Valeria Nassolo sits in the boarding lounge in anticipation of Uganda Airlines’ flight, UR 206. Any minute from now, there will be a call to get onto the plane.
She is containing her excitement as the business class voyage to Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, is her maiden flight. She looks forward to sights of a new kind of world from the economy class, the nervous feeling of the airplane’s wings slicing through the immaculate clouds but most importantly to the reason for which she is taking three days off actively running her company, Val Media Consultancy, to participate in the Rising Woman training.
The Rising Woman initiative, coordinated by Monitor Publications Limited, Dfcu bank and Uganda Investment Authority recognises, celebrates and promotes a culture of mentorship among businesswomen in Uganda.
“I expect to network with the various women in business that have made it to a level I am yet to reach. I am excited to visit their sites. I expect to learn from their experience and get skills that I will apply in my business, to take it to another level,” she says.
There are other nine businesswomen with similar expectations as Nassolo’s. They were part of a business proposal writing competition and they were awarded in November last year. Part of the reward is an all-expenses paid trip to Nairobi for a three-day business training. The morning of the Rising Woman conference is an occasion to tap into the expertise and personal experiences of celebrated African entrepreneurs.
Kezzy Mukiri, an entrepreneur and executive director of Ignite Trade Africa, says the buzzwords for her today are cooperation, linkages among governments, private sector and development partners. She insists businesswomen should spread their wings beyond Uganda.
“Understand the relevance of your brand to the world in a bid to get market and establish partnerships,” she says in her first remarks before delving into how she has built a reputable events management firm across East and Central Africa.
The subject of women working solely crops up and the entrepreneurs believe culture, mistrust and low self-esteem can be blamed for the habit.
Mukiri challenges women to collaborate in order to increase productivity. “Be clear with your vision, have clarity on your purpose and you will know what partnerships you need. Write your vision down and speak it out. Be deliberate on choosing your associations to match your goals. Map out your personal development and build your visibility by determining the story you want the world to associate your brand with,” she advises.
The subject of leveraging digital platforms to cross borders was part of the conversation and women businesses can now compete with global firms, especially if they utilise social media channels.
Chico Amadou, the founder of Chico’s Innovators Limited, has spent his recent years identifying, coaching and investing in Africa’s most impact-driven innovators. He uses his 60 minutes to talk business growth and sustaining that success for the next 100 years. It feels more interactive and hands-on as the women plot goals they wanted to achieve in five to 10 years.
Three goals in 100 days
“The goal is not to make a big leap in one year. You will get exhausted, frustrated and get into associations with people who think like you but do not have the resources. Give yourself three simple goals to achieve every 100 days and ensure they align with each other,” Amadou says.
But there is no way these rising businesswomen will achieve their goals without proper internal processes, delegating business operations to workers, hiring thought provoking teams, recognising the weaknesses and strengths of their businesses.
“If you want to build a brand that will change people’s lives, by five years, you should put systems in place. We hire friends, family, some who know how to sell our vision better than us but cannot execute it. If you cannot put internal systems in place, pay consultants to do it in the early years of your business,” Amadou adds.
Anne Gaitha’s experience as founder of Regal Africa and executive director of Organisation of Women in International Trade (OWIT) stirs the belief they can handle international trade hurdles.
She probes businesswomen on whether they have done their market research on global trade policies, have communication strategies that effectively tell stories of their brands, if they have a competitive edge, are using technology to automate processes and keeping proper records. But also, closing financial gaps such as using equity, investment club funds, government funds, invoice discounts or debt because capital is key for one to compete globally.
Why you are borrowing?
“The main thing here for you to know how much you are borrowing and what you are going to do with the funds. Building a relationship with your banker is very important. They need to understand your business,” she says, emphasising there is money out there.
Mumbi Gichuni, managing director of Epilson Publishers, hardly borrowed in the early years of her business. She says a big part of her business has relied on social capital to survive and hints on transacting on goodwill. For most part of the training, the facilitators got the rising women’s thoughts in several directions. Nassolo admits her expectations are exceeded.
“When I am away, my business must run. I have been away for three days and my business has been at a standstill. I have to hire someone to do the work while I am away. I will concentrate on building partnerships and securing a mentor in the field,” she says.