Kampala, Uganda is the home of many beautiful things – Lake Victoria, the Kasubi Tombs, and the gorgeous architecture of the Mengo Olubiri Palace. These attractions are only a few of the reasons that tourists are drawn here. The city provides its one and a half million residents with views of the grassy wetlands and the gentle rolling hills that it has rested on throughout its history as first the Ugandan kingdom’s hunting reserve, then a British Colony, and ultimately the bustling capital of an independent country. Hotels, banks, shopping malls, universities, and hospitals all contribute to the economic recovery the city is experiencing after a period of war and conflict. Kampala is alive with energy and inertia, and in 2016 was named the world’s 13th fastest growing city.
Among these beautiful and hopeful things however, another world can be found. In this world many difficulties are present, poverty is one of them. While Kampala as a whole blooms into prosperity, there are those who have been left behind. Unemployment and unsafe working environments go unnoticed by the government. Air quality issues, pollution, and deforestation all threaten the beauty and sanctity of Kampala’s land. Tight traffic jams in an overcrowded city center are starting to take a toll on the infrastructure. Sewage and sanitation needs are growing faster than the government can handle, and the urban environment is suffering.
It is within this city you will find Mary Rose Zawedde, someone who sees both the beautiful and the difficult. I was delighted to start a correspondence with Mary Rose, and I am honored to share her story with you today.
Mary Rose Zawedde is the founder and director of Start Young Prosper Young, an organization that is multifaceted but has a unified goal of creating a more sustainable community. To Mary Rose, sustainability means reducing the negatives while improving the benefits – it means starting a project that can, in effect, outgrow you. She has started the momentum on several projects that have continued to grow in the community even after she stepped back. Her passion armoured her community with the tools to act sustainably.
Mary Rose’s main project involves distributing rosemary seedlings to local schools and individuals who have land available for growing. Throughout this process the community learns valuable agricultural skills. Once the rosemary seedlings have matured, Mary Rose and her team of five people will actually buy back portions of the grown herbs, which provides not only a source of income to the growers, but allows Mary Rose and her team to use the herbs in further business endeavors.
While her organization today flourishes in the community, once it was only a dream.
Mary Rose lost both her parents at a tender age, but despite this great loss, she worked relentlessly to raise money and sponsorships in order to obtain her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Social Administration. In her days following college, she worked in the corporate world. When I asked her about her career outside of her current entrepreneurship endeavors, I found out that she left that world behind. “I worked for organizations and dropped it to grow [my own] social enterprise. I use my skills and experience from [my past work] to benefit it.”
Quitting her job to focus solely on her own endeavors was one of the biggest challenges Mary Rose has faced. She told me, “Most people advised me to stay and wait until I am older [before quitting]. Getting people to believe that my ideas could turn into tangible projects that impact communities [was challenging], but i finally overcame, and here we are now– growing every day.”
I asked Mary Rose what initially inspired her towards entrepreneurship specifically, and she told me about her desire to not only achieve her own dream at a young age, but also to help young people with similar backgrounds gain needed job skills so that they are never limited by their finances.
“Uganda has a high percentage of young people, that is, about 78% [of people] are below the age of 30,” she told me. “There are complaints about the lack of jobs, yet the government’s response is not as fast as the growing number of unemployed youths. So I thought, ‘I have to quit my job and grow a company of my own!’ Through this company, I address these challenges, among many [others].”
Mary Rose indeed addresses many challenges. In addition to the farm she runs alongside her distribution of seedlings, she also coaches financial literacy and teaches entrepreneurship and microfinance at 3 local schools. She is active in local events and runs a very tight schedule.
“I am usually smiling no matter how tough a day has gone,” Mary Rose told me. “I do not rest until the projects that I run are up and growing. I party sometimes, but spend most of [my] time researching and working towards the development of the enterprise and its beneficiaries.”
With all her hard work, I wondered if Mary Rose ever gets lonely or feels isolated, and of course her answer was yes – but she does have a support system that inspires her when she needs it. “I do a lot of networking with people with in my rank and others who are much older and have expertise,” She explained. “I call them mentors.”
When asked where she sees herself and her organization in ten years, Mary Rose told she wants to be “the Condoleezza Rice of [her] time” and that she wants her organization to have at least three branches in Uganda that can nourish the projects of young people to fruition and help create a society with more job creators than job seekers.
There are needs Mary Rose faces in her organization – for example, Start Young Prosper Young is in need of computers and skilled personnel who can create a website, an element that the organization needs in order to expand its reach. But despite these needs Mary Rose has achieved tremendous successes, such as being approved to teach finance and business skills in her local schools and exhibitions, and being elevated to the position of a lead trainer by Finmango, one of SYPY’s new partners.
Between all these different endeavors, one can wonder how Mary Rose has time to accomplish everything that she does. When asked how she manages it all, she said simply, “I do not believe in the words no or impossible.”
To connect with Mary Rose, you can follow her organization’s page on facebook. Just search “Start Young, Prosper Young” and hit the “follow” button or use this link to stay updated: https://www.facebook.com/startyoungprosperyoung/