Sarah Kitakule, a Private Sector Development specialist. PHOTO / Joan Salmon


From World Bank to championing women in business

What you need to know:

Sarah Kitakule, a private sector development specialist worked with Public Service before moving on to World Bank, International Labour Organisation and the Commonwealth Secretariat. She is now a management consultant supporting female entrepreneurs.

The name ‘Sarah Kitakule’ is synonymous with the private sector and women economic empowerment.

She is one of the enviable people in the entrepreneurial circles having worked with the likes of World Bank, and Commonwealth as well as the ‘who is who’ in the private and government circles.

Ms Kitakule credits all that to her formative years at Gayaza High School. It was here that her life was shaped to the confident, and resilient person she is. She was shown that in whatever she did, giving up was never an option.  That was coupled with her parents showing and telling them that education would change their lives.

Destined to make the most of every opportunity and surely seeing one at every turn, even as she pursued her Bachelor of Commerce at Makerere University in 1984, Ms Kitakule made use of her free time to buy and sell blouses.

“There is a lot of free time at university hence choosing to vend second hand clothes which I bought from Jinja market which was popular then. The trend was going to Jinja every Tuesday morning, buy and return to wash and iron them before contacting mainly old girls from Gayaza or members of Scripture Union who mostly resided in Africa Hall while I was in Box. Once the stock was all taken, I would plan for the next week’s trip using part of the proceeds from the previous sale,” she shares. The venture started with capital of Shs7,000 from a friend who was into photography.

After university, Ms Kitakule had a stint with a small agribusiness enterprise dealing in cereals and other farm produce that was started by the children of the late Rev Wilson. She worked as an administrator but later moved to Ministry of Commerce as an external commercial officer.

“While a friend had got me in touch with the family that offered me my first job, I had also applied for public service jobs; economist at Ministry of Economic Development (currently Finance) as well as commercial officer at Ministry of Commerce (currently Trade). I got both positions and had to make a decision among the three jobs. While I had decided not to go to Ministry of Finance because I did not want to go back to economics, I needed to choose between private and government employment. So I sought my father’s guidance who being old school, said public service was more sustainable than a private company,” she says.

Turning down opportunity
With the choice made, Ms Kitakule had to go to the late Emmanuel Mutebile (the Bank of Uganda Governor ), who had recruited her for Ministry of economic development to turn down the offer.
She also wanted to go for further studies hence the advice to suffer a little (earning a low salary) yet  attain her goal. Ms Kitakule thus resigned from the private company for the ministry.

Apart from working in various positions that many only dream of, Ms Kitakule also has a belief that she should not stay in one place in the name of becoming pensionable after 40 years.
“I prefer to have a variety of experiences. That makes my CV quite rich because I have experiences from different organisations and countries as well as subjects,” she says.

At the ministry, Ms Kitakule was charged with looking at trade between Uganda and other countries, promoting trade, and traveling. That package seemed more attractive.

The small government pay opened her eyes to another opportunity of selling cookies. She sourced these from friends who were good at making them, having met them through another friend.

“Living in Kamwokya as they did, every evening, they gave me a ‘kikapu’ [basket] of cookies that I took home and later to work to start selling. I enlisted the help of an office messenger who helped me distribute them to the kiosks around Parliament Avenue and National Theatre on credit. In the evening, he collected payment from them after their sales. I would then pay the makers after removing my profit before picking another batch of cookies,” she says.

While at the ministry, Ms Kitakule did a post graduate diploma in international trade on scholarship through the ministry in 1989 at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi, India. Thereafter, she was attached to the Export Promotion Board. Later in 1991, she did a Masters degree in Business Administration at ICPE & Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. On returning, she resigned.

However, it was also during Museveni’s era where the private sector was getting a boost. Luckily, a friend introduced her to Dr Kalema who had just returned from USA and was starting Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) consultancy and information services.

It was a policy unit at the time, funded by USAID to support the manufacturers in doing research, creating dialogue between government and the private sector. At UMA, Ms Kitakule was appointed as a senior policy analyst and deputy director in 1992.

“I learned a lot from him alongside Dr James Mulwana (RIP). He involved me in investment trips with the President. I also became the first support to Dr Mulwana when he became the Thailand consulate hence training me on how to process visas. It also meant being part of private sector delegations that went to Thailand and that way, I got involved in improving the business environment for private sector development. Under UMA, we did the first national forum which was a success in designing solutions to improve the private sector,” she says.

She then worked with contractors of private-public dialogue leading to a two-year USAID project before moving to independent consulting.

In 1997 a friend; Lillian Kahenano, contacted her to offer voluntary services at Uganda Women Entrepreneurs’ Association Limited (UWEAL) as the executive director.

“That is how I got engrossed into women empowerment. However, prior to that, I had also started business; Kitty’s Bridal, which consumed all my leave days as well as lunch and after work hours, stretching to 8:30pm. With that extra time, I trained my workers, travelled to purchase the dresses (wedding and evening wear) and met clients,” she says. Even while at the ministry, Ms Kitakule taught during lunch hours (Business organisation) at a small training centre on Jinja Road as well as on Saturday.

At UWEAL, she picked up interest in supporting women. Eventually, they got some resources to hire a full time staff. Ms Kitakule also later became a chairperson of the organisation in 2004.

Ms Kitakule went on to work with the World Bank Group country office as the coordinator for Small and medium Scale enterprises)  before moving to South Africa with International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Managing entrepreneurs
Ms Kitakule was then asked to manage a women entrepreneurship programme for five countries (Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia) for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2011.

“After a lot of deliberations and considerations regarding pension and the like, I finally chose to leave IFC and join ILO based in Ethiopia,” she says.
In the same year, Ms Kitakule moved to London and worked with the Commonwealth secretariat in the gender section working on gender and women economic empowerment for over eight years.

Currently, Ms Kitakule is an independent consultant at SB4U and that came about when she heeded to advice as she was leaving Commonwealth.

“I was advised that my LinkedIn profile should have the right catch words for the areas I want to work for easy identification should one need my services. I gave someone my CV and paid them to write a better LinkedIn profile. It was on LinkedIn that I was found and asked to do some work for the SB4U Platform.

SB4U is meant to increase trade and investment between Uganda and the European Union. It is thus a private public dialogue mechanism engaging with government, European investors, European companies present here and local companies in Uganda) in order to find solutions that will improve the business environment for the operations of the tripartite arrangement.

“We are set up as a partnership between the government of Uganda, PSFU and EU,” she says.