dfcu Bank in partnership with Daily Monitor and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) are running a program dubbed ‘Rising Woman’ that is aimed at recognizing, celebrating, and promoting a culture of mentorship among women in business.
Sandra Ejang, the winner of Season 2 of ‘Rising Woman’ Season II from 2020, shares her journey of participating in the competition and her passion for the beekeeping business.
1. Tell us about yourself and your business.
My name is Sandra Ejang Elobu and my business is called Western Silk Road under the brand ‘Asali Wa Moyo’, which means ‘Honey of the Heart’. I work with farmer households countrywide, and I am invested in the entire beekeeping value chain.
2. What was your experience participating in the Rising Woman competition?
Honestly, this is something that came in unexpectedly. First, when I read through the requirements, I wondered how I was going to come up with a business proposal for my business because I didn’t have significant experience in writing business proposals. When I was called for the second session of the interview, I was genuinely surprised because I did it while I was pregnant. For the third part of the interview, I had a newborn baby of nine (9) days. So, I showed up with a newborn baby and some of the finalists helped me to babysit.
But when I emerged a winner, I was glad I did not stay home, I would have missed out on that opportunity. (laughs).
3. What was your key highlight from your participation in the Rising Woman competition?
My biggest highlight was seeing different women from different parts of Uganda showing up for the competition. It was rewarding to know that this opportunity was reaching everyone and giving us all a fair chance at transforming our lives and businesses.
4. If you were to go back in time, what would you have done differently?
There is nothing I would do differently because I won. If I had not been the overall winner, I would perhaps have some lessons to impart in hindsight. Though, I was surprised I won, because after listening to other women presenting their proposals, I was sure I was up against stiff competition.
5. What lessons did you pick from your experience with the Rising Woman Initiative?
I learnt that working with other people takes you farther than working alone. I learnt this when we had a winners’ trip to Kenya, and I got a chance to meet other business people.
So, after seeing what the Kenyan women were doing, I realized I could work with other women to take our business dreams to new heights.
I opened a shop called “The Bountiful Duuka” and stocked up on products from different vendors. My goal was to widen the market available to other startup entrepreneurs.
6. Since participating in the competition and winning, what progress have you registered as a business and at an individual level?
• As an individual, I got a chance to join the Vital Voices Program last year, and I had mentorship for one (1) year. Vital Voices Global Partnership is a leading international non-profit organization that invests in women leaders who are taking on the world’s greatest challenges.
• As a business, Western Silk Road has been able to sign a lease for a new place, so we are moving the products out of my garage to a proper facility.
• Western Silk Road offers market, technical beekeeping advisory, consultancy services, and beekeeping equipment to households. We have grown from 650 to 1,000 households.
Also, we now have a women-only bee-keeping group still under Asali Wa Moyo (‘Honey of the Heart’) that produces honey branded “Sweet Mama.”
7. What advice would you give to a woman entrepreneur who is still undecided about joining this year’s Rising Woman Initiative?
I’d urge them to feel the fear and do it anyway! Outside of emerging a winner of the funding, participants could also win a study tour which is a great way to grow one’s business acumen and network.
This is in addition to the training, networking and advisory services open to all participants. Rising Woman is a firm foundation both for short, medium, and long-term business goals; it’s the perfect opportunity for women entrepreneurs. I say, do not be scared; I did it when I was pregnant and then with a nine-day-old baby and I won.
8. Please share some tips for anyone planning to join the competition.
Honesty is key; be honest about your business because it’s what you are going to defend to win. You also need to understand to ably present and defend your submission.
Understanding your business and ably explaining your goals will make it much easier for you to win. 9. Where do you see your business heading? In about ten (10) years I will be the biggest beekeeping value chain business in Africa!