Women changing Uganda's face of real estate, construction industry

L-R: Nissi Victoria Nannozi, Doreen Kyosimire,Imelda Magdalene Namatovu and Cissy Namaganda. PHOTOS/ COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • Forget the old stereotype that the world of construction is just for men. Not only are construction firms focused on recruiting women at all levels, females are also assuming more leadership roles.

The rugged landscape of construction and real estate is dominated by men but there is a generation of women, women of steel who are scaling the unforgiving rock to the top of the cliff and taking the lead. They have beaten all odds to do jobs that would ordinarily be left for men, and are excelling at them. 
Here are a few such women who deserve to be recognised as we clebrate International Women’s Day.  

Doreen Kyosimire
She is a lecturer in the department of Architecture and Physical Planning at Makerere University Kampala, where for over 15 years, she has taught Architectural Design, Interior Design and Basic Design. Kyosimire is a holder of a kind architectural PhD. 
Two weeks ago, Kyosimire graduated with a PhD in architecture. Her research looked into low-cost housing and gender, making her the only Architect so far in Uganda with Gender expertise in Architecture production and education.

Hated math
Shockingly, Kyosimire was not always good with numbers. She was not born with a cute, multicoloured abacus in her hand. She hated mathematics all through primary school, a factor that makes her incredible journey to the top of the architectural world all the more heroic. 
“My dad taught us mathematics from a very young age. I remember I would use my fingers to add when he gave me numbers to add but if the number was more than 10, I could not get to the answer because I always ran out of fingers,” she says.
That frustrated her and she ended up looking at math like dirty dishes she didn’t intend to do. All through primary school, she looked at math as being very difficult until one encounter with her uncle when she was in senior one. He tutored her in math, taught her how to think in abstract terms and changed her mind about the subject forever. 
“Math suddenly moved from being my worst to my best subject, which in the long run enabled me to join Architecture school,” she says.

Kyosimire’s body of work is as impressive as her intellectual prowess. While she is an all-rounder in the real estate world, her specialty has mostly been hotels. 
“I have done mostly hotel projects including Mbale Resort Hotel, the only five star hotel in the eastern region. I did the whole range of work from site selection to architectural design to supervision of construction to interior design and procurement of furnishing products from China, Dubai and India,” says Kyosimire.
She also designed Africana hotel Moroto, Kash Hotel Mbarara, Africana Hotel Zambia where she did interior design work and many others.

Kyosimire is also behind the architectural design of the BMK House in Kololo, next to Africana Hotel. She is the brain behind the fancy cladding on this high end building and the interior design too. She was also actively involved in the procurement of material and supervision of the latter part of the tower construction.

Cissy Namaganda
Cissy Namaganda knew the real estate world was her forte as soon as she began working for a large construction company after university in 2006. 
She had just finished a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) but took up a marketing job at the company. As it turned out, she was good at it. She had been promoted to head of operations.
Fast forward to 2011, she would register her first company, Cinam Investments with a business plan to manage properties for other people. She had had five year of experience at the time and she knew the ins and outs of the industry. She knew people, she had been places and she was confident she’d pull it off. 
At the time she registered it, Namaganda was still working for the big property company. She started testing the waters while still working for someone else until 2013 when she resigned. 

Stepping in with both feet
Cinam Investments soon got its first contract to manage operations for another bigger property company that was building and selling condominiums. At this point, she had stepped in with both feet. There was no turning back.
“The company was selling condos mostly to Ugandans in the diaspora. I found out that most of them had been conned by their family members and friends back home as they tried to build a home in Uganda. The only option they had was to buy a finished condo,” she recalls.

She saw an opportunity here. There was a group of people, both here and in the diaspora that were looking for a company to trust with their building projects because they were indisposed. Namaganda started marketing herself thus and in 2015, her company got its first construction project. 
Today, her company has built more than 80 homes, several schools, malls and other properties. She still manages other people’s properties under Cinam Investments, but the construction business is running under Cinam Constructors, which is a subset of the main company. She also runs a cleaning business under the same entity.

Selling integrity
Namaganda realised that most people do not have time to be on their construction sites supervising and buying materials and paying workers. She also realised that because most people are not conversant with the construction industry, they are defrauded by their engineers and masons. She saw a gap and built a bridge. 
“Integrity is what I sell. When a client agrees to work with us, we become their representative at the site. We become their managers. We become their paymasters. We procure materials, execute the works and report to the client. Some clients have cried tears of joy upon seeing their finished house after months of spending money,” she says.
Namaganda is not a mason, nor an architect, nor a plumber, nor a mason. She’s a business woman that brings all the right professionals together to do exactly what you are paying for. 

Nissi Victoria Nannozi
Nannozi is the proprietor and Managing director of Nissi Classic Cleaners. She started the cleaning company in 2014 and formerly registered it in 2015. She started it as a small laundry mart in Mukono, strategically located near the university to serve the staff and students’ population. 
 “Before opening Nissi, I was working for an organisation dealing in HIV care in Mukono town. It was a five-year project that encompassed 22 districts. However, one year into the project, the funders threatened to pull out and dropped some 12 district off the project. I felt insecure. I didn’t want to suddenly find myself unemployed. So I started the laundry business as a side hustle,” says Nannozi. 
Nannozi had no experience neither in business nor in commercial cleaning. Nonetheless, she made up her mind that she was not made to take stress from the uncertainties of formal employment. 

“When we were not washing clothes and beddings, we would go people’s homes once in a while to offer what I can call deep cleaning services; removing cobwebs, cleaning kitchens, scrubbing floors, etc. We could see that there was hope,” she says. 
In 2016 December, she moved the business from Mukono to Kampala in search of the big bucks. Business in Mukono was not as good as she had hoped. When they moved to Kampala, they kept the same business model, cleaning homes on top of washing laundry.  But Nanozzi’s sights were on a office cleaning because that is where the big bucks were. 

“Having cleaned homes for some four years, we got our first office client round 2017. This was the time to become a professional company, so we got our first office,” she says. 
Today, Nissi Classic Cleaners is a fully-fledged company with an office at NIC building in Kampala’s Central Business District. The company has 10 important office clients on top of the other cleaning jobs that come and go on a daily basis. 
While this sounds like success, which it is, Nannozi says things were far better before the covid-19 pandemic and the hope is to go back to the good times and surpass them. 
“The two years that went by without business took us so backwards. But we getting up again,” Nannozi says with hope.

Opportunities for ladies
Nannozi says while most cleaning companies are owned by men, she finds that people would rather hire a woman cleaner than a man cleaner. She says that companies owned by women tend to be favored during the bidding process than male-owned companies, which presents an opportunity for more women-owned cleaning companies. 

Imelda Magdalene Namatovu
Namatovu was one of two ladies in a class of 21 when she graduated with a diploma in architecture from Kyambogo University in 2012. That is how male dominated her field is. But that did not stop her from conquering the architectural world with her bare hands. 
For more than 11 years of her work, Namatovu has worked for several companies, including Fundi, Mbaawo Timberworks, Archstone, Cinam, and others, while also running her personal architecture company of the side. 

On top of doing a lot of architectural work, she is an avid interior designer. Some of the well-known properties where she has employed her talents include Fairway Hotel,  Arcadia Suites in Kololo, Victoria Mall Hotel in Entebbe, a presidential head office in one of the neighboring countries that she can’t name for security reasons and many others. 

“While I worked for interior design companies, I was also doing architectural work in my own company. This has tended to be very exhausting because we have to work trans-night sometimes in a bid to beat deadlines and keep clients happy. But this is the nature of our work, so I do not cry about it,” she says. 
She adds, “I find that people are usually pleasantly surprised to find that the person behind their architectural work is a female and I think they welcome the change as a breath of fresh air,” she says.

She adds that the fact that she is an assistant architect (diploma holder) is usually a welcome development because most clients are looking for affordable house plans. She has worked on a low-cost housing project called Beera Landiloodi where they help low-income earners to become property owners at a fraction of the cost. She has designed and executed more than 35 homes under the project.