Benedicta, from Uganda: Recycling business

When used plastic straws, bags and other non-biodegradable waste items started accumulating in her community and obstructing the drainage system, Benedicta saw a way of turning a burden into an opportunity. She and six other women from her group - the Kinawataka Women’s Development Initiatives (KWDI) - each contributed UGX 2,000 (approximately US$ 1.20) towards the purchase of water and “jik” (a brand of household bleach) and arranged for transport of the waste to their business in the suburbs of Kampala. They began recycling the items into useful products such as handbags, earrings, bags, belts and mats, and, in Benedicta’s own words, began “selling rubbish.”

“We are a group of women of various categories — HIV-positive, single mothers, widows, orphans and women with disabilities. We started little by little in 1998. But the project of using straws started in 2006”, she says. Benedicta teaches other women her craft, inspiring them to create business opportunities for themselves. “Because the material is accessible, we don’t have to buy it. I have taught many people how to use the straw — at Kololo High School, women at Kawempe Division and women at Kinawataka. I am very happy because people appreciate our finished products.”

Participation at a recent exhibition contributed to an increase in sales, which vary from month to month, and recognition of Benedicta’s products at the global level. According to Benedicta, November sales produced record earnings of UGX 277,400(approximately US$ 167). Training in record keeping, organizing exhibitions and advertising, provided by Uganda Women Entrepreneurs’ Association (UWEAL), an ILO implementing partner, helped make the difference. “UWEAL taught us a lot about displays, how to exhibit and advertise; Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA) gave us a computer and taught us how to use it and the Uganda Investment Authority taught us how to manage our business. UWEAL chose us to represent Uganda Women Entrepreneurs in Kenya. This put Uganda on the map since our products had not been made anywhere in the world.”

Benedicta spends most of her income to provide for her family and eight orphans whose parents have died due to war, HIV/AIDS or poverty. “I can feed them unlike before. My children, who were not in school, are now in school. So, this project really helped me a lot. I have really benefited.”

Source: Voices of Women Entrepreneurs, ILO in Partnership with Irish Aid