Nine young Ugandans were this week crowned among the winners of an Africa-wide business plan competition that was organised by the United States Africa Development Foundation (USADF) and Citi Foundation to support novel business ideas with the potential to create jobs and improve the quality of lives of ordinary people.
Targeting former recipients of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) and Mandela Washington Fellowship, the competition attracted 500 applications from across Africa. 162 business plans were chosen, out of which Uganda recorded an impressive nine bankable projects, better than any country in Eastern Africa. Two other business plans were chosen from the alumnus of the Mandela Washington Fellowship to make 11 the total number of grant recipients from Uganda.
From the Eastern Africa region, 11 other young leaders were awarded similar grants; i. e 5 from Kenya, 3 from Rwanda, 2 from DRC and 1 from the Central African Republic.
Each of the 11 Ugandan winners received a hefty US$10,000 (Approx.Ushs4m) grant which is meant to act as seed capital to support the realisation and expansion of the individual business projects, according to Taibu Nakueira, USADF Uganda Country programme coordinator.
Speaking during the awarding ceremony in Kampala on Thursday, US Ambassador Deborah Malac alluded to the unique nature of the plans that were submitted for competition by Ugandans as testament to the country’s well-documented entrepreneurial abilities as shown in previous different business surveys.
But the US envoy also deplored the difficulties that kill most projects before they get off the ground in Uganda which she noted frustrates the originators but also compound the problem of unemployment.
“A lack of access to capital, corruption, and poor economic conditions make any new venture a tough proposition – even for the most skilled entrepreneurs,” said Malac.
She added: “That’s why most new businesses in Uganda fail to last more than a year, taking with them the employment opportunities they offer. And with hundreds of thousands of young Ugandans entering the job market every year, those losses translate into higher unemployment, greater economic insecurity, and less chance for prosperity and development.”
Despite the obstacles, Malac reiterated the US government’s readiness to continue helping promising projects not only get off the ground but also grow into big businesses that can help employ more young people in the country and transform Uganda’s economy.
“We intend to continue our investment in and support for the youth of Uganda in other areas as well. Whether through efforts to strengthen the country’s health care system, provide textbooks to improve literacy, or award grants for innovations in renewable energy, the U.S. Mission in Uganda intends to stand with the Ugandan people, particularly its youth. We will continue to work with you because we want you to succeed, we believe in your talent and potential, and we believe you deserve a stable, prosperous, and healthy future.”
Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, which also hosts the youth docket, hailed the contribution of the American government in supporting employment creation among the youth.
He noted however that although the government is running a number of programmes targeting young people, the challenge remains enormous due to the sheer size of the youth (aged below 30yrs) who account for 78% of Uganda’s total population.
Bigirimana insisted that the only way Uganda can surmount the challenge of unemployment is through entrepreneurship since the government creates a very limited number of job openings.
In this regard, the Gender Ministry PS revealed government’s plans to support entrepreneurship including continued support towards the Youth Livelihood Programme. He said that Cabinet has also approved the creation of a new fund to support Green Jobs – or social enterprises that protect the environment.