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Tugende Design: A social Enterprise Uplifting Communities Through Selling Jewelry, Crafts & Bags

Meet Tugende Design, a social enterprise committed to act, and to help vulnerable children and women in  Uganda by designing and selling unique, colorful and bold products for women on the go. The entreprise also provides sustainable income to women in poverty and uses fair trade practices in order to uplift communities. This Is Uganda team caught up with Dr. Monica Swahn, the Executive Director and Creative Designer at Tugende Design for a chat.

What is Tugende Design?

Tugende Design is a social enterprise business. We want to uplift communities by creating, buying and selling beautiful jewelry, crafts and bags made by talented but vulnerable women who are seeking to support themselves and their families. We use fair trade practices and also plan to reinvest funds by supporting community projects. This business is an extension of my work as a professor of global health and fulbright scholar, trying to understand and prevent high risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use and HIV transmission, primarily in the slums of Kampala.

I love the word “Tugende” and use it as a way to encourage us all to “let’s go”, let us make a difference, let us help people in need. We can all do something, we can all have an impact. I feel very blessed to support these creative, talented and hardworking vulnerable women, mostly in the slums of Kampala. We design jewelry such as necklaces and earrings and different types of bags to sell primarily in the US.

What are the items that you sell on Tugende Design?

We have focused mostly on jewelry and bags. In terms of our jewelry, we use the traditional paper beads in new and creative ways to make necklaces and earrings. As an example, we make beads out of old medical textbooks to link these beaded necklaces to my work as a global health professor. We also have many colorful bags including purses and shopping bags made out of the traditional African prints including kitenge and dashiki.

The social enterprise business sells beautiful bags in African print & necklaces made from paper beads to support projects in Uganda

How did you come up with the Tugende Design idea

As a global health professor, I have worked in Uganda for 7 years. My research on alcohol, drug use, violence and HIV in Uganda seek to strengthen communities and improve the health in vulnerable populations. However, this research takes a long time so I have been looking for other ways to support communities. When I discussed these ideas with my collaborators and women across Uganda they have told me they want to find a market for the products they make. They tell me they try to sell their crafts, jewelry and bags at various markets but that the demand is low and prices have decreased because of increased supply. So I have worked with many of these women to create new designs, and to use paper beads and African fabrics in new creative ways. The idea is to sell these new products in the larger American market and to expand to Europe when we gain momentum.

What were some of your motivations for starting your business?

The motivation is to give back to the communities where we work. My goal is to find ways to uplift and empower women who are creative, talented and hardworking but have difficulties providing for their families. But, I am also very excited about the beautiful jewelry and bags we have made. I hope people will buy them because they are unique, colorful and beautiful. However, because we are a social enterprise business, people will also buy our things because we support a larger cause.

The enterprise supports vulnerable women and children through products that are also made from recycled paper, textbooks and fabric scraps. (Photo credit: Tugende Design)

How long has Tugende Design been around?

We started the concept and began designing products a little less than a year ago, fall 2016. And, while we have sold products online since then through shared sites, we just started our own website a few weeks ago.

How long has Tugende Design been around?

We started the concept and began designing products a little less than a year ago, fall 2016. And, while we have sold products online since then through shared sites, we just started our own website a few weeks ago.

e-commerce is still a growing trend in Uganda and Africa. How do you get customers into your online Tugende Design shop?

Because we just started our own online shop a few weeks ago, we are still strategizing for how to find buyers and how to best identify our target groups. We have been fairly active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and are seeing results. But, we are still exploring and learning.

What were some of the ways that you dealt with the unique technical challenges of your target market?

I can’t say that we have figured this out yet. We spend a lot of time looking at other websites and social media of other businesses to get ideas, define target population and how to best present our products.

Dr. Monica Shawn, the Executive Director and Creative Designer at Tugende Design, also does global health research as a Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University and Makerere University

How often do you get offers by people who want to buy items on Tugende Design shop?

We have had a few sales since launching the website last month but anticipate getting new customers and steady growth over the next couple of months.

If you could give one piece of advice to Ugandan online shop owners, what would it be?

It takes a lot of work to get products listed and photographed to make a beautiful website that conveys confidence in the business and its products. Beautiful photographs and great texts that highlight the products well is the key to inspire potential customers to make a purchase.

If someone wants to get in touch with you in Uganda, where do you they find you?

I spend time both in Uganda and the US, so it is easiest to reach me by email

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Proudly Ugandan

How this woman is empowering youth in slums to turn their passions into sustainable careers

Unemployment remains one of the most highlighted challenges for young people in Uganda today. The 2014 Uganda Census Report indicates that Uganda’s population between the productive age of 14 and 64 is slightly over 18 million. with 58% of this population group unemployed, it means that Uganda’s total non-utilized labour potential is 10.4m as of 2014.

One woman is trying to change this status quo.

Meet Noeline Kirabo, a change agent and the founder and C.E.O of Kyusa Uganda, a non-profit organization that is empowering out of school youth to become employable by starting their own business or get available jobs.

“Our organization focuses on youth between 15 to 25 years of age to help them discover and harness their passions and make them employable in the fast growing entrepreneurial environment of Uganda.” Says Noeline.

It all started as a dream when Noeline herself was working a full time, well-paying job. She desired to do something that would leave a legacy. Having a background of not being in tertiary education herself, she wanted to offer the same hope to youth who withdraw themselves from endless possibilities because they consider themselves unemployable due to dropping out of school.

The organization has been in existence since 2014 and has grown from its pioneer lot of 10 students to a total of 250 graduates

‘My passion derives from my experience as a former school dropout. I educated myself using online courses. When I got my first job, there was no turning back. At the height of my career, I was challenged to think about the legacy I wanted to build. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my passion was in people developing more so empowering youth to live purposeful and fruitful lives.’ She says.

Kyusa seeks to eradicate the issue of youth unemployment by accelerating youth employability. The organization has been in existence since 2014 and has grown from its pioneer lot of 10 students to a total of 250 graduates with great testimonies about the impact Kyusa had on their lives.

The initiative offers programs that include business startup trainings for potential entrepreneurs, business acceleration for small and micro entrepreneurs, employability class for youth seeking to enter formal employment.

“Support programs are also offered to participants including mentor matching with business icons, exposure filled visits to gather hands on skill, support to attend vocational training, apprenticeship training, apprenticeship placements, business branding and incubation. “ Noeline says.

Kyusa helps youth discover and harness their passions to make them employable in the fast growing entrepreneurial
environment of Uganda

This rich syllabus has seen majority of the Kyusa alumni successfully running small and medium enterprises.

Julius, one of the alumni from Kyusa started a catering business that has grown into a full restaurant operating in Kisenyi. He employs four people and is working with Kyusa to start an apprenticeship program. He also runs an Events Management Company where he offers ushers, public address system and outside catering services and employs 20 youth on part time basis.

Another beneficiary Henry, runs a commercial farm on eight acres of land. He grows fruits and vegetables. Henry employs 15 youth on his farm and he is also working with Kyusa to launch an agribusiness training center for youth on Nakaseke.

Deborah another alumni,  has started a pineapple jam business and is in the process of standardizing the brand so as to sell across the East African market.

Noeline is a 2013 Kanthari fellow, 2014 Hive San Francisco fellow, 2015 Cherry Blaire Foundation Mentee, 2016 Community Solutions Program fellow, 2017 YALI Regional Leadership Center Fellow.

This rich syllabus has seen majority of the Kyusa alumni successfully running small and medium enterprises.

The journey has not been all rose and no thorn for Kyusa. Noeline started out with very little funding from friends and family. She had to learn to get the job done with the few available resources which is a valuable lesson up to date. But like they say, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way!’ Overtime many people have bought into the vision and partnered with Kyusa to get to this point.

Noeline looks up to her mother who made her believe she could be anything she set her heart to. She is inspired by Pastor Moses Mukisa of Worship Harvest ministries who has taught her a lot about vision, people development, leadership and resourcing for the vision.

Kyusa ultimate vision is to build a replicable model that will empower 10,000 youth annually across the African continent through the collaborative efforts of partners across Africa.

By Victoria Achom. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.

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She quit a UGX28M job to pursue her dreams- And she’s winning!

Ever since her childhood, Maxima has been a trendsetter and leader with a keen eye for detail. Having passed her exams with flying colors Maxima joined Makerere University to pursue a Degree in Electrical Engineering, which she excelled at – graduating with a First Class. She was on the Premier team that built Uganda’s first hybrid car – the Kiira EV.

She then joined the Petroleum industry first as a Joint Ventures Coordinator with Total E&P Uganda and shortly after as field engineer with Schlumberger where she went to work in Pointe Noire, Congo. However, despite all this seemingly successful career, Maxima’s true passion was elsewhere – in the Cosmetics industry. And after three years of working at Tullow Oil where she was working as an expatriate and traveling the world, she quit her USD 8000 a month to follow her dream. She first created a comprehensive business plan which she shared with her grandmother for strategic guidance from an experienced and successful entrepreneur. Livara was then officially birthed in May 2015.

Maxima’s Livara Shea Butter Cosmetics

Livara is the first brand in East and Central Africa to manufacture natural and organic lipsticks in the region. Livara lipsticks are made using Ugandan Shea Butter, Castor Oil, beeswax and Brazilian Carnauba Wax. Since their releases in June 2016, the lipsticks have sold more than 2000 units.

Livara is the first brand in East and Central Africa to manufacture natural and organic lipsticks in the region

Livara focuses on extracting shea butter from the shea nuts collected by local farmers and processing the butter into different hair and body products and lipsticks. Livara products are sold both locally and internationally. All Livara products are retailed in Livara stores which are the first of their kind in Uganda. A one brand, one stop shopping center for 100% Ugandan manufactured natural and organic cosmetic products. The products are manufactured, stored and branded with international standards. The first store was opened on the first floor of The Cube in Kisementi and eight months later, a second and franchised store was opened at Kampala Boulevard. Livara is already implementing a franchise business model right here in Uganda. Talk about trendsetting with international standards!

To date, the Company employs 11 people 8 of whom are women and it has developed a network of well over 2000 farmers on the outskirts of Soroti organized in smaller groups. Because the shea tree is cut down for charcoal, it is important to sensitize the communities about the financial value of not cutting down trees. Shea butter is a $3 Billion industry as of November 2015. The communities are also sensitized about alternative means of revenue acquisition, such as farming other oilseeds like sunflower.

Maxima plans to set up a Shea Butter and oilseed processing factory soon. This will create employment directly and also increase the demand for nuts and seeds. Through the Livara foundation, some children of the impoverished farmers are sponsored in good schools in Soroti. The plan is to have at least 250 children sponsored academically within the next 10 years.

Maxima has established herself as one of the most powerful young female entrepreneurs in the country



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Unsung Heroes

How Amina Osman is Living her Childhood Dream At 24 Through Helping Refugees

Amina Osman is a young Ugandan of  Somali origin volunteering with the refugees and Inter Aid Uganda, an NGO ensuring that refugees in Uganda live in safety and dignity. Her family moved to Uganda from Somalia in 1990, after a civil war ravaged the horn of Africa when she was an infant.

“As a young girl, I always wanted to help the refugees. I grew up hearing about their constant hardships from relatives and this gave me the urge to use my privileges as an educated young girl to make a difference in their lives,” Amina says.

She opens up during a session at a consultative meeting with young people that took place on June 8th at Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) in preparation for the Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees. The meeting, supported by the United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA) brought together young people from  both refugees and the host communities to discuss how they can use the opportunity of the Summit to show the world that young people are an asset for inclusive sustainable development of both refugees and host communities.

Amina’s story illustrates that this is possible.  “On arrival in Uganda, we were granted refugee status and found the first settlement in Nakulabye in “Kiyindi”( named after the big number of Indians staying there). I am now pursuing my degree in Business computing from Makerere University Business School,” She narrates.

Amina Osman (holding a microphone) moderating dialogue with young refugees and Ugandans in kampala in preparation for the Solidarity Summit. (Photo by Reach A Hand, Uganda)

For her having grown up with a refugee background, being able to assist refugees especially young people is something she has always wanted to do from her dreamy days as a young girl.

Last year,  Amina signed up for Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU), Peer Educators Academy, programme which empowers young people with skills and information on livelihoods and skills development, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, as well as HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.  Those who go through this programme for a period of one year because trainers, sharing the skills with their peers.

“The the skills and information I have gained from this programme will  facilitate my work with refugees, especially those of my age bracket,” Amina says.  “The fact that I am peer educator gives me insight and knowledge, it fuels my passion even  more.”

Amina says that working and interacting with young refugee men and women, she has discovered that most of them are willing to integrate and  be part of the host community.

“Even when most of them have lost almost everything important to them, their willingness to give life a fresh start is humbling and my drive  towards making them feel comfortable while at it. ” she said, with a pensive look on her face.  “I admire their ambition and optimism, seeing how eagerly these young refugees are willing to learn something new and blend in their new homes and communities.”

A section of the refugees in Uganda during the consultative meeting. (Photo by Reach A Hand, Uganda)

For Amina, the one year she has spent working with refugees she has seen that they have the creativity to come up with a whole new blend of jobs, which she argues can be employment avenues to other young people – both refugees and host communities. This is one way of improving the livelihood of the entire community, thus catalyzing  development.

According to UNHCR Uganda is experiencing the fastest growing refugee crisis in the World, with over 1.2 million refugees and far reaching economic and social impact.  A big population of them are young people. From Amina’s account, there lies a lot of potential for social economic development.  

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