By Aneri Pradhan, ENVenture
Liberia Munduru is a 27-year-old woman hailing from hailing from West Nile, a region of Uganda bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. She received a degree in Social Development from Makerere University, a top University in East Africa. She was awarded a scholarship to study education at the National Teachers College. However, she wanted to return to her community and use her new skills to improve the situation for her people. She turned her scholarship down.
When we think about women’s economic empowerment, we immediately think of empowering the consumer. The woman who earns less than $3 a day enshrouded in a smog of smoke while cooking, laboring in the fields, with many in children in tow. There are many great examples of empowering these women through income generating opportunities, adopting clean cookstoves and solar, or receiving microloans to support her subsistence farming. But what about young professional women that want to launch an enterprise that supports the entire community? How do we support her to “lean in”?
Liberia returned to West Nile and started working for a Community Based Organization (CBO), which are grassroots non-profits run locally, called Rural Initiative for Community Empowerment (RICE). She was hired initially as a volunteer tasked with starting an internet café in town that would provide income to the CBO. This project sparked her latent entrepreneurial skills and she discovered she had real talent for business. Through the success of the café, she was hired into a Senior Program Officer role, this time focused on environmental work.
ENVenture is a woman-led social enterprise that provides seed financing and business capacity support to CBOs in Uganda to start shops selling clean energy products. Through a partnership developed with RICE, ENVenture assigned a young woman named Shu, who was a Masters student at Stanford University to work with Liberia and her team to develop the business plan, perform market research, and implement business systems to sell clean energy. Liberia absorbed these learnings from her like a sponge. She hired Esther as her Store Manager and long after Shu had left, these two women were expertly running the business, selling hundreds of clean energy products out of the same internet café. Like a true marketer, Liberia bought all the products for herself and her extended family; she was able to use her earnings to upgrade to a bigger solar system for her house.
With young Ugandan women being twice as likely to be unemployed as men, especially amongst college-educated women, building the capacity of professional women to learn entrepreneurship is crucial in a job-scare and unsteady work environment. Women with innate business instincts can thrive in setting up retail, distribution, and or manufacturing units in clean energy beyond just income generation, which would support the nation’s GDP growth. Thanks to the entrepreneurial opportunities Liberia has received through working with RICE and ENVenture, she is able to think big. She has enrolled in an MBA program in Makerere University and in a few years she wants to be the CEO of her own agricultural trading company utilizing renewable energy as inputs. On top of this, she is a mother. Now that’s a boss.
ENVenture is a 501(c)(3) US non-profit with operations in Uganda. If you are interested in learning more, please visit www.enventureenterprises.org.
This blog is written by Aneri Pradhan, the Founder and Executive Director of ENVenture. You can follow her at @_ENVenture.