Providing support to ‘high-flying’ young entrepreneurs in Uganda to overcome the challenges of COVID-19

YBI and our members Enterprise Uganda and ICCO Uganda have been implementing the High Flyers programme since 2019, with support from the Argidius Foundation and the Government of Uganda.  

This programme aims to enable young entrepreneurs in Uganda to further upscale their businesses, provide more local job opportunities for their community and grow the sustainability and earning power of their enterprise. However, in 2020, the programme had to quickly pivot when the pandemic struck, to concentrate on helping entrepreneurs overcome the new obstacles to business created by COVID-19.  
“The investment in ‘high flyers’ prior to the pandemic gave the entrepreneurs supported by our members a resilient business foundation that served them well when it was time to receive and realise the crisis support provided by our programme”, says Youth Business International CEO Anita Tiessen. In particular, training in financial management, bookkeeping and the use of social media to ensure customer contact and care helped the ‘high flyers’ to evolve their businesses despite the challenges posed by this global crisis.  
Meet six inspiring ‘high flyers’ who have successfully overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with support from the programme and get key insights into how future initiatives and current business owners can tackle the ever-changing and challenging commercial landscape.   

Joan, Enterprise Uganda

Joan is a young entrepreneur living with a disability who runs a leather shoe business out of her home in Kampala. The Presidential Jua Kali Youth Initiative had previously provided her with training in handmaking leather shoes and given her a seed capital of UGX 1 million. 

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Joan experienced significant loss in capital because of the cost of leather and her lack of business experience. In addition, she dealt with social stigma due to her disability, and faced mobility challenges which made her unable to travel far to seek out customers. Once lockdown was initiated, transportation became even more limited and expensive, as did leather supplies. Customers became reluctant to spend money on non-essential goods, further affecting Joan’s revenue. 

However, supported by Enterprise Uganda and the High Flyers programme, she was able to offset many of these difficulties. The programme encouraged Joan to open separate bank accounts for business and personal use, save up money to recover capital, and implement new technical skills such as bookkeeping and calculating the correct price of goods in relation to material costs. As a result, she began making back the seed capital money which she had lost and regained her confidence in social situations with her peers.  

Joan herself rates the effectiveness of the programme at ’99 per cent’. She says:

“They have taught me how to keep records and this gives me visibility of my business… They opened up my eyes.” 

Tonny, ICCO Uganda

Tonny’s agricultural cotton and dry and sweet cassava business outside of Nebbi town also withstood the many challenges presented by COVID-19 with the help of the skills, training and mentorship provided by ICCO Uganda through the High Flyers programme.  

Prior to the pandemic, Tonny’s business faced the same issues as other agricultural businesses in Uganda, such as the impact of unpredictable weather, high village open market rent costs, the risk of investing in perishable goods, and fluctuating market customer rates. The latter factor only worsened with lockdown, and travel restrictions made it more expensive for Tony to continue hiring casual labourers. Prior to the pandemic, ICCO Uganda had fostered a positive relationship between Tonny’s business and the local bank, but Tonny’s loan was halved due to the global economic impact of the virus. 

Despite all this, the previous business fortifications Tonny made with the help of the High Flyers programme allowed his enterprise to survive the impact of COVID-19. Being able to access even a reduced bank loan allowed Tonny to buy a motorcycle to transport his goods to market and buy his own 8 acres of land. Tonny also began to use paper bookkeeping and made connections with other High Flyers. In Tonny’s own words:

“The business plan has been the most valuable part of training I have realised… I anticipate challenges and pre-empt solutions.” 

Lydia, Yang Agro Enterprise, ICCO Uganda

Lydia’s agro-supply and advisory business Yang Agro Entreprise, based in Nebbi Town and operating a branch in the Pakwach District, is another business which withstood the difficulties of COVID-19.  

Before the pandemic, Lydia faced fierce sector competition and the same unpredictable weather as Tonny; as Lydia elaborated, “Climate change has affected us very much.” The risk inherent in agricultural business also made it more difficult for her to secure loans and consistent revenue. The pandemic only exacerbated this – Lydia’s Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO) group, where community members save money together and lend it to each other at reasonable rates, stopped meeting due to COVID-19, further challenging her access to finances. 

However, with the training and mentorship provided by ICCO, Lydia was able to find ways to continue expanding her business. Prior to the pandemic, the financial training she received through the High Flyers programme allowed her to separate her accounts and save money for future ventures. Furthermore, her mentor also encouraged her to forge new connections with other High Flyers, and keep in touch with her customers more consistently via social media and phone. This tactic allowed Lydia to seize the opportunity presented by the many new farming businesses which opened in the area during the pandemic, allowing stock in both locations to continue growing. Lydia affirmed:

“My mentor has helped me a lot. He creates even market opportunities for me by referring people to come to my business.” 

Kennedy, ICCO Uganda

Kennedy, a fruit farmer with a poultry business outside of Nebbi Town, was especially subject to hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Kennedy previously faced problems such as expensive feed, access to markets being difficult due to the isolated location, and weather-related setbacks, exacerbated by the Nebbi District being one of the driest in Uganda. However, in his case, the impact of COVID-19 was compounded by personal hardship; aside from customers’ reduction in disposable income leading to lower sales and an increase in theft, his younger sister fell ill and passed away in August 2020. Kennedy was the one to cover the medical and funeral expenses, as well as take on financial responsibility for her children. 

Despite all these challenges, with ICCO Uganda’s support Kennedy was able to use the skills he had gained through the High Flyers programme to preserve his fruit venture, selling his poultry business to cover the expenses. As he had previously begun to keep record of his finances, he was able to track changes in his income, and save up more effectively. His previous business growth under the programme, which facilitated the acquisition of a loan from his SACCO and allowed him to buy land in 2019, also ensured he was able to persevere despite the impact of the pandemic. As Kennedy has said:

“I now keep track of my revenue and expenses; I can see when my revenue increased.” 

Maureen, Goodlife Medical Center, Enterprise Uganda

The Goodlife Medical Center owned and run by Maureen in Nansana is another example of a High Flyers business that flourished despite its existing and new challenges.   

Maureen has no medical experience of her own, which initially made it difficult to secure the trust of her clients. This was exacerbated by a larger clinic opening nearby. Maureen had also struggled to access finances and lost further revenue at the beginning of the pandemic due to lockdowns.  

Maureen had been supported by Enterprise Uganda since 2012, joining High Flyers in 2019. Maureen’s mentor suggested she move to a new location to extend her services, and, as the pandemic hit, offered close support to ensure she kept her existing customers despite the move. Maureen consequently moved even despite the pandemic, allowing her to stay open even during travel restrictions, as the new clinic had space to house staff for several weeks. The larger building also allowed Maureen to offer more services such as COVID-19 and laboratory testing, increasing her earnings. The High Flyers programme had additionally introduced Maureen to supplier credit, making her clinic more competitive. She has now used the scheme to pay off a CT Scan machine.  

Finally, as Maureen stressed, the programme helped her feel more empowered as a female entrepreneur overall. She summarised that

“Using the knowledge I have gained from the programme, I have been able to finish our house and my kids are able to go to school. I have gained many benefits”. 

Alex, Prosale Good Price, Enterprise Uganda

Alex is the owner of the Prosale Good Price wholesale and retail shops around Kampala, which includes a storage location and several mobile money kiosks. 

Before the pandemic, Alex had trouble managing his 20 full-time employees, struggling with theft and high turnover rates. The pandemic also resulted in Alex’s mobile money business losing profits. 

Despite this, the support Alex received from Enterprise Uganda and the High Flyers programme ensured his business continued to evolve throughout the pandemic. The business planning sessions encouraged Alex to implement better HR and financial management, allowing him to hire branch managers and improving his relationship with his employees. Alex’s mentor also had a significant impact on his business, introducing him to a new business management system to prevent further theft, helping Alex to physically reorganise his store, and advising him to only stock essential goods once lockdown began. Alex also employed bicycle boys during this time to allow his customers continued access to his goods. Finally, Alex’s previous relationship with Enterprise Uganda and his refinancing of past loans had allowed him the funds to purchase land for a new warehouse despite the difficulties of the pandemic. As Alex himself says:

“When I talk with my friends about my business and my success so far, I can’t fail to talk about Enterprise Uganda. If it wasn’t for them, I would not be where I am right now.” 

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