How This Entrepreneur Built A Profitable Business Empowering Ugandan Women

(Women are seen selling bananas at Kololo Airstrip in Kampala, Uganda}

In Uganda, where many women earn as little as $3 per month, a new generation of agri-entrepreneurs are lifting themselves out of poverty. They are doing so with the support of KadAfrica, a social business that grants out-of-school girls with a small plot of land, passionfruit vines, and a marketplace to sell the fruit.

KadAfrica provides intensive training in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and gender empowerment. Thus far, 1,650 girls have boosted their incomes to $20 – $50 per month—representing a 600% increase in income per participant. Some young women have used the money to expand their agribusinesses, and others have started new ventures, such as a nursery school for local children.

Launched in 2012 by husband-and-wife team Eric and Rebecca Kaduru, KadAfrica has seen its program grow exponentially–more than a thousand young women are already on the organization’s waiting list. Last year, KadAfrica was named a winner of the MasterCard Foundation and Ashoka’sFuture Forward, a challenge to solve youth employment in Africa. Through Future Forward’s networking opportunities, Eric was invited to the White House’s Global Entrepreneurship event and the Young Africa Works Summit in Cape Town.

Eric first conceived of KadAfrica when he was driving from Uganda to Kenya and wondered why thriving, large-scale commercial farming did not exist on Uganda’s fertile land. Eventually, the organization settled on cultivating passion fruit, which is popular in Ugandan marketplaces while 70 percent of the supply is imported. The vertical vines require relatively little land to grow and the fruit commands high prices in the marketplace. Through bulk marketing and transport, KadAfrica is able to operate a profitable business, providing income for the girls and sustaining the organization. It’s recent expansion last year relied primarily on self-generated funds–less than 50 percent came from donor dollars.

Continuing to amplify the impact of KadAfrica, Eric has been incorporating lessons learned from participating in Future Forward, including how to refine his approach to communicating with funders and stakeholders. Eric worked with the team at Overture, a video production company that helps individuals like Eric introduce themselves in less than 60 seconds.  “I learned how to tell a story,” Eric said. “It was insanely beneficial. I have been able to summarize what I do in ways I didn’t think was possible.”

His advice: “Personalize the story–give the story a face. Explaining what we do at KadAfrica is one thing, but giving you a story about a particular person we work with and how their life has changed, is another.”

Telling vivid stories of KadAfrica’s participants has helped the organization win additional grants. Eric recently applied this skill to win funding from the Spring Accelerator program.

KadAfrica has also begun shifting its perspective toward the local communities where the young women live. “We were initially very focused on trying to get more girls committed to the program, and getting more support staff on the ground,” Eric said. “But we’re seeing things from a broader perspective now and involving the girls’ families in order to create a more enabling environment. This has been a key shift.”

Incorporating the community into KadAfrica has helped prevent issues where a young woman’s father or husband might object to her participation in the program. “In some situations, a girl married at a young age might find that her husband was hiding her tools or not letting her leave the house, because there was still housework to be done, for example,” Eric said.

“He might ask, ‘What are you doing all day, in this place?’ But by engaging the family, we can provide them with information about exactly what the young women are doing, and that has really enabled them to work more effectively, rather than having the parents or husbands fighting the idea.”

KadAfrica engages the women’s families through empowerment ceremonies where the girls receive certificates for their accomplishments. They also host events like barbeques so that the communities can learn more about how the women are succeeding with their agribusinesses.

“It helps everyone understand the scale of the program,” Eric said. “And that definitely has a long-run effect on how things work. There is much less resistance and more support.”

Smart business sense and the knowledge for creating social impact are continuing to help KadAfrica empower young women to become entrepreneurs themselves. Having established proof-of-concept, the organization plans on enrolling 3000 growers over the next two years, which will enable to them to supply juice companies with Ugandan passion fruit pulp, rather than imported pulp. According to KadAfrica, “This would allow us to purchase from out growers at a price point of 30% higher than what is currently sustainable, keeping wealth within Uganda.”

This post was written by Kristie Wang for Future Forward, which recently launched a free professional development course about innovating to improve youth employment in Africa.

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