Young news

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-13-36The stories of exiled Congolese entrepreneurs Patrick, Alex, Mimy and Chantale finally made it into Vice, also appearing in the UK print edition of the magazine (with my trip supported by One World Media’s production fund). It’s perhaps an unusual destination for an article about refugee lives in Africa; sitting next to headlines like ‘People’s stories on the last time they faked an orgasm’ and ‘We went on a tour of London’s worst-rated nightclubs’. But the Canadian-American outlet, which is squarely aimed at younger audiences and embraces the provocative and politically incorrect, isn’t only about sex, crime and entertainment. News is now their fastest growing division, according to Creative Review, in which Vice’s CEO was quoted earlier this year saying they tapped into a “big white space…. there was a perception that Gen Y didn’t really care about news which is obviously not true, so that will continue to grow.” Here’s hoping.

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Blind spots and business models

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Marjorie, age 23, has created a project for women in her village to make and sell pads

Mention reusable sanitary pads, and most people in this country react with confusion, if not outright disgust.

Not in other parts of the world. A year ago while in Uganda I kept coming across community organisations or women’s groups who were making their own, both as a solution to the lack of affordable sanitary products and as a source of income to the women and girls making and selling them.

It turns out Uganda’s the home of one of Africa’s largest manufacturers of washable pads, AfriPads, which might be one of the things inspiring others to make their own versions. (Interestingly, the AfriPads product itself was actually inspired by a North American brand that found a market among health- and environment-conscious Canadians). Continue reading “Blind spots and business models”

Under pressure

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In Nakivale settlement, southwest Uganda

The Guardian published my story on refugee policy in Uganda last week, just as grim news emerged of UN forces’ alleged failure to prevent violence in neighbouring South Sudan. More and more civilians are fleeing: 85,000 have entered Uganda since early July.

There’s a sense of solidarity here: communities agree in many cases to give up land to host newcomers. But the scale of need is hard to grasp.  Continue reading “Under pressure”

Making things

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Sand-filled bottles are stronger than bricks – and supposedly bullet-proof

After an intense few days inside one of Uganda’s largest refugee settlements, I’ve stumbled upon two slightly different (and a bit more uplifting) movements.

On the way back to Kampala, I stopped for a night at the Social Innovation Academy, created about two years ago to address the desperate lack of job prospects in the country.

60+ young people aged from 18 to late 20s live in dorms and traditional African huts and new constructions made from sand-filled plastic bottles; several more buildings are in various stages of completion, including new housing for volunteers and a huge hall. Hand-painted signs are dotted around: “Do something every day that scares you”, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those already doing it”.

Scholars get free rent and board, and training for as long as they need it to develop business ideas that will benefit themselves, the community, the environment, or all three. Continue reading “Making things”

Businesspeople

10350466776_23b2e3e368_zI’m back in Uganda, this time with funding from One World Media, researching a story about refugee businesses.

Here’s the premise: 86% of the world’s refugees are in developing countries. Uganda, a relatively stable nation in a rocky region is now home to over half a million people seeking refuge from South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It now hosts the third largest refugee population in Africa.

But what makes Uganda intriguing is its unusually open door policy: all refugees are granted freedom of movement and the right to work; in rural areas they get allocated their own plot of land. So while most countries try to contain refugees in designated zones set apart from cities and towns, and to stop them from competing with locals for jobs, in Uganda refugees can (and do) become traders, workers, employers, entrepreneurs.

Indeed, an Oxford University research project in the country in 2014 found that 60% of refugees were self-employed, 39% employed – and only 1% not working at all.  Continue reading “Businesspeople”

Stories from Uganda

Homeward

Photos: Busembatia, eastern Uganda (©Anna Patton)

Here’s what came out of my trip to Uganda, late last year:

The Guardian published my story – Uganda is a land of entrepreneurs, but how many startups thrive? – on the reality behind a recent report claiming the country is the most entrepreneurial in the world. It’s easy to start a business, and many people – even those in a full time job – do so, but few manage to grow or even continue their venture.

I explored the “growing and thriving community of social purpose businesses in Kampala” in a piece for Pioneers Post magazine [paywall]. Continue reading “Stories from Uganda”

When mobile money means business

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Dan and Luke working with One Acre Fund in Uganda. Photo by Michael Koch

I recently interviewed the founders of Ugandan fintech venture Beyonic, a finalist at this year’s Sankalp Africa Awards for sustainable enterprises. Launched in 2013, they aim to eliminate dependency on cash by helping businesses quickly set up and manage mobile money payments.

Cash doesn’t allow people to become part of the formal economy; it’s also insecure and costly, explained cofounder Luke Kyohere. And while mobile money for person-to-person payments has massively taken off, businesses have yet to exploit their full potential. That’s where Beyonic comes in: making it easy for a business to pay people using existing mobile money systems. They’ve landed some big clients (including Save the Children), but also another social enterprise, Educate!. For them, paying wages and expenses with cash meant time and money spent on travel to/from Kampala, plus risk of muggings and holding huge amounts of cash on site. Educate!, when I met them in Uganda, said getting mobile payment systems in place is one of the things that’s helping them scale up.

Read more from Luke and his American cofounder Dan Kleinbaum below. Extracts of this interview were featured in this Pioneers Post article, What the world needs to know about African enterpriseContinue reading “When mobile money means business”

Trust me, I’m a microentrepreneur

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A bit less public than Tripadvisor

The age of the public review prompts some extreme behaviour – like the hotel that got ridiculed for charging £100 for posting bad reviews on Tripadvisor.

But it’s not surprising that the hotel management took Tripadvisor so seriously. Public ratings matter (and it’s worldwide: travelling in Uganda last year, every place we stayed at asked us to write them a review).

Customer feedback carries even more weight in the sharing economy, where services and resources offered by fellow citizens aren’t guaranteed by industry standards and where getting a refund is difficult, awkward or impossible. And it’s unbalanced: one bad review can outweigh ten good ones. Negative feedback can ruin the reputation and even livelihood, of the driver, DIY-helper, graphic designer, dog-walker – anyone who has decided to make their living as a microentrepeneur. Continue reading “Trust me, I’m a microentrepreneur”

Hard-working networks

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The original networking site

I’ve been doing some writing for the European Commission’s EURES website, which aims to encourage jobseekers to take up opportunities in other countries. The blog posts are for the (somewhat oddly-named) Drop’pin blog, which targets 16-30 year-olds in EU and neighbouring countries.

A fairly broad audience then – and, being based in the UK, the challenge is to tackle a topic in a way that’s useful not only to readers in this country.

Experience of living abroad makes you aware of things that are country-specific, though (e.g. appreciating that the charity sector isn’t necessarily as developed elsewhere). Working in international teams is perhaps the best training for writing in plain English – better leave out those dazzling turns of phrase or idioms. And language skills help too, of course – for example, getting speedy responses from a source in Berlin for a piece on accessing the creative industries.

The harder, more time-consuming part is finding the right contacts in the first place. Continue reading “Hard-working networks”

Truly enterprising

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Just enough budget for posters

The bizarre and wonderful Wakaliwood is making ripples around the world.

The morning we visited the “studio” of Uganda’s homegrown action movie industry, the team was expecting a group of French and German reporters. The story has been picked up by the BBC, VICE magazine, Al Jazeera, and national Irish television. The films have a cult following, with fans in Russia, Guatemala, China. In the rehearsal space – which doubles up as a bedroom for some of the actors and storage space for props and equipment – there’s a wall with foreign names scribbled on it.

“Are these all your visitors?”, we asked.

“No”, we were told, “just the ones we ‘killed’”. Continue reading “Truly enterprising”