Remarks for Zimba Women Technology for Business Summit

Chargé Colette Marcellin
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Sheraton Hotel, Kampala, Uganda
9:00 am

Good morning, and thank you for that introduction. If you’ll permit me to employ a very useful phrase I have heard here, “All protocols observed.”

It is truly an honor for me to be here with you today for the launch of this very important summit for women in business. I am new to Uganda, having arrived just three weeks ago, and this is my first event with women entrepreneurs. I am sure it will not be my last! Ambassador Malac very much wanted to be here but had to be out of the country.
She asked me to extend her apologies and to underscore the U.S. Mission’s commitment to empowering women.

Before we start, I would like to thank Sherifa Tumusiime, the founder and CEO of Zimba Women and an alumna of a U.S. program you may have heard of, the Young African Leadership Initiative Mandela Washington Fellowship. After Sherry returned from the U.S., she came to the U.S. Mission with the idea of creating a summit for women entrepreneurs and helping them to employ technology to grow their businesses. We are delighted to partner with Zimba Women and be one of the sponsors for this event. I’d like to recognize Sherry and all the Zimba Women for their hard work in organizing this summit.

We are happy to be a partner for this event because we know that women’s economic empowerment is a critical step in creating a more prosperous Uganda. The research is clear: investments in women’s employment, health, and education have a direct connection to a country’s economic growth and successful development. This is a proven fact. No nation can become a vibrant middle-income country if it leaves half its population out of the development equation. For this reason, the United States has made empowerment for women and girls a core part of its foreign policy around the world. Here in Uganda, for your country to reach middle-income status, women business owners like you must be a part of the economy. It is that simple.

Governments and citizens alike must therefore find ways to include that 50 percent of its population who are female in making decisions that affect women as much as men. Women must have access to the same opportunities as men. Gender equality, however, does not mean making one gender better than another or putting women ahead of men. Gender equality means creating partnerships between women and men to help move countries forward. If your businesses grow, and if more women like you start businesses, all Ugandans will benefit.

The situation for women and girls in Uganda right now is not easy. You don’t need me to tell you that. I recently learned that according to population statistics, the average Ugandan today is a fourteen-year-old girl. She’s one of six children, living in a rural area. She has a one-in-four risk of becoming pregnant as a teen, and she might get married far too early. She is likely to drop out of school before reaching the secondary level. Our average girl represents a resource and potential not realized.

The situation for this average girl, however, is not the whole picture in Uganda. In 2014, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reported the number of female Ugandan entrepreneurs outnumbered their male counterparts. In fact, the average entrepreneur in Uganda is a young woman, with at least a secondary education, who works in the service sector. That is great news. It is women like you here today who are role models and creating a new future for Ugandan girls.

During the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya last year, President Obama stated that entrepreneurship means ownership and self-determination, as opposed to simply being dependent on somebody else for your livelihood and your future. That is what all of you today are doing right now–building your future and the future of Uganda.
More than citizens of any other country, Ugandans are more likely to be involved in creating or owning a business. Ugandans have high aspirations, positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship, and little fear of failure. The vast majority of Ugandans see good opportunities to start a business here.

However, as you all know, the survival and growth of entrepreneurial ventures in Uganda is a major challenge. Much of Ugandan entrepreneurship is concentrated in micro and small businesses. A high percentage of new businesses here fail. According to 2014 statistics, only two percent of new Ugandan businesses expected to employ 20 or more people in the next five years. So the challenge in Uganda is to help more entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
That is exactly what this summit intends to do, so I hope all of you get inspired, network and learn some new things that will help you expand your businesses.

I was very happy to see the mentorship component of this program. It used to be that asking for help, guidance or even having a mentor is seen as a sign of weakness. We women assumed that in order to be considered competent and accomplished, we had to work harder, be stronger than our male counterparts. That is changing. I would not be here without the guidance of female mentors who helped me. Mentors, you have a unique opportunity shape the next generation. Help them by showing them how not make the same mistakes we made along the way.

Finally, I want to touch briefly on the fact that expanding trade and investment between the U.S. and Uganda is a priority for Ambassador Malac, the U.S. Mission here in Uganda, and the entire U.S. government. The U.S. and Uganda share a longstanding relationship, and we believe that African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA, can play an important role in strengthening ties between our people. AGOA offers an opportunity to help Ugandan entrepreneurs break through and expand their businesses; create economic opportunity for Uganda’s growing population; and build the people-to-people connections between our countries.

Ugandan producers – particularly its young, energetic entrepreneurs – have so much to offer. This summit is about you – and expanding opportunities for women through technology. You’ll learn how seasoned business women got started, what went wrong, what surprised them, and how they grew their companies. You’ll also learn how you can use technology and tools such as Facebook to extend your reach and grow your business, and how various government agencies and bodies can support you to expand your business.

It is up to all of you to demonstrate the value you are creating, to grow your business, and to help develop the next generation of female entrepreneurs and leaders. I wish you luck and success in the future.
Thank you.