A GUEST POST BY STEPHENIE FOSTER
Last month, I wrote about my work in Ghana with a group of women entrepreneurs. This month, I traveled to Uganda for a similar program sponsored by Vital Voices and the Exxon Mobil Foundation. In Uganda, we worked with the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited (UWEAL). Established in 1987, for over 20 years, this group has worked to train women across Uganda in business skills. UWEAL has almost 1,000 members, with branches in Kampala, Lira, Jinja, Soroti, Kabale and Luweero. In addition to providing a forum for networking and participation in trade missions, UWEAL has supported grass roots women by helping market their products.
Our training brought together women from four sectors of the Ugandan economy: manufacturing, crafts, services and agriculture. I was joined by two other experts. First was Yvonne Finch from South Africa, an incredible businesswoman and trainer. She was able to make business planning and market analysis enjoyable, and was also tremendous in helping individual women with practical business advice. The second was Mendi Njonjo, from the Advocacy Project, who focused on emerging new technologies as a business strategy.
My portion of the training focused on the need to identify systemic policy barriers to business growth for women. Business skills are critical, but a good business climate is equally important for sustainable economic growth for all types of businesses. To work on identifying these issues, we had the women work in groups according to sector and identify what challenges they face that slow (or stop) their business growth.
Not surprisingly, the women identified several issues in common across sectors: high interest rates, difficulty in getting loans because banks require land as collateral (and women often don’t have title to land), and levels of red tape for business registration. Being able to see these commonalities across sectors helped drive thinking about a common policy agenda for UWEAL and for the women UWEAL serves.
It was remarkable to meet some of the group’s founders as well, and see their pride in where UWEAL has come, and where we all expect it to go in the future.
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