East Africa

Ending donor dependency in Uganda – Transforming a charity to a Social Enterprise

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Kampala has approximately 30 markets which provide employment to nearly half a million and 50% are women. Most of these women are migrants from all parts of the country who come to the urban areas seeking greener pastures. Unfortunately they face a very difficult life. One common challenge to most of the female market vendors is the fact that they are poor and many of them have ended up taking on petty jobs like food vending (delivery of cooked meals to the customers), selling of alcohol and running mobile hair salons among others. Another common factor is the fact that most of them are single parents, usually to a number of children each  sired by  a different man. Because of this, the burden is huge and they are unable to make ends meet, and often end up as sex workers to supplement their meagre income and support their families. Many have contracted HIV/AIDS coupled with other sexually transmitted diseases because of this risky behaviour.


Poverty is also major cause of domestic violence and violation of the rights of poor urban market children. Due to poverty, market children live inhumane lives deprived of their basic rights as children. From Ka Tutandike’s experience in the community, the lack of space often constrains mothers in urban markets forcing them to deny their children the right to play.

The markets are congested with stagnant garbage and very poor sanitation. Additionally, children are exposed to abusive language among adults and commonly witness their mothers being sexually harassed by male market vendors. Often, the mothers lack help to care for children at home and cannot afford the cost of the day care centres. Also due to the nature of market vending occupations, the women often wake up with children in the early hours of the morning (by 4:00 am) to go to the market and stay long hours (up to 10:00pm) with children in the harsh environments of the markets. Some of the women have to move with their goods from one market to another with children on their backs and the goods on their heads. It is a dilemma for these poor mothers as they strive to strike a balance between child care and earning an income to sustain their families. Given the fact that most of the mothers are single women, the struggle to meet the basic needs of their families is paramount but causes both the children and mothers to live a stressful and very demanding livelihood.
From donor dependency to real economic empowerment.
A small local charity, Ka Tutandike Uganda (KTU) has since 2006 been providing community-based early childhood services to children newborn to 5 years who spend their days in the markets with their mothers who are market vendors trying to eke out a living. Under its programme, KTU was able to carry out an integrated approach to early childhood care and learning, wholesome enough to meet the needs of the young children. However over the years Ka Tutandike realized that while provision of this form of psychosocial support was beneficial to the children in the short term, the mothers/ families remained impoverished due to the reasons highlighted above and could not sustain the gains of the programme without the direct intervention of the charity. Therefore in 2012, Ka Tutandike Uganda introduced a new strategy to empower the women to start income generating activities in order to supplement their meager incomes. This was done specifically with a group of women vendors in Nakawa market, called the UMOJA women’s group. Previously dependent on piecemeal donor aid from the charity, the women backed by technical support from Ka Tutandike, began creating fashionable jewelry using paper. They started making sales, getting a group income of at least an average of UGX 100,000 daily. Soon they formed a savings circle where each of them deposited their savings to the treasurer on a weekly basis. A loan scheme soon followed and the ladies had somewhere friendly to run to in case of need. Today, 300 children of the Nakawa UMOJA women’s group have enrolled and remained in school, transitioning from one stage to another. The group has since used their savings to purchase a piece of land at worth Ugx 4M shillings, and have plans to build a vocational training school for girls to acquire skills for development.

This success of the UMOJA women’s group showed us that with a guidance and training, poor communities can actually transit from abject poverty to prosperity. KTU has since reviewed its strategic direction to replicate the success story of the UMOJA women. The programme strategy now includes both the charity approach to increase access to services for early childhood development in the market places and the Social Enterprise approach to build the capacity of vulnerable women and youth including those with disabilities for social and economic empowerment.
Under the charity component, the programme partners with the local communities to provide spaces for day-care facilities within the markets and ensure protection, provide improved nutrition for the children and stimulate early learning through appropriate techniques for young children that spend the day time in the markets with their mothers. The programme also partners with nearby health facilities to provide immunisation services against communicable diseases, treatment for illness and referral for more specialised services where required. In addition, the programme trains 750 mothers and caregivers with skills for positive parenting, child protection, nutrition and selected mothers are trained in the management of the day-care centres.
Under the Social Enterprise for Vulnerable Women and youth, KTU programme targets mothers of young children through ‘parent support groups’ in target markets and selected groups of other vulnerable women and youths including those with disabilities outside the markets to empower them with skills and capacity to diversify into new sustainable income generating activities. Apart from the skills, KTU also provides low interest loans to the groups to procure appropriate equipment and materials for production. KTU also supports the groups to register as cooperative businesses engaged in the supply and sale of quality products. KTU also targets markets on behalf of the groups with the aim of getting them to sign supplier agreements/contracts with the target groups.

Recently, KTU participated in the Project Inspire competition led by UN Women Singapore and the Master Card Foundation and won an award worth $10,000 for the most ‘inspirational project’ – to introduce beekeeping as a sustainable source of income for 100 women and girls with disabilities. The project will be shortly piloted in two districts of Luweero and Masaka with a plan for replication in other parts of the country in the future. Under this project, KTU will train the beneficiaries in bee keeping as a business, supply them with bee hives to set up their individual Apiaries, and provide them with technical support to manage the bee hives and harvesting of the honey; They will also be trained on how to use the by – products like bees wax to make soap and candles; and also get training in marketing and finance management. The beneficiaries will then be linked to different markets including the recently established Honey Processing Unit at the KTU offices where the honey will be processed and packaged for the for the larger market. All the proceeds will then be used to finance KTU’ then provision of early childhood programme in the Markets.

The partnerships being developed between Ka Tutandike and the various groups, will definitely see vulnerable women and youths gain new skills and increased income which will then lead to improved livelihoods. Ka Tutandike too stands to gain as the organization will get a return on its investment and thereby ensure a sustainable programme to benefit even more needy children facing urban poverty in Uganda.

Susan Kisitu
Chief Executive Officer
Ka Tutandike Uganda (www.katutandike.org)

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