Mona Faces: Taking over makeup artistry in Uganda one face at a time

“The future is female and African”- is a phrase I’ve heard many times but it was only after my conversation with Mona that I had the feeling of having met a true embodiment of this phrase.

Mona is the young entrepreneur behind the brand “Mona faces” which has taken the Ugandan makeup artist scene by storm and is certain to leave an everlasting mark on the entire African continent.

I had the opportunity to conversate with Mona about her business, her life, and her future.


Who is Mona?

Umutoni Monalisa, also known simply as Mona, is a self-taught makeup artist, a self-proclaimed perfectionist and a connoisseur of beauty.

Mona is a 25-year-old entrepreneur whose passion has led her to the path to mastery of makeup artistry and who is set to take Uganda and indeed Africa by storm, one master class at a time.

Mona holds a degree in Office and information management which she obtained from Makerere Business School.

I taught myself how to do makeup through YouTube - @monafaces Click To Tweet

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

Shortly after Senior 6, unfortunately, my father passed on leaving me with the formidable responsibility of taking care of myself and my siblings in whatever I could.

I remember thinking to myself that it was now my responsibility to take care of my family. In my senior six vacations, I started working for Bold in Africa- an upscale fashion boutique in Kampala- have I had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by the founders of the brand, Nunu Mugyenyi, and Angel Kalisa, who taught me how to run and manage a business.

Having learned the fundamentals of business from these two ladies, I partnered with some friends in my first year at university and opened a retail outlet- buying clothes from downtown and reselling them to clients in the urban areas.  

With all this taking place, I still nursed a deep passion for beauty and makeup. I started reading lots of magazines, watching tons of YouTube videos, following makeup artists on Instagram and learning from them with the dream that I would be able to someday turn this passion into profits.

With the help of a friend who worked at blush media, I organized my first ever photoshoot showcasing my talent, to my surprise and delight, my work went viral within a short amount of time and as they say, ‘the rest is history.’

I officially started Mona faces in October 2014, which is when the pictures from my first professional shoot went viral.

Women have often been told to choose between work and family, what are your thoughts on this? Can a woman have it all?

Women can have it all- but not all at the same time. I think a woman can have a wonderful career as well as a great family, what matters is the timing.

A woman might decide to first focus on her career or her business until it grows to the point where she can step back from it a little and give her attention to her family and vice versa. But then again, I’m single so I wouldn’t know.

All I’ve known for a long time has been work, work, and more work, but I do believe that it’s all about timing.

Women can have it all- but not all at the same time - @monafaces Click To Tweet

If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be and why?

Invisibility. I’d like to be invisible because I love working behind the scenes.

What would you say African entrepreneurs should keep in mind to grow their brands?

African entrepreneurs must stay hungry, that’s the most important thing they should keep in mind.

I think a lot of female entrepreneurs get comfortable very easily- if she can pay her rent, and look good in the process, maybe buy a car- then she is satisfied.

I think the goal is to achieve as much as possible and never let yourself get comfortable. At the time that I started Mona faces, there were no recognizable makeup studios in Kampala, I had to learn and build my brand and in the process sort of paved the way for other makeup artists to be able to join the industry as well.

If you could have anyone in the world as your mentor, who would it be and why?

I have been blessed with so many people in my life that I count as mentors already, right from my very first bosses, Nunu Mugyenyi and Angel Kalisa, who still mentor me to this day, all the way to friends and family.

Ann Kansiime also plays a huge mentoring role in my life, I admire her success and ambition. Internationally, though, I’d say powerful women like Oprah Winfrey are a great inspiration.

Honestly, If I could have every successful businesswoman mentor me, I would. I admire powerful business women across the world.

You can never fail, you can never fall, you simply learn - @monafaces Click To Tweet

What is your greatest business lesson?

Like a lot of people, change terrifies me and it wasn’t until I realized- you can never fail, you can never fall, you simply learn- that I finally started getting comfortable with change.

My greatest business lesson so far has been the fact that you never know whether what you are doing is going to succeed or not, but you should keep in mind that at the end of the day, you cannot fail and you cannot fall, you can only learn.  

Tell us about your toughest day in business, what challenges did you face and how did you solve it?

First, there have been so many tough days, I almost fail to pick one. My business is extremely people-centric, which basically means, people’s opinions matter a lot.

On my toughest day, I’d done the makeup on a bride and she was very happy with my work. However, during her function, someone took a few unflattering pictures of my bride- it was a case of a bad camera, poor angles, and very bad lighting- and posted those pictures on social media.

Social media can be great for business but in some instances, it can also be the cause of great anxiety, especially if you are being bullied. I got a lot of negative feedback and my brand was vilified, it was very heartbreaking because I knew that my bride had been very pleased with the work I’d done for her.

Eventually, though, some beautiful pictures were posted and my brand was exonerated which proved to me that when you do good work, that will always stand as a witness.

What’s the next step for Mona Faces?

Mona is going to be doing many more master classes. At the start of this journey, I didn’t know that my brand would grow to this level, and right now, I feel that there are many more young people that are now where I was two years ago and I would love to be able to teach them how to get to the next level.

I also see myself producing my very own makeup line in the future.

As a bonus question, Mona was asked what advice she would give to all those hoping to follow in her footsteps and start their own makeup artistry brand; here was her inspirational advice…

“Start where you are with what you have. When I started, I literally had a little bag with one tube of lipstick, one eyeliner stick and one small box of powder, and with that, I was able to book my first bride and slowly add to my inventory.

I taught myself how to do makeup through YouTube and by following international makeup artists on social media. You can never know until you start, so you need to just start.

Do not fall into the trap of waiting for the perfect time, the right amount of startup capital, the right client etc., just start and slowly you will see yourself move from one level to the next”.


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Dinnah Nabwire & Mary Ajwang: Raising awareness for reproductive health with Voices for Health Uganda

I was drawn by the role women had in giving life but distressed by the hurdles they experienced Click To Tweet

Dinnah Nabwire and Mary Ajwang are transforming their society by focusing on sexual and reproductive health. They are both behind the Voices for Health Uganda, a platform that harnesses young voices on the needs of reproductive health.

Drawing from their diverse experiences and being from different parts of Uganda brings much-needed balance to their work as co-founders.


You’ve both chosen to build careers in global health, and particularly in reproductive health, despite having very different backgrounds. What was the moment you each knew that this was the field for you?

Dinnah: Working with Marie Stopes International through Global Health Corps gave me an opportunity to refine my career path with a focus on sexual and reproductive health. Through supporting programs related to advocacy and research on access and utilization of services, I have come to appreciate that sexual and reproductive health is central to all development interventions.

Through supporting programs related to advocacy and research on access and utilization of services, I have come to appreciate that sexual and reproductive health is central to all development interventions.

Mary: My initial exposure to reproductive health was during my clinical training and working as a frontline health care provider in health facilities in rural Uganda. I was drawn by the role women had in giving life but also distressed by the enormous hurdles they experienced.

I, therefore, decided that I was going to take on career opportunities that refine my ability to prevent maternal death through amplifying the safe motherhood message.

Did you both have a specific career strategy around addressing family planning?

Yes, we wanted to close the gap in access and utilization of family planning services. So we conceptualized the Voices for Health Uganda as a platform to harness young and often marginalized voices on needs and aspirations of productive health.

What are your predictions for your industry considering the recent moves by the US presidential administration to cut funding to global reproductive and sexual health initiatives?

Knowing that the US government is the largest bilateral funder for sexual and reproductive health globally, we are aware of the negative implication this has on financing for services in countries such as Uganda that are among the 24 family planning priority countries.

Globally, 225 million women have an unmet need for family planning whereas in Uganda the unmet need stands at 62%. This means that funding cuts towards family planning can impede the progress that has been previously made on access and utilization –this is unfortunate.

We, through Voices for Health Uganda, are working to close this gap by raising awareness on the need to connect global and in-country challenges to funding for reproductive health.

Globally, 225 million women need family planning in Uganda the unmet need stands at 62% Click To Tweet

You two are quite the dynamic duo in advocacy and in life! What’s been your favorite part of leading alongside each other? What’s been the most challenging?

Favorite part: We enjoy debating concepts and taking the time to draw real life experiences to our work. Mary and I come from different parts of Uganda and thus each share different realities sometimes informed by our communities. Struggling to strike a balance in such cases has been the most intriguing.

Most challenging: Integrating our expectations in the voices for health Uganda within our daily activities and commitments remains a work in progress for us –we just know it has to work.

Sometimes as young women carving out our professional paths, we fear that asking for help, not knowing all the answers, and making mistakes are signs of weakness. What has your partnership taught you about this?

We were drawn to working together based on our different expertise, knowledge, and experiences. These have taught us to continuously appreciate each other’s competencies and encourage us to keep focused on our goal.

In the midst of your hustle, how do you each like to unwind and take care of yourselves?

We make time to hang out over caramel milkshakes at our fave place, #CafeJavas.

Mary, what’s one thing that inspires you about Dinnah?

Dinnah is intelligent, hardworking and has had exposure working with non-profits –things I wanted to learn and grow in.

Dinnah, what’s one thing that inspires you about Mary?

Working with Mary has continued to shape me into a positive-oriented and goal-focused person. There are times I would have preferred to step out, and all I needed is a positive guide.

What’s one thing you’ve each learned lately that you want to share with other young advocates interested in pursuing a career in social good?

Invest in growing networks through offering a clear value addition and seeking the opportunity to leverage skills, information, and engagement with others in the space.

For instance, we offer to take up high-level networking opportunities during partner-led events such as meetings and conferences.

What three words come to mind for each of you when you think of a true leader?

This was hard for us to choose! But, we think courage, resilience, and empathy are foundational for a true leader.


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Best Ayiorwoth: Most communities have remained ignorant of women’s potential

I just focus on my goal and that really encourages me to continue with my work - Best Ayiorwoth Click To Tweet

Best Ayiorwoth is the founder of Girls Power Micro-Lending Organisation (GIPOMO), an establishment that supports girl child education in Uganda, by giving microloans to women who make a commitment to grow businesses while keeping their girl children in school.

Founded in 2011 when Best was only 19 years old, today GIPOMO has helped put more than 170 girl children in school and counting. We recently did an interview with Best to find out more about her story and the future of her remarkable organisation, GIPOMO.


Tell us about yourself and your story that led to the creation of GIPOMO

My names are Ayiorwoth Best, I am from the Northern part of Uganda (West Nile) Nebbi District. I come from a family of seven (four sisters and two brothers) but lost both my parents when I was between the ages of 8-13 years. That incident pushed me hard to become a social entrepreneur promoting girl child education by financially empowering mothers of girl children. With the purpose of starting or expanding existing businesses so as to provide a girl child’s educational needs efficiently.

Hence I am the founder and CEO of Girl Power Micro-Lending Organization (GIPOMO). After the death of my dad, my mother had all the seven of us going to school. But as a single mother, she wasn’t able to pay for all of us and provide all the necessary needs for us at the same time. Unfortunately, she passed on when I was still in primary school and that decreased my chances of getting a higher education. Even though my elder sisters and brother tried hard to support me in reaching a certain level of education, they could only do so much despite their best efforts.

I then joined a vocational institution and did a certificate in catering and started working in a restaurant. With the in-held pain I had about my education, I used my first salary to start up the above organization.

Why do you value education and what does it mean to you?

I value girl-child education especially because most communities have remained ignorant of women’s potential and women are often not given a chance to prove their capabilities.

Granting girls a chance to receive adequate education gives them an opportunity to realize their potential to develop the country or transform the world. If a girl is taken to school, she will also take her daughter to school and together they will be able to contribute to the transformation of the nation. This way, the world will end up knowing the great potential in a woman.

Have you been able to replicate the GIPOMO model in other regions?

I would have really loved to do that but unfortunately that requires additional finance and currently, GIPOMO doesn’t receive any external funding.

We haven’t been able to replicate it in other regions yet, but it is in our five-year plan. In the meantime, I have tried to sell this idea to people in other regions hoping they can implement it for broader results.

gipomo logo

What challenges have you faced as a young female social entrepreneur?

Well, at first people in my community didn’t take me seriously, they looked down at me because of my age, young as I was.
I’ve also struggled to secure funding for the organization being a sole founder with very limited funds.

My determination and sincerity strengthened me during those difficult times otherwise I would’ve tumbled under the pressure of having to work doubly hard, taking a stand to convince men, local government and others about my ability as a young woman to start an organization like GIPOMO.

At first people in my community didn't take me seriously because of my age Click To Tweet

What gives you strength to do the work that you do every day?

I just focus on my goal and that really encourages me to continue with my work even when things aren’t going so well.

Best_Ayiorwoth

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Conversing with my clients (community) and having sessions with the girls where we discuss their challenges and achievements among other issues.

Tell us about the Girl on Skills program and how it’s going so far.

The Girl on Skills program is an additional project specifically rendered for the girl-child drop outs. We came to learn that we have many girls who would have loved to study but because of certain conditions are not in school. We register those girls, take them to vocational training schools and pay their full tuition. Their parents get to pay us back by installments with zero interest.

This can enable a girl to be self-reliant or even take herself back to school with the money she is earning if she is still willing. This program is really going well, however, we do not have enough funds for it so we are just limited to a small number of girls every year. Right now, that number is 10 per year.

What are your future plans for GIPOMO?

We are planning to open up a vocational training institute so as to support the girls on skills program.

Also, we plan to open a Sacco so that we can lend funds to parents who need to urgently clear their child’s school fees and this would then be paid back at a later. We have learnt that it is difficult sometimes for mothers to get immediate cash from their businesses to pay for their child’s schools fees, so this is a way to make that available to them in times of need.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time to unwind?

Write story books.
Sit and share with friends
I love swimming
Singing and playing Keyboard

Wow, what a touching story. You are a remarkably strong woman Best. And we’re truly honoured here to be able to share your story with the world. You are amazing.

Thank you.


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Maxima Nsimenta: How to build a successful cosmetic brand

maxima nsimenta
Maxima Nsimenta is proving to herself & the world that quality can be made in Uganda Click To Tweet

Ironically, some young people are spending countless hours drafting and sending job application letters in search of white color jobs, while those employed, are quitting pursuing their passions in businesses. What’s more, the latter are not only becoming regional brands but also going ahead to create employment.

With the ever eluding job opportunities and increasing cost of living, it is time young Africans started thinking of what “they can do to their countries” instead of the other way round. That said SLA contributor Maureen Murori caught up with a young entrepreneurial Ugandan lady, whose life’s motto is: “Why not?”

Maxima Nsimenta is the CEO and managing partner at Livara, a cosmetics company dealing with natural skin and beauty products. The Steve Jobs inspirational quote: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me,” is what keeps Maxima awake striving to do something different but wonderful!

Maxima and Maureen spoke extensively about founding Livara and Maxima’s personal growth since the venture. Here is what Maxima shared:


For some young people, starting and running a business is a challenging task that they would rather not take up. What was/is the inspiration behind your venture?

While I was still employed as a Field Engineer at one of the world’s largest oil and gas service companies, I had the opportunity to travel vastly. During my travels, I noticed that some of the high-end cosmetics products used oils and ingredients from Africa. It is these oils that especially made the products that much more valuable.

Whenever I’d return home, I’d notice that we weren’t adding value to these oils locally. This seriously perplexed me. In addition to this, after about one and a half years of employment, I stopped getting the fulfillment I initially had with the job. I felt empty and purposeless. It started becoming more of a mechanical aspect of my daily life.

Yet, when I indulged myself in beauty and cosmetics, I felt content. I then proposed to build a company that would manufacture top quality natural and organic cosmetics that would compete with the international brands. However, I’d do it from my country, Uganda. I planned to prove to myself and the world that quality can be made in Uganda. It took me about a year to prepare for Livara; mentally, financially, structurally. Then when I had my minimums in place, I took the leap.

When people are starting out a business, there are several things that they learn on the job. What are some of the things (positive or negative) that you learned about your business or self since starting your venture?

Patience!

Before I started out in business, I was used to getting what I wanted when I wanted and how I wanted it. In business, especially the manufacturing business, everything is based on processes and systems. Given that I’m building my company based on systems, it always hits me at home where it hurts. Not everything is instantaneous; perfection takes time and is worth the wait.

I have learnt to respect people’s time and competencies a lot more. I have also come to understand and learn the value of teamwork from a front row seat, I cannot do everything alone. Business has taught me to learn to trust and rely on people to do their job, a lot more than I used to before.

I have become addicted to knowledge acquisition. Nowadays, I read a lot more to be on top of my game. However, because of this, I realize that I have less time to build my other personal relationships -many of which have been affected. I hope it pays off eventually.

Most importantly, I have become more spiritual than before. I have put my hope and trust in God, to guide and help me with the things that are beyond my control. There are several things that could have gone wrong but suddenly and unexplainably did not. For me, that is my God at work; leading me through this journey.

Not everything is instantaneous; perfection takes time and is worth the wait Click To Tweet

What skills did you acquire either through practice, work placement or learning institution to improve business?

I’m not certain if research is a skill or a culture! But it is the most important thing that I picked up from my previous jobs. I only executed plans after more than adequate research had been carried out.

Before my business, I had three jobs that were all scientific and research based. I’d literally spend nights up learning about different things related to one particular aspect of a bigger picture. It was my job to adequately understand the pros and cons and have a comprehensive yet conclusive position on any decision I made. This research-based decision making has been a fundamental skill for my business today.

Presentation skills: Many may overlook this, but this is crucial. Although acquired and built over time since my university days, presentation skills have become a great acquisition that has helped me to negotiate better deals for myself and my business.

Report writing: This includes writing project studies and reports. This is a skill that helped me write my business plan that won me incubation space at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute where we are based. Had I not known how to write a business plan and adequately present it, I do not know how far I would have come by now!

Communication and interpersonal skills are other skills that keep on resurfacing and pushing me forward. The two keep evolving and changing with different circumstances. So, the basics molded me. And they continue to do so, even today. In the end, I’ve learned that it is always the relationships we have that help to either build us or break us in life.

C.W.E.N-46

What is the greatest challenge you have experienced so far and how did you, or are you handling it?

Opening my first store has been my greatest challenge since I started Livara. To open up a store required me to have a substantial amount of money in place, a good variety of products; an effective low-cost marketing strategy and it would also mean an increase in the number of employees.

Opening the store was imperative for growth. However, it meant that my costs would increase drastically. I had to study the company’s growth since the release of our first products on June 25, 2015. Then weigh the pros and cons of opening a store. In the end, I had to risk it and take the leap. I opened my first store on December 2, 2016.

My dream is to have 6,000 Livara stores around Africa. I also realize that this dream started with the first store, and for me to achieve my dream, I needed to stop procrastinating and open shop!
I continue to review the company’s growth financially and market wisely as we look for ways to expand at the least possible cost.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

My most rewarding experience is when someone sends me a message telling me how my products have improved their life. I started Livara to make a difference in Africa and to impact people’s lives positively. So, when a mother writes to me mentioning how her daughter’s skin is much healthier since she used Baby Opal; or how her daughter’s hair has grown and is more manageable since she started using the Livara hair care line; or when a young gentleman calls me to tell me that his formally receding hairline is back and his hair is thicker; or when a young lady sends me a picture of her smile while wearing one of the Livara lipsticks and thanks me for it; it makes me get up every day and work even harder.

The joy that people get after using my products is the greatest reward for me. Luckily, I live this experience almost daily, and this has helped me go through the challenging moments with more ease.

Maxima Nsimenta started @livara_beauty to make a difference & to impact people’s lives positively Click To Tweet

Maria Auma: Becoming self-employed is one of my goals

Maria Auma’s tips to success: Be bold, know your worth & manage your time Click To Tweet

Maria E. Auma is the founder of Blue Luxury Investments, an investment management company that provides finance and capacity building services to African businesses. This young entrepreneur started her business in 2014 and has since worked closely with African entrepreneurs and private investors in developing strategy, business plans and fundraising.

Maria desires to inspire women out there who are thinking of venturing into business or who are simply looking for the strength to persevere in their business. She currently lives in Kampala, Uganda and enjoys learning about investments, interacting with businesses and investors and finding suitable matches for businesses.


Can you tell us more about your business and how long it has been in existence?

Blue Luxury Investments is an investment management company that focuses on deal sourcing and subsequent investment in viable ventures. The business demonstrates a clear return on equity whilst leaving a positive social impact on the sector in which the project is operating.

Our primary market is Africa, promoting areas of infrastructural development, clean energy, and technology advancement among others. We are passionate about developmental projects and align ourselves with key stakeholders in relevant economic sectors.

What has been your favourite goal that you have achieved so far and which one are you most excited to complete in the future?

I have to say that becoming self-employed is one of my favorite goals. This means that I get to grow-up. I am more aware of life and its challenges, and I take responsibility for my actions and the ripple effect it has on people around me. Having a business gives you some clarity on management and the oh-so-exciting experience of wooing a client. Close to that is graduating college and pursuing my Masters Degree.

For the future, we are spending all our energy setting up a fund for African businesses at the moment. We are optimistic that this fund will contribute to the economic growth of Africa as a whole while socially impacting lives of people that their businesses get funded.

Maria Auma

You help people turn their dream business to reality, what would you say are the main fears that stop people from chasing their dreams?

Fear of failure (risking everything with no guarantees): People are first of all afraid to dip their toes in the water because they have a well-paying job that takes care of all the bills and then some. Making that decision to say good bye to a salary is a very bold and mature move and not to be taken lightly, because the odds of you succeeding are really zero to one, if any.

Fear of the unknown: It’s hard to determine whether the business you are running now will not be disrupted by some new generation idea, technology, or nationalization. The only advice that can be given is to be in constant flux. Always be ready for change and able to change.

Maria Auma is spending all her energy setting up a fund for African businesses Click To Tweet

What would you reckon are the three skills that successful entrepreneurs possess?

Each entrepreneur is unique in their own right and may have a set of skills they are good at and those that they are in less abundance of. However, to be successful it helps if you practice the following skills:

Time Management

It is important to note that time wasted is like spilled milk. You can never get it back. Even before your business kicks off, you need to practice the art of managing and taking control of your time.

Do not let others set your schedule for you, otherwise you become their employee and not your own. Your business needs you to take care of, and nurture it, the same way a growing child needs its parents to be there and shower them with affection.

Know your worth

It’s nice to give charity and offer your time to good causes when you have the extra time to spare and when you can afford it. But when you get down to business, do not let anyone boss you around about how much they think you are worth for your services or products.

Perhaps the first step is to determine your worth, and then bill accordingly. If you keep on giving away tiny bits of yourself for free in business, you will eventually have nothing to give, and will wonder why all the time you have invested into growing your business is not bearing significant fruit.

Be bold

Stand up for what you believe to be right, whether it is your morals and beliefs or simply the way you conduct your business. It’s okay to not always follow the straight road, as long as you are comfortable with it.

This is business, anything goes all the time. There are no rules set in stone that people follow. So try not to beat yourself about certain decisions you make, or worry much about consequences. Life is meant to have mistakes, and we are meant to learn from them.

What three tips would you give someone starting a business?

Plan and Research: It’s important to have a business plan for whatever business you are getting into. Feasibility studies and SWOT analyses help businesses determine the viability of their businesses in competitive environments, so take them seriously.

Adequate finances: Make sure to have saved up enough to start your business. You may decide to fund-raise from close family and friends, which is alright. However create an estimated budget of how much you will need to get the business starting at least, and then may be look at breaking even.

Surround yourself with positive thinkers: It is important to interact with others who are doing business but who are thinking positively and creatively. You do not want to dampen your spirits and drive for the business in its early days by being around people that only complain about one challenge after another.

What keeps successful people at the top is the desire to never stop learning. @MariaAuma Click To Tweet

What excites you most about what you do?

The fact that we get to meet new people, opportunity to travel a little, work with different types of businesses and constantly learning something new, excites us. The thought of being part of a successful business, creating employment opportunities and economic growth gives us passion to get up every morning to face the day.

Maria Auma

What is your memorable day?

My memorable day was when I finally got a partner to share the workload with. Previously I would run the business by myself with a few consultants and independent partner companies, but this did not help the stress of having to run a company and deal with the pressure of deadlines.

Now that I have a partner, it is such a relief to know that they can share that anxiety and dream of direction with me, and that I am finally not alone on my journey.


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Rebecca Rwakabukoza: Stay humble, Stay hungry!

It actually gives hope to have media see women as more than the boxes they have ticked us on Click To Tweet

Rebecca Rwakabukoza is a Ugandan feminist blogger and freelance journalist who writes at the intersection of gender, feminism, health, and social justice. She is currently co-organising dialogue initiatives to improve gender equity in the Ugandan media sphere. As a 2014-2015 Global Health Corps fellow at ACODEV in Uganda, she led efforts to improve knowledge management and communications for the organization.

Rebecca completed her undergraduate studies at Amherst College where she was a United States Student Achiever’s Program Scholar and Koenig Scholar. She spent her summers during college with the Uganda Village Project in Iganga, Uganda Rural Fund in Masaka, and interning at the national daily newspaper, Daily Monitor.


As someone who majored English in college, are you surprised to find yourself working in the global health space? What drew you to the field?

I was lucky that I studied in a liberal arts curriculum so while I majored in English, I took classes across several fields. I was not surprised to find myself in the global health space because while public health was not offered as a major at Amherst College, I was able to take plenty of classes in the field, both at Amherst and at the other colleges in the 5-college area. Also, I interned in the field.

Global health was one of the fields that I knew I would always end up in because it just felt natural. My mother is a nurse, and I grew up knowing that conversations about health were especially important outside the doctor’s room.

You’ve spoken widely on global health and social justice, including at TEDx Live in Kampala. For so many of us, public speaking can be overwhelming.

Why is it important that we raise our voices for what we believe in? Any advice on how to stay calm on stage?

For me too! It was very scary to stand on the stage. I had practiced several times with friends, and the TEDx organizers in Kampala. Some friends in GHC had also filmed me while I practiced and I got to watch myself before. I went over my script several times and was afraid it would sound practiced, so definitely getting to watch myself before braving the stage was good.

This might sound cliche but I think ultimately what helped was choosing a topic I was most passionate about. Speaking from the heart should be scary, but it does have a way of calming you when on a stage. Because you know, if anything, at least I was true to myself.

Rebecca Rwakabukoza 1

What is your major source of inspiration in the face of challenges and obstacles?

I draw inspiration from so many places, depending on the gravity of the challenge. If it feels like Rwenzori Mountain level stuff, then I have to call in the big guns: my mother and grans. They field many calls and sometimes we don’t even talk about what the issue is, but just speaking to them about something random helps.

I am really big on history so I suspect some of my attachment to them is the stories they tell. Plus they are pretty incredible women. I also get a lot of inspiration from archives so I listen to a lot of history podcasts and visit the Uganda Society library to read old books. Digging through history is my happy place. But also, food. I am a stress eater.

Can you tell us about a mentor or advisor who really made a positive impact on your life?

There are so many! There has always been someone holding my hand through life, from primary school to now, seeing a better, more hardworking, more focused, smarter, more empowered version of me and helping me work towards her.

If I had to pick just one, I would say my college advisor, Professor Rhonda Cobham-Sander. I don’t know how she believed in me or why, but she did and it made all the difference.

Rebecca Rwakabukoza says better media coverage is good for women’s health Click To Tweet

You’re currently working on improving gender equity and representation of women in the media in Uganda -so cool! What’s the tie in with health?

Health ties into everything. Some of the biggest issues women face right now are health-related: access to family planning, gender-based violence, maternal health. The most direct answer, therefore, is better coverage is good for women’s health. But the project I am co-organising however, is more than health and the specific women-related issues. It actually gives hope to have media see women as more than the boxes they have ticked us on -boxes that either have to do with our reproductive health or that see us as caregivers in society.

Media that allows for the presence, and wisdom, of women in their coverage and sourcing is good media. It is what media should be period. Anything else is a disservice to the community.

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And you recently became a mother -congrats! As a woman who is identified as a feminist, what are your hopes and dreams for your daughter’s future?

Thank you! My wish for her is that she gets to choose. To choose how she wants to live her life, to choose who she would like to be, and how she would like to contribute to the universe. And if she doesn’t want to contribute, that’s fine too.

Now, the hardest part I suspect is going to be my role in this. I hope I am able to teach her enough and may she -goddesses willing- be an even better, stronger, more badass feminist than I will ever be.

Which accomplishment -personal or professional- are you most proud of?

I am yet to do something and look at it and think of it as my biggest, or best, achievement. I am still working on things and it all only goes higher. My next one is my biggest.

What is one leadership mantra that you live by?

“Stay humble. Stay hungry.”


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Lukunse Betty Paulls: I want to create awareness about the history and culture of Africa

Lukunse Betty Paulls
There is nothing as satisfying as watching a seed you have planted grow @LukunseBettyPaulls Click To Tweet

At 21, Lukunse Betty Paulls has already accomplished more than most women her age could even dream of. The Kampala native who is currently working towards her degree in Business Administration at Ashesi University in Ghana, is also a model, blogger and writer. Most recently, she added the title of social/cultural ambassador to her resume.

What began as a simple idea to find a way to showcase the richness and diversity of African culture has turned into Mutima_Wangu, an online platform that seeks to create awareness about the history and culture of Africa in different settings. Over the past year, Lukunse has directed a lot of effort towards growing the platform. She’s orchestrated everything from picking the concept, finding models and photographers and even doing a bit of creative directing herself.  In her own words “Africa is rich (in culture), let us never forget that”.


For someone so young, you already have quite a list of accomplishments under your belt. Could you share with our readers your story so they understand your journey and how you have managed to take on all these roles successfully?

I don’t see them as many achievements but thank you. To be honest, I still feel like my journey has only just begun. I started writing at fourteen, even though my writing still hasn’t garnered much publicity. I self-published my first poetry collection in early 2015, and the other two books shortly after joining Ashesi.

As for modelling, I had my first photoshoot ever in June 2015. It was a great experience and the support I received from my manager and the filmmakers at the Uganda National Theatre was overwhelming. I’ve done a bit of modelling and had a few photo-shoots since moving to Ghana as well.  I started blogging on and off since January 2015 and have only recently decided to start blogging more consistently and using that as a platform to share my voice and my work. And finally, about being a cultural ambassador, I guess that came about when I realized I could not focus on modelling without combining it with something else. For me, that something was art.

I have no intentions of being a runway model. I have always focused more on the more commercial aspect of modelling than the typical struggle of making it as a runway Queen. And I decided that if I was going to take the commercial route, I wanted to do it in a way that would be beneficial to society. Bearing all this in mind, I went through a period of soul-searching and consulting with my mentors Kobby Graham and Dean TK, and through this the idea for Mutima_Wangu was born.

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I checked out the website for Mutima_Wangu and I think it’s really impressive how you are working to develop a platform that not only showcases but celebrates the diversity of African cultures. How did you come up with the concept and what are you hoping to accomplish through this platform?

The idea for Mutima_Wangu first came to me in my philosophy class. I’m a firm believer in acting on an idea the moment it is conceived and so I knew I had to do something about it. But I also realized that I could not do it on my own, so I started looking for photographers on campus and sharing my idea with them until I found one who was willing to work with me. Next, I scouted potential models for the project.

For Mutima_Wangu, it was never about finding the girl or boy who was perfect for the runway, it was more about finding the person whose composure suited the craft. Through this project, we are teaching people what being African means to us and we demand to be heard. Our ultimate goal is to create awareness about the history and culture of Africa in different settings.

Our goal is to create awareness about African history and culture @LukunseBettyPaulls Click To Tweet

What is the process like for curating the content on the platform? How do you identify the topics that are discussed, what is the research process like and how do you decide on what aspects of the topic are important enough to be showcased and how?

To be honest, the process is not hard. I personally think that there is a lot of content to choose from. I also believe that I am naturally creative. So when an idea pops up into my mind, I note it down. I also get ideas from my sketches, from lectures I attend, from the literature I read and the images I see, from conversations with my neighbors and from observing people I meet.

My sources of inspiration are limitless and once an idea is conceived, I work on expanding it and bringing it to life. Throughout this process of creation, I remind myself that there must be story, a lesson, a history, a piece of information that the idea delivers to the intended audience. In the end, it must be art.

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What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in running this social enterprise?

So far the biggest challenge has been sourcing funds for the project. We are in the process of devising the best strategy to get sponsorship to drive Mutima_Wangu forward. I did not realize how expensive this project would be when I started it. But after completing our first shoot, and seeing the number of people who would like to be part of this project, especially those who would feature as models, I quickly realized that it was going to cost more than I had expected.

It takes a lot of time and effort to come up with a concept and implement it, it takes time to style all the models, to bring the concept to life the way I envision. There are costs involved in shooting, directing the project and securing the right locations.  This means that to keep the project going, we must first find a way to secure the funding we need.

I did not realize how expensive this project would be when I started it @LukunseBettyPaulls Click To Tweet

What have you learnt through this process that you have found most surprising, exciting and/or enlightening in terms of African culture?

I have learnt that African culture is diverse and that it is inexhaustible. It is impossible to capture it in its entirety. For every shoot that we do and for every story that we tell, there are tons more stories waiting to be told. There is a lot about African cultures that is not out there yet in the mainstream media and it is up to individuals to create this awareness. Thank God Mutima_Wangu is one of the many ways to make this dream come true.

I have also learned that with a project of this magnitude someone has to step up and take responsibility for the outcome of the events. And I have risen to this challenge. I am learning how to be in charge of things and how to manage people efficiently. In the long run, Mutima_Wangu has given me the opportunity to polish my creative skills in terms of directing and problem-solving.

So far, what has been your favorite piece that has been showcased and why?

My favorite piece has been the concept of  ‘THE TRINITY’. Originally, it was meant to showcase three divine African females from different African cultures, Spiritism and animist perspectives.

However, it came out a little differently in the shoot, making me realize that the concept had way more potential than I envisioned. I am certain that in the future numerous other concepts/series under this theme will arise.

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What is your vision for Mutima_Wangu moving forward? How do you plan to scale the platform to reach a wider audience in and beyond Africa?

My vision is that Mutima_Wangu will become a large foundation with several affiliates. Like I mentioned before, African culture is extensive and so diverse that we are never going to run out of ideas and concepts to explore and talk about. My goal is to create something with a long-term vision and mission. And despite the initial setbacks that we have encountered, I can say with all conviction that Mutima_Wangu is here to stay and we are not going anywhere. We are still up and running and moving forward every day, along with the rest of Africa.

In terms of publicity, the intention is to use the media to push our agenda even further. Through online publications, for example, the site,  my blog and numerous hashtags, on both Instagram and twitter, we’re hoping to expand the network. Check us out and help spread the word!

Africa is rich, let us never forget that @LukunseBettyPaulls Click To Tweet

If you could leave the readers with one piece of wisdom, to guide them as they strive to delve more deeply into African cultures and understand its richness and magic, what would it be?

My advice would be that they open their eyes to the vastness that this culture has to offer. That they are willing to be optimistic, creative, and diligent when it comes to understanding, being part of and spreading awareness about African cultures.

There is nothing as satisfying as watching a seed you have planted grow, and knowing that it is causing a positive change somewhere in someone’s life. Africa is rich, let us never forget that.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Stacey’s “big move”: Tips for when you’re a repatriate

stacey mwesezi repatriate
@Staceyy_Stace traded London for Kampala and was welcomed with open arms Click To Tweet

Born and raised in London, I’d never imagined living anywhere else —until I graduated from University and joined the working world! The rising cost of living, poor work-life balance and miserable weather (which I will never get used to) slowly made me lose love for my home city.

Meanwhile, the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative was opening my eyes to the opportunities on the continent, including Uganda, the land of my parents. My holidays to Uganda became more frequent —and boarding my flights back to the UK became more of a battle! With my parents indicating that they would move back to Uganda within a few years, the idea of joining them became an attractive option.

By early 2015, I was certain that I would try living in Uganda at some point, but I had no idea it would be this soon —even before my parents! The opportunity arose earlier than I expected and I couldn’t pass it up.

Getting into Jumia Uganda

I’d been applying for new jobs in London, until one day, a tweet advertising an attractive marketing role with Jumia (Africa’s biggest e-commerce platform), appeared on my timeline —and it was based in Kampala.

I reached out to the Country Manager through LinkedIn expressing my interest in the role. A couple of Skype interviews later, I was offered the job and was on a flight to Kampala the next week!

It all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to over think the move or discourage myself. If things didn’t work out, I could easily be on the next flight back to London —so it was worth the shot!

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At times, I was made to feel like an expatriate and at others, a local Click To Tweet

Life in Kampala

Generally, Kampala welcomed me with open arms. My job has been exciting; the sunny weather makes days more pleasant; the social scene is popping and although my immediate family are in London, the majority of my relatives are here, dotted in every corner of the city.

I felt new to the city, but I also felt at home. At times, I was made to feel like an expatriate and at others, a local. I wasn’t quite sure what to refer to myself as, until I learned the term ‘repatriate’: one who has returned to their country of birth, citizenship or origin.

I’ve met a few other repatriates which is encouraging, however I wouldn’t say there’s much of a ‘repat’ scene here just yet, unlike in places like Lagos and Accra. As of now, returnees and repatriates tend to blend in with Uganda’s local middle class and expatriates.

It’s also important to mention that absolutely every one has a side hustle! There are many opportunities to make (legal) side money and it’s the way people overcome the challenge of earning a weak currency. Now that I’m in Uganda, I’ve been inspired to utilise my time better and actively seek paid opportunities beyond my job!

Us Londoners tend to speed walk, it took some time to get used to the laid back way of life Click To Tweet

Main challenges

Note: Having a generator and a mifi means I do not have to complain about power cuts or lack of consistent WiFi.

  • Money: The Ugandan Shilling is not the strongest of currencies, especially in comparison to the British Pound. Travelling abroad now requires more careful consideration than I was previously used to, due to how weak the Ugandan Shilling is when exchanged. Furthermore, a lot of business in Kampala involves dealing in US dollars, which isn’t always easy! However, although I’m earning less than I was in the UK, the cost of living in Kampala is a lot less —so my money does go a longer way in Uganda.
  • Friends: As expected, most people in Kampala have friends whom they’ve grown up with —and having never lived here before, I did initially feel disconnected in that aspect. I had to actively try to make new friends, but I never wanted to come across as desperate! Nonetheless, with the help of cousins, colleagues and people I’d met on previous visits, I’ve networked, met and continue to meet some great people.
  • The laid-back culture: Us Londoners tend to speed walk regardless of whether we’re running late and get frustrated if our train is delayed by any more than 2 minutes. It took some time to get used to the laid back, less time-conscious way of life in Kampala. At first, I criticised it, but later realised it probably contributes to how happy and stress-free most people seem here. The slower pace isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just different and requires a lot of patience if you’re not used to it!

Victoria Mbabazi: I’ve learnt that age is no guarantee of maturity

victoria mbabazi she leads africa

Take a minute to consider that what you watch on TV could determine your future business. Growing up, Victoria Mbabazi spent a lot of time watching the Food Channel. She experimented with different recipes and wanted to study food production at university but was instead advised to study Software Engineering.

It all turned out great because now, Victoria’s three passions are culinary art, technology and agriculture. In 2013, she started Kahwa2Go, a cafe and restaurant with her business partner and mentor. She also works with technology innovation, encouraging women in the tech.

Victoria was part of the 1,000 African entrepreneurs selected by the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) in 2015. Read on to learn about Victoria’s the 40/60 approach to working, her four skills for running a cafe/restaurant and being judged by others as a young #MotherlandMogul.


What launched your interest in the culinary industry?

Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved nothing more than school and play time. As life would have it, play time slowly dwindled away as is the norm for many when all the elder brothers and sisters head out to boarding school.

As luck would have it, I spent most of my lazy days watching the Food Network channel and experimenting with different recipes as my mum made lunches and dinners. I paid no mind to it; it was something fun to do, period.

The first call to fate was when I was joining university in 2012, my gut feeling was I should pursue a food production and hospitality course. However, I was advised that this was not yet a lucrative industry in Uganda thus the Software Engineering course I opted for.

I worked in the technology eco-system all through my four-year course and along the way I met my now business partner who is very passionate about entrepreneurship. He mentored me into both the technology and entrepreneurship industries and before we knew it, we had merged our two passions —culinary art and entrepreneurship. We have been at it since 2013.

Tell us about Kahwa2Go. What do you seek to fulfill with the products/services you provide?

The birth of Kahwa2Go was quite immaculate, my business partner and I first spoke of the concept on the eve of Christmas in 2013. Kahwa2Go is a Ugandan trademarked business of The 2Go Guys Limited providing a quick service, convenient food place for the middle class, commuters, urban dwellers, families or colleagues that are looking for an opportune meeting and co-working point in Ntinda.

Our food menu is a blend of modern fine dining whole meals with a touch of delicious fresh homemade snacks. We also offer a variety of coffee beverages, juices, milkshakes and teas, all with an option of takeaway or dine-in.

Kahwa2Go is already signed up on Uganda’s most visited online food ordering platform, Jumia Food. We also have a steady growth of both new customers from social media and repeat customers.

Kahwa2Go is competing in a market size of 1 million middle class potential customers in Kampala. This market is shared by less than 50 upscale (white collar) restaurants. It’s this fact here that provides an opportunity for us to venture into the food industry.

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How did you go about setting it up?

The initial concept of Kahwa2Go was to establish coffee carts along the streets of Kampala. This did not come to pass due to regulations by the city authority.

In mid-2014, we got some space in an innovation hub, set up one espresso machine and served an average of ten people per day. We embraced our share of lessons and in June 2015, we launched as the first coffee shop to partner with Vivo Energy Uganda at one of their fuel stations in the city center.

Our menu was simple but creative comprising of different hot and cold beverages as well as snacks and casual meals that our customers would enjoy in our fifteen-seater space. This year (2016), we set out to maximize KahwaGo’s potential, closed operations with Vivo Energy and opened an ambient, fully-fledged restaurant and café seating an average of fifty people situated in Ntinda; the heart of one of Kampala’s suburbs.

Our core principles of execution were minimalism, leverage, negotiation and user-centered design. We understood our limits and combatted them head-on by equipping ourselves with adequate knowledge and exposure about the culinary industry as well as entrepreneurship through programs like the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) and the CURAD Agribusiness incubator program.

Also, we have a 40/60 rule when it comes to getting work done. We spend 40% of our time planning and ensuring that we have the right people, organizational and operational structures, equipment and most importantly the knowledge to execute our business road map.

What four skills have you found necessary to run a restaurant and cafe? Why are they necessary?

The fundamental areas of competence are;

  • having the basics of accounting,
  • great passion about customer service,
  • creative marketing and
  • a firm grip on management.

From inception, it is paramount to understand your work; your product and systems. This will holistically inform what kind of marketing strategy to implement.

Once you know your customers, you then dive into discovering what kind of experience they expect considering the fact that you want to create a loop of loyal clientele.

Accounting is a core because you need to understand how money and other resources get in and out, the menu pricing models and be able to interpret the sales and expenses of the business at the bare minimum.

Lastly, great management is the adhesive component that will ensure the employees continually work as a team to understand the all-round needs of the business in peak and off peak seasons.

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What were the unexpected challenges you encountered while starting out?

We knew right from the beginning that starting a business would not be a walk in the park. Being a relatively young entrepreneur at 25 years old, the most astonishing challenge faced thus far is being judged by people based on age vis-a-vis passion and abilities.

The intimidation has taught us that ‘age is no guarantee of maturity’ and successful entrepreneurship is about passion, creative execution and perseverance, the rest is secondary.

As someone who has achieved so many awards through your initiatives, what more can we expect from you?

The awards are a remarkable experience and the lessons learnt payback a hundredfold when you start to implement your dream.

At the forefront of my ambitions is nurturing Kahwa2Go into a self-sustaining and nation-wide recognized restaurant brand but also creating jobs for 50 young people in the next 2 years.

On the technology side, my immediate goal is to mentor more young ladies into the innovation ecosystem. My long term vision is to successfully cross-fertilize the 3 sectors I am passionate about —culinary art, technology and agriculture— to not only inspire the next generation entrepreneurs but also build a legacy.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Sherifah Tumusiime: I love betting on women

Sometimes, the best reason to start a store is because you’re a shopaholic. At least that’s what Sherifah Tumusiime says. Computer scientist turned entrepreneur, Sherifah’s Baby Store UG is the first specialty retail e-commerce website for baby products and apparel in Uganda.

In addition to this hustle, Sherifah is also the CEO of  Zimba Group, an AdTech company that provides technical and software solutions for SMEs. When SLA caught up with Sherifah, we learned what skills multi-taskers need to thrive and what retirement looks like for the Motherland Mogul.


How did you find your way into entrepreneurship?

I’ve always had an affinity for entrepreneurship I think. My first ever venture was selling breakfast waffles to people in my mum’s office. I was 16 at the time.

I’d asked her for an increase in my allowance and she challenged me to think of a way to use whatever I had at my disposal in the house to make money. We had an idle waffle maker so I got cooking and she got selling.

Tell us more about Baby Store UG. Why start a store selling baby products and apparel?

I started the Baby Store in 2012, I have always wanted to have a store —I am a shopaholic. I love shopping. Having a baby informed the decision to make it a baby store.

I started out selling on Facebook and delivering out of the boot of my car in 2012, but that got hectic. I was overwhelmed by orders, so I set up a physical store in a mall in the middle of town. I was still fully employed as well.

Then the overhead costs of the physical location got too high, I was hardly available, and the shop wasn’t really making money. I closed it and moved everything to storage but orders still came in, so I went back to delivering. Then I had the brilliant idea to move from Facebook to a space I could control, my own website.

Why do you think the shop wasn’t making money even as orders still came in?

It was a problem of mismanagement.

I didn’t have enough time to do things like stock taking and inventory sourcing since I was still working full time.

How do you manage running all your hustles?

Honestly, extreme multitasking. I am always doing many things at a go.

It also helps that most of them are aligned in a way and that I am extremely passionate about them. I believe that if you have the will, there is always a way.

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Diaper cakes are Baby Store UG’s specialty

What three skills does a woman need to be an extreme multitasker?

  • Time management and punctuality. That is really key. If you are not in charge of your time then everything will fall apart easily.
  • Discipline, ensure that you complete a task when you set out to do it.
  • Attitude, which is not a skill per say but one needs to maintain a positive disposition always. Otherwise, it’s easy to get bogged down by everything that will come your way.

What cheers you up during the days when you’re down?

That’s a no-brainer. My daughter.

As Zimba Women provides business capacity for women entrepreneurs, what have you found women entrepreneurs get wrong when it comes to technology?

It is not what women get wrong but rather a lack of awareness. Most women just simply do not know how technology can be used to better their businesses and I’m not talking about complex things.

For example, just using excel for your book keeping. There are even templates for all sorts of businesses but few people know this and this is an issue that cuts across both sexes but more so for women.

There is also a fear of tech. We are afraid of what we do not understand so most women who don’t understand technology are inherently afraid of it.

I think because tech is still a mystery to most. There’s a lot of work to be done demystifying technology and it’s workings to women.

When do you see yourself retiring?

I don’t think I can “retire” or at least, not in the way most people do it. There’s still so much work to be done. Especially uplifting the women on this continent.

I see myself still working with women entrepreneurs. At the end of it all, I’ll probably end up as a Venture Capitalist, investing in women-owned businesses. I love betting on women.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.