NFT Consult jumps hurdles to become one of East Africa’s top HR companies
Most people start at the beginning, but Elizabeth Ntege likes to start at the end. Before undertaking any project, the Ugandan telecom engineer, one of three owners of NFT Consult Limited, knows where she wants to end up even before she figures out exactly how to get there.
‘I begin with the end in mind in everything I do, and I am inspired on a daily basis by the impact my company has had on my employees and their families,’ Ntege says. ‘I therefore feel personally responsible for the sustainability of the business, because so many people depend on its continued existence and success.’
Ntege and Janat Kiwanuka began NFT Consult in 2005, and they have watched the company grow from a small Ugandan enterprise into one of the top human-resources firms in East Africa.
The company works with the International Trade Centre (ITC) though the Netherlands Trust Fund III project in Uganda that seeks to create and support jobs in the information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services (ITES) sector by enhancing the export competitiveness of 30 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The NTF III programme is funded by the Dutch government, through the agency Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI).
Ntege says the association with ITC ‘has helped springboard the development of NFT Consult’s information and communications technology (ICT) business incubator, which is designed to support emerging next-generation ICT businesses’. She is especially excited about the upcoming marketing material check that will be conducted in August in Kampala by an ITC marketing and sales expert.
‘NFT Consult was initially set up to address the niche in the market for the sourcing and provision of quality employees to businesses in the IT, telecom and banking sectors,’ Ntege says. ‘We started off by providing recruitment and manpower outsourcing solutions in Uganda, we then got requests from customers in other parts of the region.’
As a result, the company broadened its activities both geographically and in terms of services offered. Now with operations in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and the United Republic of Tanzania, NFT Consult’s services include executive search, payroll and benefits management, among others. The company has 70 core staff, including 47 women, as well as more than 1,600 contract workers who together support 63 medium-sized and large corporations in East Africa.
That didn’t happen overnight, and the road to success wasn’t without its pitfalls, some of which remain. NFT Consult still faces unpredictability, as most contracts with clients are for less than a year, as well as an uncertain social and economic environment. Like many SMEs, NFT Consult struggles to obtain affordable financing for business growth without collateral. Interest rates on loans, credit facilities and overdraft facilities are in the double digits, Ntege says. In addition, the capacity of the skilled workforce is limited, with a high attrition rate.
Although being a woman running a business hasn’t been a serious problem, Ntege recalls that she and Kiwanuka had difficulty early on accessing executives and growing at a reasonable pace in the ICT sector – even though both are qualified professionals. ‘We were only truly able to break through and realize what we had hoped to achieve in this sector after Badru Ntege joined the board as chief executive officer a few years later.’
Retirement is at least a decade away, but Ntege already has the end in sight. After leaving NFT Consult, she plans to ‘concentrate on working with young people in my community and mentoring start-up businesses.’
She adds: ‘Hopefully I would have built a self-sustaining company that will continue to have a positive impact on the lives of people associated with it.’