Charles Ocici, Executive Director Enterprise Uganda

Three and a half years ago, Harriet Kayompatho was a jobless sociology graduate, restless with the ambition of owning a successful business and yet with little more than forty dollars to her name. Tired of being jobless for three years, she went to Enterprise Uganda in search of a solution. Her face brightened with relief when she was told that the 150,000 Uganda shillings ($42) she had was enough to start up an enterprise. By the end of the 5-day training on business startup she had her business plan in place and immediately embarked on setting up her business in selling bottled water. Today, Harriet is one of the biggest distributors of soft drinks in her home town of Nebbi, in North Western Uganda, where she makes a daily profit of at least 450, 000 shillings ($125). She has built a home, educated her siblings and now employs 10 youth. She has also expanded her business ventures into the telecommunications and real estate sectors.

Harriet’s story is only one of many success stories of young people who with just a little money, or none, and entrepreneurship skills have become successful business owners. We interviewed Mr. Charles Ocici, Executive Director of Enterprise Uganda, to gather his views and experiences in promoting youth entrepreneurship, one of the avenues of transforming youth livelihoods.

What is the current landscape of opportunities for youth entrepreneurship in Uganda
Youth entrepreneurship is currently a popular catch phrase in both government and non-governmental initiatives that seek to solve the growing problem of youth unemployment and, more painfully, underemployment. There are a myriad of opportunities across sectors including agriculture, but these are not being fully exploited. For example, one can make over 100% profit from cassava in just 90 days, but this is not happening. However, inspite of the goodwill and investment towards youth entrepreneurship, this area of interest is riddled with misguided advice and approaches, most of which innocently given by people the youth look up-to and trust. Why, for example, should youth be given market stalls or told to set up agricultural enterprises as though these are the only viable entry points into business instead of guiding the youth on how to discover low hanging business opportunities in any sector around them? Over-prescriptive schemes that disregard background of targeted youth, their skills and interests could be counter-productive. It is no wonder that the beneficiaries often make mistakes and unfortunately get discouraged, thinking they are failures in life.

What are some of the key indicators to look out for as measures of success in youth entrepreneurship?
1. Youth seeing entrepreneurship as a calling where they are contented, have hope and determination, rather than as a temporary venture as they “wait for a real job”;
2. An enterprise that is expanding non-stop with some support from internal resources;
3. Creation of jobs for others, a natural outcome of business expansion not the main target;
4. Payment of taxes by the enterprise;
5. Creation of vibrant economic value chains that are globally competitive.

Are youth up to the task

The joy of success: Harriet Kayompatho outside her shop in Nebbi Town

Youth need a mindset change on entrepreneurship. Many university graduates get frustrated looking for office jobs instead of exploiting opportunities around them. The few who go into entrepreneurship ventures look at them as temporary measures until an office job comes along. Opportunities in agriculture are particularly shunned because of wrong perceptions about the vocation. For many, the first thing that comes to their minds when agriculture is mentioned is the image of a poor, dirty farmer dressed in ragged clothes and toiling under the hot sun with a hand hoe. Few have seen successful farmers or think about other opportunities in the value chain like storage, transportation, input supply or professional consultancy services like extension.

How can universities and other tertiary institutions support creation of youth entrepreneurs
Firstly, university lecturers should change their mode of curriculum delivery and connect theory to the real world context. Secondly, internships should be reformed so that students can also engage in family enterprises as part of internship. Many times students get frustrated looking for internship placements in offices yet their own family enterprises like farms are fertile learning grounds. If students graduated with an entrepreneurial mindset already inculcated, initiatives like Enterprise Uganda would be able to deliver better as we would focus on providing business development support and enterprise acceleration.

What are the threats to building youth entrepreneurs
Excuses are the death of entrepreneurship, with money being the most believed excuse for not starting an enterprise. When you ask a young person why they cannot start, “I have no capital” is the common song. Second to that is ego. Many people want the prestige that comes from holding an office job and will hold back on taking up entrepreneurship opportunities, but what is more prestigious than owning a successful business?

Even when youth have set up enterprises, not all is rosy. There can be problems. While there are external forces like unhealthy market competition, or internal events like fraud, the biggest threat to youth enterprises is the youth themselves if they fail to manage glory. Youth who stop listening to their customers or refreshing their businesses to keep up with changing trends because they are too busy celebrating their success often only realise their folly once customers have vanished.

What does it take for a young graduate to become an entrepreneur
The short answer would be independence, self-belief and a learning spirit. In reality however, entrepreneurship is sometimes over-simplified and made to look like one can acquire success overnight. Even with all the right ingredients in place, an enterprise needs at least seven years of support in order to stand on its own. The journey of entrepreneurship is not a sprint, but a marathon. One must be ready for the long journey otherwise they are setting themselves up for disaster. The seven-year support should cover the crucial stages of business take off; business formalisation; enterprise consolidation and growth; and brand establishment amidst stiff competition. Each of these enterprise evolution phases calls for appropriate structured advice, counsel and support.

For youth who want to become entrepreneurs, there are several avenues to entrepreneurship, but the common ones are:

  • Use your talent
  • Build on your family background
  • Use your acquired skills
  • Make use of under-utilised resources around you for example idle family land
  • Identify gaps in the market that you can fill
  • Innovate by creating something new or give a new twist to an existing solution.

The last word
Youth entrepreneurship should be seen as a game with no end and entrepreneurs should be supported for at least seven years if it is to work otherwise any progress made today will be overturned tomorrow. A short-term quick fix approach to entrepreneurship will return to haunt nations as frustrated youth whose businesses collapse soon after inception will likely turn their anger and frustration onto their communities. As a growing number of development initiatives start to support youth entrepreneurship, it is also important for them to realise that one cannot own an entrepreneur. Sponsors should take pride in incubating and nurturing entrepreneurs into successful independent enterprise owners, rather than seeking to own them. Unless you have indoctrinated entrepreneurs, you do not own them, and in case you do, they will not be free thinkers any more, thus stifling their creative mind.

This article was originally published in Africa Higher Education Insights, a quarterly newsletter of the RUFORUM Network. Read the original article and more here:

One Comment on “Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint

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