Bridging the Gap for African Women in Business in Uganda

By Hope Kabirisi, Managing Director, Perfect Roses Farm

Bridging the Gap for African Women in Business in Uganda

On 2 March, 2013, as part of the 2013 Series, a group of inspiring people came together in Kampala to talk about “Bridging the Gap for African Women in Business”. The event was livestreamed here on Business Fights Poverty, and the focus of a blog by one of the event’s lead organisers, Ida Horner.

Hope Kabirisi was one of the event panelists. Hope is the founder and owner of a family run business Perfect Roses Farm Ltd. The business grows and exports roses to Europe. She serves as a special advisor to the President of Uganda with respect to Science and Technology with focus on industrialization and quality control to ensure that Ugandan products are competitive. She holds a BA in Biochemistry and Chemistry and training in Standards, Standardization and Quality Management in Sweden. She previously worked in Public Relations at the Uganda National Bureau of Standards; was a manager at AFEXP Commodities International; and at the Control Office of the Uganda Coffee Marketing Board in Mombasa, where she also was a researcher for the coffee marketing board. Hope has also served as deputy resident district commissioner for Makindye and Entebbe. She was a member of the constituent assembly that authored the 1995 Constitution of Uganda.

The following is based on her remarks at the event.

1. Who needs to bridge the gaps?

a) The woman herself:

The NUMBER ONE person responsible for venture to succeed is one to believe I CAN DO IT . If you do not have that self belief and self motivation, no amount of input or help from anybody else will make you succeed!

b) The Government:

The government also needs to do something about supporting local entrepreneurs. At the moment the tendency is to give breaks to foreign investors only and yet we locals are here to stay while foreigners can always pack their bags and go back to wherever they came from if things don’t work out. The government does not only need to put the right policies in place but it also needs to make sure they are implemented/don’t just stay on paper!

2. What are the key challenges for African women seeking to supply multinational corporations?

a) Inadequate funding:

Most banks are not interested in start up businesses.

When I was trying to start PERFECT ROSES, unlike most other rose growers who start with billions, I needed a salary loan of a mere 20,000,000/ (twenty million Uganda shillings) to add to my savings go make the 50,000,000/ fifty million) I had estimated would do me 1 acre. I went to my usual bankers, Standard Chartered Bank in Uganda, but they refused to give me the salary loan because they thought my idea was ‘mad’!

But because I believed in my idea, I shopped around until I found a then new bank, DFCU, who agreed to give me the loan that I needed.

I started with exporting one box of 1000 (one thousand) stems of roses only, which we used to transport by motor cycle/Boda Boda. 5 years later, I am exporting at least 250,000 (two hundred and fifty thousand) stems per month and still growing. If I had waited to have billions there would be no PERFECT ROSES FARM LTD

b) Lack of information / Not bothering to find out what the MNCs expect:

We need to do more research before we start.

c) Poor Quality

Most people (not only women in this country) do not know about the use of standards to deliver top quality merchandise to the Multinational Corporations. And yet, with the stiff competition in this global business village, it is the quality of your product that will ensure your product breaks into and stays in the market.

d) Lack of resources / One needs to be innovative

Instead of waiting to have billions to start my farm so that I could have ultra modern irrigation systems, a cold room, cold truck etc I started with a very old tiny water pump and engine and made sure I gave water more often. Instead of waiting for electricity we use diesel. I started on the 6acres of family land that we already had.

With no money for a cold truck, I take my roses to the airport very early on the morning of exporting or sometimes the night before so that we make use of the cold room at the airport to bring the temperature down to what is required by the international market.

So, woman need to stop waiting for millions so that they can do things the conventional way!

e) Poor packaging

Most Ugandans do not take the trouble to do proper packaging. And yet as they say, YOU NEVER GET A SECOND CHANCE TO MAKE A 1ST IMPRESSION/NSIBAMBI EDIBYA MUTERE! So MNC’s will not buy a product that is going to get passed over on their supermarket shelves!

f) Late delivery, under-delivery or no delivery at all – or to the wrong destination!

There is no point in delivering red roses to Holland on the 15th of Feb when the order was for 12th Feb because of Valentine’s day which is on Feb 14th.

Someone who has 1000 guests for dinner will not find it funny if you deliver only 10kgs of your top quality beef instead of the 100kgs he ordered.

Delivering the right quantity of top quality roses to London instead of Holland, even when delivered on the correct date is no good.

So women (all exporters) must adhere to the JUST IN TIME, RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT QUALITY RIGHT QUANTITY principle if they are to survive!

g) Discouragement from others / lack of self belief

The first meeting that I attended as a flower export at the Ministry of Finance was an eye opener. I walked into this room full of men only and before I could even sit down, the Minister, a man, asked me what I was doing in his meeting of flower exporters! At that time there were 17 flower farms, all owned and ran by men!

When I told the Minister I had started a new farm called PERFECT ROSES FARM LTD one member turned to me and asked me if I was mad to go in that field! I asked him if he was mad himself and without even blinking he told me ‘ME? I AM A MAN’! I stood my ground and sat down and attended the meeting and I am proud to say that 5yrs down the road my farm in one of the only 9 farms still standing and growing one painful STEM at a time.

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2 Responses

  1. During the panel discussion, a question was put to panelists about how they ensure that the women that work for them benefit from their wages. At first I thought this was an odd question. But it transpired that in rural areas in particular it is not uncommon for the husband to have an expectation that the wife will handover her wages to him. When this happens the wife has no control as to how that money is spent, The solution Hope came up with to this problem is to reach an agreement with Centenary Bank which ensures that all her employees have access to bank accounts at a local Branch into which she pays their salary. This she says has ensured that women have some control over their wages, given the time and effort involved in actually going to bank in order to access the money. But she doesn’t rule out the fact that the woman can be coerced into withdrawing all the money and handing it over and says there is still a lot of work to do in this area. I would be interested in hearing about good practice in this area

  2. In this case, most men wouldn’t want to see their women engaging so much in making their own money and yet they provide less to sustain the family! its only an empowered woman that will continue to work and plan for that money without being pressurized by her man. More so Hope stated that she had over 100 workers, i would suggest that they form a SACCO where they save part of this money per month, they can acquire loans to do other small projects like weaving, small holder farming (in groups) etc. with such activities, men can also join the SACCO on seeing where the money goes and what  it does. Sometimes its not easy to empower this rural woman for fear of their families and cultural values attached to their every day lives.

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