“Giving Angels Wings to Soar”- this is what the tag said on a bracelet given to me by my godmother, my Aunt Margaret Crosby before I left to go to Uganda. My family, friends and co-workers celebrated with me when I got the news that I was going to work with Eminyeeto, a girl empowerment program in the village of Ruhiira, Uganda for 6 months.
The Eminyeeto program aims to help reduce the risk HIV in young women through several components, one of which is through female-led business enterprises. To ensure a girl has the ability to live the life she chooses, with equality, dignity and respect, the business enterprises have to be both sustainable and replicable. It is through these business enterprises that women have financial empowerment and emotional well-being. During my time in Uganda, the business enterprise that I worked with was a bakery business.
It was in my third week on the project that I realized the senior bakery business was losing money. Production goals were not being met and there were some internal problems within the business. The management team and I quickly set out to turn this situation around. We faced many challenges because unfavorable behaviors had been instilled and ongoing for months and had taken root. Additionally, the Eminyeeto business model was a new concept and operated quite differently than this village and neighboring villages were accustomed to.
In order to diagnose problems, develop a realistic management plan, and implement changes, I had to remove any personal agendas that I had on my end. I made the decision that my personal success was not of importance, but that I wanted to make a lasting contribution to this beautiful country and its lovely people. The Ugandan people give visitors their very best, and I it was my feeling that I owed them the same. It was in my third month that I realized this would be the only way that a sustainable and replicable business model could be achieved. As a leader, I encouraged both myself and my team to focus our thoughts and energy on controlling the things that we could control. I had already embedded myself into the Ugandan culture. This enabled me to have a greater understanding of the everyday hardships that I didn’t have to deal with personally because of where I lived in Uganda and where I am from. I imagined being in the footsteps of the ladies I worked with as much as I could and developed a better understanding of what being flexible meant. I did this by spending almost all of my time with Ugandans both during work and outside of work.
The first part of my project focused on diagnosing problems which meant a countless number of meetings with the bakers both as a group and as individuals. I also worked with experts in the Millennium Promise team in order to work towards legalizing this business properly. By collaborating with local leaders and MVP team experts, the Eminyeeto management team and I worked eagerly during the last 3 months of my project. Our time was spent developing a constitution for the business, re-writing employee contracts, focusing on budgets and financial models, investigating new villages to start the second bakery business, formulating interview questions for the new bakery candidates and securing a space where all of the bakers in the senior bakery could work together and become a team. As a result, the senior bakery business was able to start operating again and a new bakery business was well on the way to beginning in a place called Bwizibwera.
I made many lasting friendships in Uganda and I also now have a Ugandan family. I am richly blessed. I have wonderful family and friends in the U.S.A. and in Africa. I want to dedicate this last blog to the following people:
Eminyeeto team- Dr. Yanis Ben Amor, Naomi, Christine, Robert, Henry; MVP- Dr. John Okorio; Friends- Federica, Catherine, Esther, David, Raj, Mohammed, Andrew, Moses, Atlanta, Duncan, Allan, Ian, Alex, Ronald, Bashir, Pauline, Stella, Ruth, my sweet little Annie, Penny, Herbert, Chrytone, and Nasreem; your kindness, support, and joy will forever be in my heart.