s where I think the most important opportunity is – to have a national portal, where every woman can access information where she is able to click networks and be able to access networks that she can work with. And last but not least, is the mentorship for growth – that means that we are looking at women who have excelled within those specific areas, to inspire and lead other women.

Also, I think there’s a missing gap, in terms of specific funds for SME women. If you talk today about the Emyooga(poverty eradication program) which is easily accessible, it requires one to be in a group to access the funds and yet, as an SME you’re not going to join a group. As an SME you need to be identified as a specific business that can walk into any place and is assessed based on your internal competitiveness, the ready market that you have for your product and the support systems that you need to be able to effectively utilize them. So I think those are the key things that we as Uganda Investment Authority are strongly pushing to address through interventions.

Ernest Wasake: What advise have you given to a woman entrepreneur on a personal level to help them grow.

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: OK. On a personal level, I have supported Vantage Communication and Zimba Women. And this is specifically in terms of growing their business and looking at the environment. Both companies have fantastic products and they met the challenges in terms of setting up processes and procedures to manage the internal environment. And the advice here is: you are the entrepreneur, you know the business, you know what you want out of it. But take yourself back and think of growing this business scalability. Can you scale the business to the level you want working as an individual? And if you can, then it’s going to remain a niche product for a few people. And yet the demand for the product is great. The concept that we went through was one, assess your strengths and concentrate on this strength.

Secondly, look at the operatives. If you are taking this unique project out, you have any unique selling proposition. But in order for this proposition to be delivered, what are the steps you need? Do you need a marketing person? Do you need somebody to actually install, you know the uptake? And do you need somebody to do your finances? If you’re able to look at those critical business steps within the business, then it will help you to identify who internally would be the best person to manage it. If you do not have somebody internally, how would you then be able to take that? And that means you are recruiting. Are you able to price the product? Once you price the product, is it right for the market to be able to take it to the market?

I think from this learning perspective, there are two things that entrepreneurs need to know. As an entrepreneur, you do have a drive. You’ve seen the gap. You know that the market needs it. And that’s very important. But in terms of scalability of your product, in terms of taking your business to the market, you then need to look at those critical procedures, internal procedures that will allow you to take the product to the market. And the product will be the same today, tomorrow and the next day. That means there’s a standard of procedure. It’s a unique selling proposition and it’s a unique product that is going out to the market.