Lilian Nakigozi is an alumni of yher Africa 2019, a program designed to support women entrepreneurs on the continent to thrive. Lilian is an entrepreneur and founder of Women Smiles Uganda. Since ygap, she has been internationally recognised for her work, recently by the Ban Ki-Moon Center for Global Citizens. Read on for Lilian’s story, in her own words.
Tell us about you — your name, where you’re from, anything else you want to share.
I am Lilian Nakigozi from Kampala, Uganda, a female social entrepreneur who combines passion and innovation to make this world a better place for women and youth.
What experiences have shaped you as a person?
While still at the University, I remember telling my friends that my dream was to feed the world and start my own business. Everyone said I was crazy. “You’re studying Business and Accounting, how would you feed people and start your own business at the same time?” Well, after my graduation in 2018, I decided to gain knowledge and skills in vertical farming. From this, I learned to trust myself and believed that I could actually build a reputable business that will run for years, impacting and developing communities. In leading a company, what you actually do is more important than what you say.
We slept on empty stomachs and this led to the death of my baby sister, who starved.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I became an entrepreneur because of passion and personal experience. Growing up in Katanga slum with my family, we lacked land where we could grow crops for food, and neither did we have enough to buy food. We slept on empty stomachs and this led to the death of my baby sister who starved. At age 8, I didn’t know what to do, but as I grew older I promised myself that I needed to do something to change the experience of many women and young girls in urban slums and underserved communities. That’s why I ventured into vertical farming and established Women Smiles Uganda in 2018.
What were you doing before the business that led you in this direction?
I was still a student at the University studying business and I had a dream to have a hunger free world. I decided to forego my lunch and used the lunch money provided to me as a government student, saving it for the initial capital to start my business.
Tell us about your business — what it is and what it does.
Women Smiles Uganda is a social enterprise established to improve quality of life for women and young girls living in underserved communities; especially those in urban slums. We work with women and youth through providing affordable training in sustainable vertical farming concepts to enhance their food security and nutritional status. We also set up eco-friendly vertical farm units using innovative and cost-effective materials that use less space and water for crop production with a particular focus on ecological regeneration.
What is the problem you are trying to solve with your business?
Food scarcity resulting in malnutrition is still a very big issue. In Uganda, 6 out every 10 people are chronically food insecure and the most affected people being mothers and their children. Children make up 48% of the population in Uganda though only 19% are free from hunger and malnutrition, 29% are stunted, and 15% die of hunger and malnutrition every year. This is highly attributed to poverty, lack of land ownership by households and climate change.
I was inspired by my passion to help others, especially women. Having lived in a slum with a single mother, I understand the work of women to feed and cater for their children.
What inspired you to start this business?
I was inspired by my passion to help others, especially women. Having lived in a slum with a single mother, I understand the work of women to feed and cater for their children. Very many women don’t own land or have land titles to their names. This poses a challenge because we constitute 70% of the agricultural workforce. With Vertical farming, women are not limited by space and they can grow crops, get food, and generate income when they sell their surplus fresh produce on market.
What difference do you hope to make with your business?
With Women Smiles Uganda, I hope to fulfil my dream of making a difference in people’s lives, I look forward to impacting more communities and training two million women and young girls in vertical farming practice with my vibrant team to enhance their food security, nutritional status and financial independence.
What has been the biggest hurdle in your business journey so far?
Access to finance has been the biggest hurdle so far, we all know how hard it is for female founders to access funding. Being a female founder makes it more difficult to access funding.
What/who helped you the most in getting to where you are now?
I learned valuable lessons from my mother who made tough decisions as a leader of the family to give us a better life. She taught me to ask “if not me, who, if not now when”. She helped me develop a ‘figure it out and make it happen’ attitude that I still apply today. I have also had the privilege to learn from amazing world class mentors, Katleho, Kaitlin and Audrey from ygap, and the knowledge and experience I have gained is priceless.
What resources or knowledge do you wish you had when you first started on your business journey?
I wish I had a mentor when I first started my business to set me up for success and advise me in different business aspects and personal development as a leader and entrepreneur.
Why do you think it’s important for women to be in business?
Women are a driving tool to economic growth; “empower a woman and grow a nation.” I believe that by collaborating and involving women in business, communities can help each other transcend poverty and financial reliance.