When The Innovation Village, (TIV) spread its wings to Eastern Uganda in 2020, Jinja was chosen as its host city. Located on Plot 5, Main Street in the heart of the industrial town, the innovation ecosystem which is home to entrepreneurs from a region with approximately 33 districts, is also ushering the region into the Fourth Industrial Revolution through merging network, talent, capital and physical assets. The end goal is to create a destination that grows businesses that matter and are centered around solving the biggest industry and community challenges.
When TIV Jinja launched early in the year 2020, the establishment spent its first year building a community in the middle of a global pandemic. In the aftermath of a year full of many firsts, Gloria Kayanga, the Eastern Regional Manager, shares about the last 318 days that the team has spent focusing on creating growth opportunities for entrepreneurs who mainly operate in agriculture, creative, technology, tourism, and education sectors.
At the start, Kayanga viewed the year 2021 as a fresh page for everyone, given that the previous year had been marked by a lot of loss and unprecedented change for entrepreneurs.
Looking back at the year in which the country has experienced a second wave of the pandemic, Kayanga now believes the innovation ecosystem must adapt to what is the “new normal.” Adapting to the status quo has enabled her to embrace the strategy that needs to be implemented to achieve TIV Jinja’s goals as they build an entrepreneurial community.
“For TIV Jinja in particular, given the region’s very young entrepreneurial ecosystem and strained tech/digital culture, I know that we shall experience a slow path to business recovery,” Kayanga says.
The regression in the economy and the creation of unanticipated problems, is driving them to pivot and create products and programs that respond to the current needs of entrepreneurs during this crisis.
Following this strategy; TIV Jinja has put its weight into running several programs.
Eastern Region Women Entrepreneurship Dialogue (E-WED21)
To empower young women in entrepreneurship, TIV Jinja hosted the Eastern Region Women Entrepreneurship Dialogue (E-WED21) presided over by Former Minister of Agriculture, Victoria Sekitoleko. She interacted with over 120 young women during the women’s day festivities aimed at fostering self-reliance and entrepreneurship.
Innovators in Residence Program (IiR)
Since August 2021, the team has been supporting innovators in an ongoing residence program for journalists, visual artists, coders, animators, that is conducted in partnership with the DW Akademie, a German organization that supports the development of independent, transparent media systems, quality journalism and media expertise. To ensure that the 12-month media accelerator program aimed at training and mentoring the next generation of innovators runs without glitches, TIV Jinja mobilized about 30 media innovators from Jinja and neighboring districts and, hosted DW Akademie’s three-day “Idea Lab’ workshops. This cut across all potential areas and communities, even those seemingly unlikely for innovators including administration, agriculture, women groups with larger networks, chiefs and religious groups.
Group Enterprise Development Program
The team carried out the Group Enterprise Development outreach program through which they provided skilling, linkages and contributed to jobs for youth. The program occurred in the Eastern districts of Jinja, Mayuge, Iganga, MagaMaga and Kamuli.
Kayanga says they have further created business linkages for the youth groups that were skilled to access financial solutions in partnership with Equity bank. In this ongoing project, youths are empowered with financial literacy as a primer to accessing youth loans.
TIV Jinja has established and supported the Omwoleso market initiative, a vibrant online and offline market space that has been enabling entrepreneurs in the cottage industry to access wider market even with the restrictions that followed the COVID-19 pandemic. This work has resulted in 754 linkages to job opportunities and 1,217 skilled youth. It has also created 25 direct jobs. Kayanga and her team are proud of this impact as it contributes to Mastercard Foundation’s and The Innovation Village’s important ambition to build an opportunity-laden ecosystem that empowers young people and provides dignifying and fulfilling employment. Under the Young Africa Works Strategy, the target is to ensure that 30 million young people in Africa, particularly young women, secure dignified and fulfilling work by 2030.
Uganda has the second youngest population in Africa as 50.3 per cent of the 40 million people below 15 years. On one hand is a very young population that is dependent. According to the third National Development Plan 2020/21 -2024/25, Uganda’s labor force is characterised by high youth unemployment and a lack of appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes. At the same time, this young population offers opportunities for an abundant labor force. Governemtn seeks to accelerate the acquisition of urgently needed skills in key growth areas and interventions like these align with the initiatives of The Innovation Village. However, with more collaboration with ecosystem players, more can be done to build production capacities of entrepreneurs such as those in Eastern Uganda, to increase the adoption of trending technologies in their businesses as well as provide access to markets.
If there is anything Kayanga has learnt in 2021, it is to leverage the power of community. She says many youth-led businesses have not been and will not be in a position to easily remain in business during this crisis because they lack sufficient support from their parent ecosystems. On the other hand, she says, through communities standing in the gap to offer sustenance during this time, players in the entrepreneurial ecosystem can meaningfully contribute towards keeping youths in work.
“Community development agencies must listen to the needs of the community and then program retrospectively,” Kayanga says, “Helping youths would require us to champion the digitization drive through facilitating the already existing youth-led structures. Online presence is the new gold mine for entrepreneurs in this crisis. Therefore, we need to offer training on how the youth can leverage digital platforms.”
Overall, Kayanga says, 2021 has been a year to pause, rebuild and reflect on new directions where the old have failed.