Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing”. This kind of experiential learning is probably what Benjamin Franklin had in mind in the 18th century when he wrote, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I will learn.” Experiential learning is at the heart of the Lapid Leaders Experience. One of the Experiences that we have adopted is Study Trips that we use to cement the leadership and entrepreneurship lessons. One of the lessons that become obvious through these study trips, is that there are many untold stories about our Continent.
Experience plus reflection equals learning. – John Dewey
Uganda is a prime example of these untold stories. In recent times, the story of Uganda in many media channels across the world, has been through the perceived political leadership crisis in Uganda. Some of the prevalent headlines have included, ‘Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni extends 30-year grip on power’, or ‘Yoweri Museveni: a dictator with nothing left to promise Uganda’, or ‘Uganda elections: Besigye held again as march planned.’ While each of these headlines are accurate, and often need to be highlighted, there is another side of Uganda that also needs to be talked about nearly as much as the political history of Uganda.
For example, did you know that Uganda was recently named the world’s most entrepreneurial country? Did you also know that Uganda has the youngest population in the world? Through this and subsequent blogs, we will share a side of Uganda that we did not know about
An Entrepreneurial nation
One of the surprising facts about Uganda has been around how entrepreneurial the country is. A young population and a country full of problems have merged to become a hub for entrepreneurship. We sought to find out what makes Uganda one of the most vibrant countries in the world when it comes to business start-up? What are the challenges and opportunities facing businesses in a rapidly growing economy?
As part of the Study Trip, the Lapid Leaders got to meet the founders of Safe Boda, a startup that provides a platform to connect a safe motorbike rider to passengers who are keen on getting secure services. Motorbike riders or boda bodas, as they are commonly known as, are a popular mode of transport in Uganda. However, the boda bodas have had significant mortality rates due to unsafe rides. Safe Boda’s identified this as an opportunity for a business that provides a more secure boda boda.
While Safe Boda’s have faced significant challenges in getting this initiative off the ground, they represent the heart of entrepreneurship in Africa, ‘Find a problem, create a solution to the problem and develop a sustainable business model to deliver the solution’. This is the future of entrepreneurship in Africa. It is both exciting yet challenging at the same time.
Rachael Wambui, one of the Lapid Leaders seemed to have internalized this. She says, ‘It is our responsibility to not only make a change in Kenya but also in Africa. Listening to the speakers from the two ministries made me realize that there are very many problems in Africa. If everyone from the so far 3 cohorts was to pick one problem and make it their life’s calling, we still wouldn’t be enough to solve our African problems.’
In addition, the team met with Joachim Ewechu, a young business leader who is also the Co-Founder and CEO of Unreasonable Institute East Africa, who cemented this lesson even further. Unreasonable Institute is an international business accelerator for entrepreneurs tackling pressing social and environmental challenges. The organization encourages its entrepreneurs to embrace radical ideas and disruptive innovations, hence the “unreasonable” tagline.
Joachim explained to the students that they started Unreasonable Institute as they believe that the time is right in East Africa for something like this as more and more young people want to start and run their own businesses. However, many of these people lack the skills that are needed to set up proper businesses. “As the founders of one of Uganda’s first co-working spaces, over and over we saw companies fail to build the teams, fail to find the customer base and fail to raise the investment they needed to survive and grow. This led us to build Unreasonable East Africa as a new means of bridging the gap between those that have and those that do not by giving entrepreneurs the resources and tools they need to succeed.”
A hard to ignore spirit
As the Lapid Leaders went around Uganda, it was difficult to ignore the entrepreneurial spirit in the streets, in Kenya we call it a hustling spirit. Many of these businesses have been launched out of necessity, but with the help of Unreasonable and many other similar accelerators, these businesses can transition into great businesses.
However, like many other nations in Africa, Uganda still has a long way to go. For example, Rehema Wangari, noted that the Creatives Industry in Uganda is still very immature with a lot of untapped potential. This is both good and bad news depending on how it is harnessed.
The continent still has a shortage of businesses that are built on excellence, hence the high dependence on imported goods. One of the mentors that the Lapid Leaders met, Paul Sutherland, illustrated this really well. He explained how most of the hotels in Uganda use imported tomato sauce yet manufacturing tomato sauce is one of the easiest businesses. He urged the Lapid Leaders to embrace quality in whichever businesses that they embark on, and be able to deliver tomato sauces that can easily compete with the imported products. In the end, a strong entrepreneurial spirit is wasted if the products delivered by the entrepreneurs cannot compete at a global level.
Rehema Wangari concluded her assessment of Uganda as follows. “The pearl of Africa is a 24/7 working nation. We could see how everyone on the road side was busy selling their merchandise from the “kuku choma” to the mishakaki to bananas. Even supermarkets had a “we close at MIDNIGHT” policy. This is evidence of a nation that has embraced entrepreneurship fully. We salute the entrepreneurs of Uganda.