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Building Sustainable Livelihoods for Young Women

(Photo: Coach Carol having a group discussion with participants)

"Uganda has one of the highest rates of young women out of the labor force (86 percent), with high gender disparities in unemployment rates for youth.” (World Bank, 2014)

This statistic points to the challenges that young women face in building sustainable livelihoods. Given the extreme rates of unemployment among young women it crucial to ensure that female youth have the skills to allow them to succeed in the informal sector and as entrepreneurs. This is the main aim of our Young Women’s Economic Empowerment Program- to improve the livelihoods and economically empower out-of-school female youth through developing their entrepreneurship and business skills.

This program includes a blend of interventions: vocational training with the Sewing Our Futures Project, business training and mentorship, and Women’s Savings Group. For this post, we will focus on the comprehensive business training and mentorship project that utilizes a blend of interventions: group training sessions, individual mentorship, and access to savings and loan schemes training. In July 2017, we had our first group of 25 women graduate from the project. The graduates were so thankful for being part of the training. In their own words, the young women told us:

“Thanks to the trainings, I discovered new ways of producing and marketing my products” – Suzan, 35 years old, shop keeper, married with two children

“I have learnt how to treasure my business and work harder to achieve my goals”- Aisha, 30 years old, sells charcoal and rears chickens, married with five children

GUIU was pleased to receive additional support from the Segal Family Foundation to continue the sustainable livelihoods project for another 31 women beginning in September 2017. We again worked with an existing women’s group, this time from the Luzira area. 31 women were eager to join the new cohort and be equipped with the skills to succeed in entrepreneurship and starting-up or scaling-up their already existing businesses.

Before we began the project, it was important that we conducted a pre-test assessment to ascertain the level of skills and knowledge that each of the new participants held prior to the training. From our pre-test evaluation, we found that only 58% of women had finished primary school and of those women, only 25% had finished secondary school. In addition, we evaluated the typical challenges that start-ups and small businesses face so that we could tailor the project to the participants’ most crucial knowledge gaps. The majority of the young women explained that they face challenges around: inconsistent income, proper bookkeeping, working on customer credit, lack of savings, and poor marketing skill. With this information, we adjusted the design of our business training and mentorship project to meet the existing educational levels and business knowledge of the young women. As one women told us:

“I get involved in a number of income generating activities but don’t know where and how I spend my income. This greatly affects the growth of my business and development of my family.”

(Photo: A participant filling out a pre-test form translated into Luganda)

With this information, our team of Coaches went to work! They have already offered five group training sessions on topics such as planning and managing your business, starting a business, and basic book keeping. In the planning training, the young women went through a SWOT analysis to understand the opportunities, strengths, weaknesses and threats of their existing or potential businesses. The training prompted one of the participants to realize the mistake she made while starting her business:

“I did not do any market survey, or ask anyone about the location before staring my business. When I started my business, I did not get any customers and this made me lose out” - Harriet

Coach Carol has also started to offer individual mentorship by visiting each young woman at her workplace to obtain more information and understanding of the business and the creativity and innovativeness of each woman. It allows us to see how our project can assist each woman to grow her business and build a sustainable livelihood. These one-on-one meetings are important spaces where the participants feel more open to discuss their challenges since sometimes they find it difficult to be open in a group setting.

Below you will meet some of the women entrepreneurs and understand the challenges that they face and how we have begun to work with them to improve their business approach and increase their incomes for the well-being of themselves and their families:

Meet Jackline, a business woman with a small retail shop:

“I am lazy to do my business. I am reluctant to open my shop every morning because the shelves have few or nothing to sell, and all I make in a day is between 15,000 – 20,000 UGX (USD$4.50- $6). I do not do book-keeping so I don’t know what my profit is.”

(Photo: Jackline in her shop in the Luzira area)

The Girl Up Initiative Uganda coaches advised her to start book-keeping so that she sees her profit and capital investment more clearly. Similarly, they told her that she should always keep a record of what she has stored in the shop to track what is sold and not sold, to allow her to stock the most popular items. They also recommended that she open her shop early to target the early birds who are going to work and children going to school.

Meet Gladys, a young entrepreneur with a mobile money stall and retail shop:

“I have an advantage in running two businesses at once because more customers come and get more services at ago. For examples, one withdraws money, buys airtimes and still shops home necessities. My challenges are that I have trouble organizing my business and have poor time management. I am also not keeping any records and have trouble balancing my home and business.”

During the visit, Coach Clare led the session given her business background in mobile money that helped generate interesting ideas. She told her that she must learn how to differentiate fake money from genuine money. Additionally, she emphasized record keeping and how it must be separated for each business.

(Photo: Gladys at her shop during the site visit)

We are excited to see the changes our project will have in the lives of these women and the sustainable impact it will have on the health and well-being of their families. The more income a mother earns, the more likely she is to send her children to school and to the doctor when they are sick. As Coach Carol reflected:

"Most women love business but have had gradual set backs because they don't give their businesses enough time and consideration."

It is our aim to give these young women entrepreneurs the knowledge and encouragement they need to see the potential of their businesses and the pay-off if they give their businesses more attention and consideration. Stay tuned for more updates as the project continues!