She started her company with only US$300 generated from jewelry business.
The early rural life could have easily ended Rusia Orikiriza Bariho’s business dream. She was born and raised in a remote village of Kabale, South Western Uganda, where the only work she could do was to help her mother weave baskets, make beads, and jewelry for a living.
To make the situation even worse, her family could not afford to pay for her secondary education.
But the support extended to the family by a relative towards funding secondary education, and later Makerere University for a bachelor’s degree in Library and Information Science in 2007 which was a turning point for Orikiriza.
“After entering Makerere University, I started making and selling handmade jewelry using the skills my mother had taught me,” she says.
“I made the jewelry from waste paper collected from university offices, earned enough money to support myself and to help my parents pay school fees for my siblings.”
The best opportunity for her business to grow came a few months when the government banned importation, sale, and manufacture of plastic bags in the country on claim that the population was using more than 300,000 tonnes of plastic bags that later found their way into the soil, posing a great risk to human and environment.
“Many people did not have appropriate alternatives to plastic bags. So, I discovered that the waste paper I was using to make jewelry could also be transformed into paper bags,” Orikiriza says.
In 2009, she established Oribags Innovations, a company that deals in the design, manufacture and marketing of environmentally friendly bags manufactured from agricultural waste, wastepaper and natural waste fibers, using US$300 generated from jewelry business.
The company, located in Buloba – Buyala Industrial Park, now employs 30 people in the production of 50,000 bags per month in a low-tech, zero-carbon production process that emphasizes natural beauty over mechanized perfection.
In addition, the company also produces wall hangings, jewelry, and boxes made out of paper from wastes of wheat straw, elephant grass, and other natural fibers.
Though she could not disclose the company earnings, Oribags Innovations, is now estimated to be Shs500million (US$ 138,730).
But it has not been easy for Orikiriza to grow the company.
“It needs strong commitment and sacrifice,” She says. “For over two years, I operated with no profits and I had to struggle to maintain the business. I have had a lot of help along the way (including Uganda Industrial Research Institute researchers).
“I have also come to appreciate that mentoring and networking are vital, and that it is better to start small. The skills you develop as you overcome the challenges of growing your business are priceless.”
As such, Orikiriza has won several awards including International Alliance for Women, “TIAW World of Difference Award” for her efforts to promote women economic empowerment awarded in Washington DC and 2012 fellow of the US President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
She is also Young Entrepreneurs Director to the Board of the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association (UWEAL), all courtesy of Oribags.
Now Orikiriza’s vision is to become the leading producer of environmentally-friendly products and services in East Africa by 2020.