Training opportunity for young women and girls in entrepreneurship skills: Smart Girl Team Leader, Jamila Mayanja, tells us more.

 

Charity M Namala: Good Morning Jamila, happy to speak to you today. Could you please tell us about yourself and what you do? 

Jamila Mayanja: Thank you. My name is Jamila Mayanja, a social entrepreneur. I am the founder and team leader of Smart Girls Foundation Uganda, a social enterprise that empowers girls and women to lead a healthy and economically sustainable lifestyle. We support the girls to develop and positively give back to their communities. Under our tools program we train young women and girls in carpentry, welding, mechanics, electrical installation, and house painting. We provide mentorship to startups, office space, matchmaking, and market access. Our STEM program offers carrier guidance to girls in school to study well. We also allow a few young boys and men to benefit from our initiatives.

 

Charity M Namala: Could you please tell us how the young women you work with fared during the pandemic – and some testimonies on how they have been able to survive and thrive? 

Jamila Mayanja: The pandemic affected many young women, especially the startup up businesses that used up their capital during the lockdown.

We witnessed some businesses closing during this period, but also other innovative businesses were able to survive. We kept in touch with many businesses that we guided to rethink their business models to overcome the pandemic challenges. For example, the ladies in our tailoring class started making cloth face masks when the pandemic hit; this enabled them to survive and also get support from outside their business. These ladies expanded their business and were able to get contracts to do face masks for the US Embassy, National Water, and other clients, thus boosting their incomes. Another business that survived was one that bakes cookies, which started delivering cookies to homes that wanted snacks from outside of their home. We also have a   business that does gift sprays which adjusted their model to do small surprise gift hampers/packages delivered to families during the lockdown for emotional healing. We advised most businesses to use social media for advertising, marketing, and taking orders. For the businesses that closed, we also kept in touch with them, advising on other available options to pick up and start again.

 

Charity M Namala: Thank you so much, Jamila. How do you recruit the young girls, and what is the duration of the training programs?

Jamila Mayanja: We recruit young girls from schools and those out-of-school in the communities.

For the schools, we inform the school administration about our programs, and they give us access to the students. We reach out to the out-of-school girls through partnerships with the community leaders. In the schools, we teach the girls how to make reusable pads, recycle plastic, make bags, and give them these bags with some educational material. The girls in candidate classes also get solar recycle bags to enable them to read (at night) for the final exams (given the electricity challenges in some areas in the country). These programs give motivation and a reminder to the girls that education is essential.

The training we conduct is under our Girls for tools program, where girls learn skillsets for three months. We recruit 150 girls who learn the different courses such as, tailoring, mechanics, electrical installation, including business and computer skills. After the three months of training, we follow up with the participants for a year and support them to look for startup capital and startup tools. If they successfully set up and employ other young people, we [graduate them from the program to continue independently]. However, if they still want our services to guide them on how to grow their businesses [further], that’s when they join our Business girl magic program at a small cost. The Business girl magic program is the corporate part of the Girls for tools program for young ladies who are already making some revenue in their businesses.

 

Charity M Namala: As a social entrepreneur, how have you fared during the pandemic, and what lessons can you share with us?

Jamila Mayanja: As an entrepreneur going through the pandemic has not been easy.

But because of my passion and innovation, I devised ways to survive during this period. I started to aggressively sell our products to enable us to invest the sales income in the business. We embarked on fundraising and got funds that helped in running some of the business activities. For the girls, who we trained that managed to make and sell masks, bags, and other items, they gave a percentage of their profit back to our work. We also came up with means of skilling the girls at a low cost to minimize our expenses without compromising quality.

 

Charity M Namala: What can be done to increase the participation of young people in entrepreneurship? 

Jamila Mayanja: To increase participation of young people in entrepreneurship starts with our education system.

The pandemic has shown that our education system should change to be more practical and hands-on. The government should emphasize vocational training not to be looked at as a last resort when students fail at school. Many young girls in high school who come to the center to train don’t want to go back to school after experiencing our hands-on skills training. But we still advise them to go back to school because they need [high school education] too. We need to create more spaces where young people can be innovative, think, and blossom their creativity. In addition provision of friendly financial facilities that can help [young people’s] enterprises thrive in such dire situations.

Lastly, I cannot end without talking about the internet; it is critical for business growth today. During the recent internet shutdown, many young people struggled to get orders and make sales in their businesses, and we need not take this for granted. My final words to young entrepreneurs, especially the [young] women in business, is never give up, innovate, stay unique and be different at what you do.