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This article is part of a series: Spotlight on Female Entrepreneurs in Africa, celebrating International Women’s Day. #balanceforbetter
The One Planet Summit happened today in Nairobi gathering world and community leaders in Nairobi, to discuss the green future of Africa. While Africa is responsible for only 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, some of the most exciting innovations on climate change adaptations are happening in this continent. An Ugandan entrepreneur, Brenda Katwesigye, started a business focusing on tackling the plastic waste problem in Africa – through upcycling them into affordable products such as eyewear and construction materials.
Only 4% of waste generated in Africa is being recycled. Brenda’s business, Wazi Recycling Industries, is not only tackling this huge problem of waste – particularly plastic waste, her business also looks to create jobs in manufacturing, a sector that many believe will accelerate economic growth in Africa.
Brenda originally started focusing on eye wear, but soon she saw the tremendous business opportunities with the infrastructure boom in Africa, and she broadened her product offerings to include construction materials. The African Development Bank highlighted in its report in 2018 that as economic growth in Africa picks up, massive investments are needed in infrastructure. However, job creation did not lockstep with growth, and women and young people are the most affected by the slow growth in employment. For this reason, Brenda is focused on generating jobs – and decent ones. “We now have over 20 plastic collectors, many of whom are women. We provide them decent wages and we also buy health insurance for them,” said Brenda.
Having won recognition including Lioness of Africa and F-Lane, Wazi Recycling Industries seem to be on a positive trajectory. Uganda is also ranked as the 2nd top country in the world in terms of women business owners as a percentage of all business owners, according to the Mastercard Index of Women’s Entrepreneurship. The same report finds that 69% of people have positive cultural perceptions of women entrepreneurs – again, one of the highest ratings across the world. So, does Brenda feel she faces any specific challenges as a woman entrepreneur?
She indeed faces challenges as a woman entrepreneur, though quite specific to her industry: “Running a manufacturing business, and also with products crossing into the construction industry which is heavily dominated by men, presents a unique challenge to me. Most of the time, people do not think I actually run the business because it is typically not a “woman’s kind of business”. Most times I have had a hard time convincing potential partners because I have been asked before where the men on the team are – as typically these are the people expected to be successfully running such an enterprise.”
On a positive note, she feels that as the company scales, the bias has also reduced. “People grew to understand us better and many got more and more comfortable with the fact that we could deliver quality products just like the men do.” She also notes that women entrepreneurship is on the rise in Africa; “In Uganda its mostly born out of necessity and the need to survive but nonetheless it is steadily growing. Now more than ever we have many programs supporting women equipping them for growth and sustainability – and many women are taking advantage of them.”
But like many successful women entrepreneurs, Brenda also spoke of the imposter syndrome: “As we have scaled though, the biggest challenge has come from within. I do not feel like I believed in the things I have already done. This has often led to me down playing a lot of my achievements, affecting my ability to sell and close big partnerships.”
But as we hear more stories of women entrepreneurs like Brenda, sharing their successes as well as challenges, we will be able to support them through such journeys. The future is indeed bright for Brenda as she envisions Wazi Recycling Industries’ contribution to the green future for Africa. “As a business, we also hope to create a movement of people beginning to look at waste as value and starting to sort it even at household level.” If I could rephrase Brenda, I think she is creating the African story of rags to riches – but the kind of riches that create inclusive growth, not one that achieves growth at the expense of our planet .
March 14, 2019 at 05:08PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs