Spreading the entrepreneurial spirit to Africa

Stephanie Copeland ’13, right, watches as Peace, one of 12 Ugandan women with whom Copeland has been sharing entrepreneurial advice, makes bangles to be sold through 1000 Shillings this fall.

By Stephanie Copeland ’13
July 24, 2013

“If the people you’re telling your entrepreneurial plans to are laughing at you, the problem is not you. The problem is you’re asking golfers to judge your baseball swing. … If you want to play baseball, quit listening to golfers.” –Jeff Hoffman

I quit listening to golfers so I could play baseball. That’s what I told myself as I boarded my plane to Uganda, months after Mr. Hoffman, a founding team member of Priceline.com, spoke on campus. I was excited about my upcoming adventure but the concerns of my friends and family still rung in my ears. 

1000 Shillings is a startup company that recently began its operations in November 2012. Its mission is to give women artisans an international market for their products while sharing their personal stories with a larger audience. By highlighting their stories and amazing growth, 1000 Shillings hopes to create meaningful community change within the Namatala slums of Uganda. I found the organization online, which didn’t ease the worries of my loved ones, but I knew it was something I had to be part of. I graduate in December as a human resource management major, and I wanted to spend my last summer as a college student doing something meaningful and outside my comfort zone. That is exactly what I got. 

I am the social entrepreneur fellow for 1000 Shillings’ inaugural fellowship class in Mbale, Uganda. My job is to teach business classes, write business plans for each of 12 women and do case studies on local Mbale businesses. This of course does not include adjusting to a whole new lifestyle and economic environment. It is nothing like the western world. Working with the women of 1000 Shillings has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life thus far.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Martha, one of the 12 women, in her village in northern Uganda. She plans on starting a beekeeping business there. I met her family, stayed in her home, and visited local farms. We discussed how she will generate enough capital to start her business using 1000 Shillings’ microgrant. Martha is enthusiastic, optimistic, and intelligent. She truly has the spirit of an entrepreneur. Her plan is to expand the business she was able to start last year with 1000 Shillings’ help. This means finding more clients to clean for and selling more cassava, charcoal and rice. She hopes that by October, she will have saved enough money to purchase the necessary equipment to start beekeeping. By the end of December, she hopes to harvest her first batch of honey.

Before coming to Uganda, I had never written a business plan. I also had never spent a night without electricity or rafted the Nile. I know I will leave Uganda with memories of good people and newly acquired leadership skills transferrable to any business sector I find myself working in post-graduation.