By Agnes E. Nantaba
Barbara Birungi is the director of Hive Colab and founder of Women in Technology Uganda (WITU). She spoke to Agnes E. Nantaba about women’s role in entrepreneurship and technology in Uganda.
What are the key elements in your management philosophy as a manager?
Having the right people/ team to work with; people who are not just in need of money is the key tool. Even as manager, it’s my role to be able to sell a dream to the team such that they take it as their own. Even in my absence, I don’t need to micro-manage or supervise a lot knowing that they will do it like you would have done it because they give it their best. I prefer to empower people as a way of executing the different tasks. While I think of new ideas to grow the company, I can’t be the person who finds the project, solicits for funding and implements the same idea. I therefore prefer to motivate the team and train them to ensure that they can deliver.
What is your assessment of business acceleration, incubation and women entrepreneurship in Uganda?
It is a journey of revolution. Five years ago when we had just started Hive Colab, the whole notion of entrepreneurship, SMEs and technology wasn’t really much. Most people were looking at graduating and searching for jobs rather than start-ups. But as time went by, other players got on board as we built a tech-eco system such that young people not only look at searching for jobs but also at creating their own jobs that also empower the community (social innovation). Incubation and accelerators came in to support start-ups that have the idea but lack the skills and the know-how to start, run a business and see it through.
Getting more women into technology and general business is a key driver in your business. Why did you choose that business line?
I am very passionate about empowering women and coming out of that over dependence syndrome on men. Today, even women are expected to be co-providers and it makes them have the power to contribute to the family decisions unlike in the past. It creates better families and empowers the young girls to aspire to work harder. It works as a role model for the young people. The world is becoming technological with more digital jobs popping up and we need women to be prepared for that boom such that when it catches on in Uganda, women are ready to take it by the horns.
You won the 2014 Winner of the Grace Hopper Celebration Change Agent ABIE Award. Of what impact was the award to your business portfolio?
It inspires me to do a lot more because the success wasn’t only for me but for everyone who works for and supports WITU. When we are looking for funds or people to work with, it’s much easier to get hold of it. It created an endorsement for our work.
What challenges do women face in working to incorporate technology in business and entrepreneurship in Uganda?
The attitude of the girls is really a challenge especially the school dropouts who come when they are helpless believing that money is the only solution to everything and so getting that mentality out of them is a huge challenge. There is the funding gap not in operations but our programme encourages girls to either find a job or start a business at the end of the three months training. With starting a business, we help them build a business plan, fund it with them but in some cases we see really good ideas in them but getting them actualize through funding becomes a challenge. We have tried the youth fund programmes or KCCA youth fund initiatives but it hasn’t helped much because the number of people required per group is too big. While getting the money might be easy, execution for ten people gets too big for the different projects. Most of the women think technology is not relevant so it becomes a challenge getting them to understand the relevance of technology in businesses.
How are you working to solve such challenges at WITU?
Letting people see the importance of IT and the opportunity it creates in the market is what has helped us. Inspiring them and showing them what is working is the way to go like getting them relate to situations as near as in their homes.
What is your reading of women entrepreneurship in Uganda in the next few years?
There is a lot of potential from just establishing micro business to creating opportunities for women such as expanding to sell to export markets. With technology, they don’t just aim at domestic markets. We need to embrace technology and to be in a much better position as women entrepreneurs. It’s not about being educated but having an idea and finding support that can help build it into a business.