In a powerful back-to-back showcase of commitment to women’s economic empowerment, the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited (UWEAL) held its 10th Annual Women-in-Business Leaders’ Conference on November 29th, 2023, followed by the dazzling Annual Business Achievers’ Awards and Gala Dinner on November 30th, 2023.
The conference, hosted at the UMA Show Grounds Main Hall, played a pivotal role in the Month of Women Entrepreneurs (MOWE) under the theme “Digitalization Advancing Women in Trade.”
Recognizing the challenges hindering women in trade, UWEAL’s baseline study revealed that 83% of women entrepreneurs faced a lack of trade and market information.
Digital readiness inequalities, a shortage of competitive advantages, high business costs, and inadequate management skills compounded these challenges.
Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2021/2022 report highlighted a worrisome 15% drop in startup rates for women from 2019 to 2020, with subsequent stagnation in 2021.
To address this alarming trend, the conference brought together industry leaders to discuss key areas such as access to finance, digitalization adaptation, business-to-business linkages, formalizing businesses, legal clinics, and knowledge enhancement about opportunities in export markets.
UWEAL CEO Connie Kekihembo emphasized the transformative power of digital tools and the importance of creating an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs.
Kekihembo highlighted UWEAL’s efforts, including training programs and distributing laptops to chapters, expanding the digital network to help women thrive in the digital age.
Keynote speakers included Rosa Malango, who praised the conference for providing crucial information for women entrepreneurs.
Malango urged women to formalize and register their businesses in the digital age, emphasizing the importance of certification for small-scale entrepreneurs.
David Bahati’s representative, Cleopas Ndorere, Commissioner for External Trade, encouraged women entrepreneurs to formalize their businesses to benefit from government programs, suggesting incentives like literacy and financial training.
Following the conference, UWEAL continued its celebration of women entrepreneurs with the Annual Business Achievers’ Awards and Gala Dinner on November 30th.
Seven exceptional women were honored in categories ranging from entrepreneurship and leadership to community involvement and innovation.
Dr. Jover Byarugaba Abahikye, a multifaceted entrepreneur, Founder, and CEO of Ebenezer Schools, and a Director of Pearl Engineering Company Ltd, received the prestigious T. Mbiire Award.
Her impact spans education, construction, healthcare, and agriculture, embodying excellence in diverse sectors.
Jolly Banugire, the force behind Jostar Limited in real estate, was honored with the I. Wanendeya Award. With a remarkable entrepreneurial journey, she defied norms, diversified into textiles and handbags, and boasts a real estate portfolio including 15 residential units.
Bright Phiona, the visionary leader behind Tooro Gallery Foundation, received the UWEAL Regional Entrepreneur Award. Her organization, established in 2014, empowers women through handcraft skills, creating income-generating opportunities.
Sharon Bency Acio, the Managing Director of ReadySprout Uganda Limited, received the C. Kisumba Award. Her venture shifted focus to soybean value addition, contributing to health initiatives with products like “joysoy and joymillet flour.”
Ann Kalinzi, the Founder of Tooro Gallery Foundation, was honored with the C. Busulwa Pioneer Award. Her journey, starting with addressing the struggles of young women, has evolved into a transformative force in handcraft skills and livelihood improvement.
The Reach Out Wives of Soldiers’ Association (ROWOSA) received the A. Lubogo Community Involvement Award.
ROWOSA stands as a vital umbrella organization, empowering the wives of Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers, fostering self-reliance and enhancing the overall well-being of soldiers’ families.
Lydia Obbo, a highly experienced lawyer and Senior Partner at Frederick Francis and Associates Advocates, received the UWEAL Honorary Award for her impact on women entrepreneurs which spans over 40 years, contributing to legal practice, corporate governance, and private sector training.
Uganda Revenue Authority was acknowledged for its exceptional efforts in trade facilitation for women entrepreneurs. URA’s commitment to engaging with women in business through tax education workshops and the Women Trade Facilitation Framework (WTFF) has significantly contributed to the economic empowerment of over 5,032 women members.
The CEO of UWEAL conveyed a powerful message, stating, “Tonight, we celebrate not just your achievements, but the spirit of resilience, innovation, and leadership that defines each of you. Your success stories are beacons of inspiration, illuminating the path for others.”
UWEAL’s commitment to empowering women entrepreneurs was evident in both the conference and the gala, fostering an environment where women can thrive in various sectors.
As the applause from the awards gala faded away, the echoes of celebration and inspiration lingered, leaving a lasting impact on women entrepreneurs in Uganda.
UWEAL continues to champion the cause of women’s economic empowerment, advocating for their interests in crucial areas such as public procurement, financial accessibility, digital inclusion, trade and market access, business incubation services, and technology availability.