Using technology to help women entrepreneurs break barriers in Uganda

27 September 2016
ITC News

As Ugandan capacity-building project ZimbaWomen gears up for its Technology for Business summit in Kampala this month, Switzerland-based venture capitalist Seedstars World is preparing to hold its annual competition to determine Uganda’s best startup. So it only made sense that ZimbaWomen and Seedstars linked up to hold the two-day gathering – a connection that will benefit the dozens of entrepreneurs planning to attend.

‘We have a synergy with Seedstars,’ said Sherifah Tumusiime, chief executive of Zimba Group Ltd., an ad tech company that provides technical and software solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). ‘They are trying to reach out to more female entrepreneurs, and we have 150 to 200 women coming to the summit.’

ZimbaWomen, the group’s flagship project, seeks to create opportunities for women to participate in the economy by providing access to skills and training for female entrepreneurs.

Seedstars Group, which holds annual global seed-stage startup contests for emerging markets, will provide a pitch training session during the 28-29 September conference. The Geneva-based group also became one of the sponsors of the summit, joining the likes of Facebook, the United States mission in Uganda and the International Trade Centre (ITC). Conference speakers include Facebook’s public policy manager for Africa, the presidential adviser for trade in Uganda and the co-founder of !nnovate Uganda.

ZimbaWomen is a beneficiary of ITC’s Netherlands Trust Fund III programme, which aims to boost the export competitiveness of SMEs in the tech and business process outsourcing sectors in Uganda, Kenya and Bangladesh. ITC connected ZimbaWomen with Seedstars after discovering that the startup competition was scheduled to take place the day after the business summit ended.

‘It’s a strategic partnership for both entities,’ Tumusiime said, noting that some of the entrepreneurs attending the conference are likely to pitch at the Seedstars event.

Breaking business barriers

The theme of the summit is how to break business barriers using technology – a topic that was chosen because most SMEs in Uganda still use traditional media for marketing and reaching out for new business, Tumusiime said. Conference participants will learn how to use digital marketing, social media, Excel and other tools to advance themselves.

‘This fits with so many of the things we are doing to empower women and get more women to use technology,’ Tumusiime said. ‘‘Most women in Uganda don’t know how to use these tools. They know how to go onto social media to talk to friends, but not how to market their business. Men also adapt to technology easier than women do. We are going to teach them that using technology gives you a broader reach.’

That reach could extend far enough to show women how to access finance – the number one problem for female entrepreneurs in Africa. One of the conference sessions will address this issue, which is exacerbated by the fact that women in Uganda and other African countries often lack the capital needed to obtain loans.

ZimbaWomen plans to distribute a survey to find out how conference participants use technology and whether they face difficulty obtaining funding for their businesses. The organization will follow up to see what kind of impact the summit had, to see whether participants benefited from the sessions.

‘We anticipate a big impact on job creation,’ Tumusiime said. ‘Also we expect that it will bring jobs for Zimba, because they will see what we do. We anticipate more work for us and more work for the women, because they will make linkages at the conference.’

And the icing on the cake, of course, would be for one of the companies headed by a woman taking part in the Technology for Business summit eventually to be declared Uganda’s best startup at the Seedstars competition that follows.