They beat all odds and succeeded in business. Now, UNCTAD is honoring two African businesswomen for their innovation. The award winners relied on resilience, hard work and determination.
The red carpet was rolled out and two African women entrepreneurs became proud winners of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development 2010 Empretec Women in Business Award.
Beating the odds
Ugandan Beatrice Bvaruhanga, founder of Lira Integrated School, which serves children from nursery to secondary age, won 1st place.
“It’s amazing. I’m just too happy to be connected to the world. I believe in myself but I didn’t think I could compete and make it in the world,” she says.
Botswanan Joy Simakane, founder of Extramile Express, won the 3rd place award. She provides customs-cleaning and messenger-delivery services.
“To be recognized from a small country is a really big achievement for me. I’m really excited to compete with women who have been in business for more than 10 years. I’m really excited,” she says.
Empretec is a training program designed to encourage entrepreneurship in developing countries. UNCTAD has 32 Empretec centers in developing nations. They have trained more than 150,000 aspiring female entrepreneurs since 1988.
This award didn’t come easy for Bvaruhanga. She says the traditions in her country made it more difficult for her as a woman to break into the business world.
“Even after having the vision, my elders didn’t believe that a girl like me could get a land and own it. I had the challenge of inheritance which is common in African countries. And it’s worse because women own nothing. I grew cassava and when the yield was ready, I sold it. That was the first revenue I made. From that savings, I made wheelbarrows that I would hire to wheelbarrow pushers,” she says.
And for Simakane, the struggle was similar.
“I didn’t have funds. I was not recognized when I started. But in 2002, I went to my government to see if they would assist me and they did. I didn’t have good vehicles. I used to drive vehicles with open doors but I didn’t give up because I had a vision for my company,” she says.
They have a message for aspiring African female entrepreneurs.
“I want the women in Africa to believe in themselves. That’s the most important thing. Have passion for what you do. A lot of women go into things they don’t know they don’t love because they want to make money. But it’s not all about money,” says Bvaruhanga.
Simakane adds, “Even if you are not schooled or have a degree, even if you don’t have money. As long as you have determination, you can do anything in this world.”
And what’s next on the horizon for these trail blazers?
Bvaruhanga says, “I’m looking at growing the university. We’ve got the nursery, primary, secondary, O-levels and A-levels. With the University coming up, we will be complete.”
“I’m busy opening branches internationally,” Simakane says, with business locations in Britain, China, Argentina, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia.