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AFRICAN SHOE BUSINESS WITH A SOCIAL IMPACT – AQ INTERVIEW

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Meet Rosette Twizerimana a 28 year old entrepreneur changing the face of the African shoe business. Born in Kisoro district in western Uganda, at the border of Uganda and Rwanda she is determined to uplift her community. She is the founder and CEO of Tandika Uganda Academy a social enterprise startup training young girls and women in basic hand shoe making techniques. She is also a Mandela Washington fellow 2019, African women entrepreneurship cooperative (AWEC)fellow, and Activators Uganda fellow.

Afro Queen (AQ): Tell us about Tandika Uganda.

Rosette (RT): Tandika Uganda Academy is a community based footwear production training school. It offers training in basic hand shoe making techniques and simple machine aided methods. The majority of Uganda’s population is young and 90% of them are jobless. Most of those unemployed in Uganda are women (65.2%). Those who were trained, were trained with soft skills that are useless without employment and yet there are very few jobs.

Through a biweekly training program, Tandika Uganda offers basic shoe-making skills that are simple and accessible without the use of complicated heavy machinery. The training equips young girls and women with the knowledge to start their own shoe-making cottage industries. My vision is to champion the next generation of footwear makers by equipping fellow young people with the knowledge to start their own shoe-making cottage industries.

AQ: WHAT MADE YOU START THIS TYPE OF BUSINESS?

RT: After delivering over 50 job applications to employers, and spending large sums of money doing this, I resolved not to waste more money. I also decided not to face more humiliation that I dealt with at the hands of some of these employers. (asking for outings and other things in exchange for jobs.) I decided to help other young people in the same situation to escape that cycle by creating alternative opportunities. Through something that is reasonable in cost but has potential to scale, I decided to pursue my long-time dream of shoe making and founded Tandika Uganda. To gain my footing I started watching YouTube Videos and consulted with several shoe makers in Kenya, Uganda and visiting artisans.

AQ: What drew you to train women and girls to make shoes?

RT: In Uganda, most young girls who fail to get an education due to a variety of poverty related reasons end up as house maids, prostitutes or somewhere in between. This because most attempts to acquire skills later in life present pre-requisites such as ‘must have O’level certificate’. This becomes a stumbling block that prevents most of them from even trying. For those that manage to find an institution willing to admit them, they end up realizing that time commitment required to train is too long to fit into their survivalist schedule. Through this realization, I designed a two week training program that equips learners with the fundamentals of footwear hand manufacture.

I founded Tandika Uganda to enable young girls of all kinds to be able to acquire skills without the impediment of prior qualifications or education. Tandika is about acquiring skills fast and earning fast. Traditional footwear training facilities take two to three years just to train shoe makers. Their training is modeled around methods that require learners to have the same level of equipment they learnt with. The leather industry is now ‘pregnant’ with opportunity and requires skills that are flexible and adaptable. As a millennial, I am part of a generation that is impatient and wants to make things happen quickly before things become obsolete. I am supporting vulnerable girls desperately trying to escape poverty through inclusive skills and a means to create their own jobs and income.

AQ: How many people have you trained to date?

RT: Since founding my business in 2016, I have successfully trained over 268 women and girls who are actively earning an income by creating products. As a leader I have continued to offer virtual and physical support to help them transition from learner to entrepreneur. Through this process I have not only helped my graduates to grow but I have also grown in leaps due to the unique business experiences each of them has gone through and shared with me. This has offered me valuable leadership skills which I continue to impart on my new recruits. These skills include mentorship, follow through, listening, building trust and strong relationships.

AQ: What has the reception for your service been like in your country?

RT: Poverty and unemployment are in abundance and so is the strong desire to act against them. So, my services are needed in most parts of my country since unemployment for youth is a big challenge and the preferred solution is practical skills.

AQ: How hard or easy is it to start and run a business in Uganda.

RT: Starting and running a business in Uganda is tough. Most of us were educated in preparation for employment but there was very little preparation for becoming an employer and business owner. Starting a business for me has been a lot of trial and error with the idea that one can hopefully keep up with this approach until one finds the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the reality for most people.

From a government regulatory and compliance point of view, some things are becoming easier if you have the capital to cover your bases. On a personal level, there is little emotional support when starting or running a business from friends and family. Most people close to you don’t believe in you and if they do, they want free things which just drains you. The easy part is, because Uganda is a poor country, there are so many problems to solve which presents many opportunities for business ideas.

AQ: Do you get support from government or other institutions in the form of loans or business growth support?

RT: There is so much talk and mention of government support programs in the media but I am yet to access any. I have received some growth support in form of skills workshops from a few civil society organizations but it’s just a drop in the ocean. I am still hoping I can find more solid business growth support.

AQ: Do you see your business expanding to other parts of Uganda and maybe Africa?

RT: Oh Yes!! Like I mentioned, my vision is to champion the next generation of footwear makers in Africa so there is a plan to eventually expand to many other parts of Uganda and Africa. Skills are needed elsewhere in Africa because youth populations are high and very soon all these youths will be fully fledged adults with families to take care but with limited employment opportunities to absorb all of them.

AQ: What have your biggest challenges been?

RT: My biggest challenge is unlocking demand that is willing to pay and become a stable market for all the shoes we are making with love and sweat. We’re also currently challenged with limited space for training, accommodation and production. Many of our students come from remote places and need space for accommodation while attending our training.

AQ: What advice would you give other women thinking about starting a business in Uganda?

RT: Starting a business in Uganda requires a cocktail of passion, patience, commitment, sacrifice and consistency because when times get hard, that ‘cocktail’ is what you need to cross that difficult bridge. Loving what you do lets you stay the course when times are hard.

The other thing is, forget what you learnt in school and become a lifelong learner and relearn things while constantly updating your knowledge in many areas of business most especially financial management skills. Grow a thick skin against the temptations of ‘eating’ your capital and plough back as much as possible till you’re stable.

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