Josephine Nakakande, an inspiring entrepreneurial woman in the Social & Solidarity-based economy in Uganda

Josephine Nakakande founded in 2007 the Non-Governmental Organization Eco Agric Uganda together with her husband Robert Muwawu, Dr. Kajura Charles, Kintu Habert plus members from two women’s groups in Hoima and Wakiso districts. The mission of Eco Agric Uganda is to empower women in rural communities to have access to a better life in a healthy environment.

The organization trains them in different sustainable farming methods in order to protect their environment and improve the efficiency of the harvests. It also provides them with vocational/skills training and mushroom growing methods to generate additional revenue streams.

In addition Eco Agric Uganda assists women and other poor vulnerable communities to set up voluntary and collective savings to cope up with the hardships of life and allow them better access to microcredit.

The organization sponsors education for children and especially for young girls.

And finally, it promotes health improvement through advocating for Sexual Reproductive Health Services, promoting hypertension, diabetes plus HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and control.

UNICEF reported that more than 700,000 girls in Uganda aged between 6 to 12 have never attended school, and nearly half of girls aged between 15 to 24 are illiterate. 40 percent of girls in Uganda are married before the age of 18, of which 35 percent drop out due to marriage and 23 percent due to pregnancy.

Though the organization was formed as a team of people, the personal story of Josephine inspired her own engagement. She saw her mother struggling to improve their livelihood and provide her children with the best possible education through farming. Her mother launched many projects, that one after the other, led her to learn from her own successes and failures. 

Cécile Carnimolla Mailhos : Did you experience, through your childhood, significant events that could have had an impact in the projects you are currently managing ?

Joséphine Nakakande : I will never forget my first time at school … I did not have shoes, nore sandals, nore towel. I used to go to the school’s outside bathroom barefooted, never dried myself after bathing and only had two dresses : my skirt was too short. The other students laughed at me, bullied, teased and made fun of me. I was not aware that we were poor as I grew up surrounded by families who were living like us. So I didn’t dare talking to my parents as I was afraid they wouldn’t listen to me. 

Cécile : What did you learn from your first professional experiences ? 

Joséphine : Since I started working, I have been living in a very narrow universe. I was only aware of what happened at home, in church or at school. We had no TV at home. My father, a teacher, was the only one with broader knowledge as he listened to the radio. He encouraged me to go to school very young and to never stop learning. I was a good student at school and in advance from other classmates. When I grew up, I wanted to study biology, chemistry and physics. My father wanted me to become a doctor, unsuccessfully. This is how I became a veterinarian. My scientific studies helped me to quickly find a job. It was during my first professional experiences that I realized that education was the key to expect for a better life. If I had not been to school, I would have remained poor. I started to earn money when I became a veterinarian. There were only 2 veterinarian women in the district; therefore I often worked with men. I never feared working with men and it never prevented me from reaffirming myself. My parents raised me as a boy, and I used to play with car toys and I never had any dolls. This may strengthen my character.

In addition, when I started to interact with other women during my job, I realized that my mother was quite successful : she never gave up, solving her own problems by herself, launching new remunerated projects, while taking care of her children. She inspired me and I learnt a lot from her. Therefore, I became aware during my first professional experiences of the importance of girls education and women empowerment, as well as to measure the impact of such needs. This is how and why I started supporting women. For the record : when I got my diploma, my mother’s cows stopped dying !

Cécile : You are also supporting women on issues such as health and family planning. Could you please elaborate on it ?

Joséphine : We perform through 2 different ways. Firstly, we pressure local authorities for larger family planning budgets and expenditures towards health issues and family planning.  When I gave birth to my eldest son, I realized that bad birth treatments were used. We coach women, who sometimes prove to be shy, to explain to local authorities what the problems are. So we provide feedback to the local authorities. We have 6 years of experience now and we can proudly say it has been a success both in Hoima and Kibaale : the local governments have increased the budget.

The second way is by having the necessary staff to listen to the women : they are on the field meeting them and organizing workshops. They can also provide information about HIV aids and awareness about blood pressure control.

Cécile : Could you please explain how you see your life today ?

Joséphine : I have had a good life. I have been able to take care of my parents, brothers and sisters. I have two sons who are good students : they are growing up as wise adults. We have constructed houses with the money we earned as workers : that helps us today for the development of Eco Agric Uganda. I still have to finish the construction of the San Martino school. I believe that I had a good and purposeful life.

Cécile : You work with your husband Robert : he brings his expertise in agriculture and agroforestry. He is the organization program manager. Both of you are hard working persons : I have never seen you resting even on a week-end in one month and half. How can you manage to work so much, together with your husband, while raising your 2 sons ? 

Joséphine : I met my husband when we were students. I have come so far thanks to him. He has always supported me. I am loyal to him even while being executive director. I admit that we work a lot but our family comes first. Both Robert and I have always been committed to our children’s education. Our work is complementary : I am a workaholic while he is not, therefore, we occasionally feel away from work and family life.

Sometimes work starts before breakfast and lasts after dinner. We don’t take a break on weekends. Volunteers have strengthened my awareness : I listened to them. When I am too engaged, Roberts stops the storm ; when it is complicated and I feel that I won’t succeed, he raises me up. I come up with the ideas and he implements them. We may disagree but we are always able to discuss and reach an agreement. We have always been able to overcome the challenges we faced.

Cécile : You can be proud of the path you have walked for 14 years, and what you achieved so far. You currently work on 3 different sites, (i) Wakiso, near Kampala, (ii) Hoima, located 3h30 drive from Kampala, and more recently (iii) Kibaale, located 1h30 drive from Hoima, through difficult accessible roads, specially after rains.

You have achieved the goal of building in 2020 a school in a rural community near Kibaale: 185 students aged from 6 to 13 years old are currently attending classes in San Martino Primary School. 84 vulnerable girls but with potential are sponsored to remain at school.

280 women have been trained on mushroom growing, and 40 are following vocational training such as tailoring shoes and sewing.

You also have created 23 jobs : they all work hard, including Saturdays and sometimes even Sundays. This is impressive. What are the main challenges ahead?

Joséphine : Human resources represent my first challenge : getting reliable and permanent staff is not easy. We employ young graduates to give them an opportunity and enter the professional world. Nonetheless, when they are trained, they leave. I can perfectly understand them, but for us it represents an investment that we are losing. The second challenge is getting the necessary funds for our projects : we need donors to build a school and all the related services, to sponsor scholarships for young and vulnerable girls … The third challenge is to find solutions to those problems that may come ahead of us!

Cécile : What gives you so much energy and what is the hardest issue you face?

Joséphine : When I see progress in people’s lives, I am fulfilled. When I see mushrooms growing, I am also fulfilled. The main difficulty I currently encounter is the lack of funding : when I will be able to build a vocational training center in Wakiso, a mushroom house in Hoima and a complete primary and secondary school from P1 to S6 in Kibaale, in addition to a vocational training center and health center, I will have achieved my goals.

Cécile : You are a real entrepreneur, according to what we call in France the social and solidarity-based economy. Your economic system is mixed and sustains itself : the improvement of the agricultural practices thanks to the training and monitoring of Eco Agric contributes to the improvement in the quality and the volumes of the crops, thus creating larger revenues for farmers. Eco Agric Uganda guarantees a market and therefore a revenue to the farmers, without the need to spend time in its sale. Economics is serving others.

You have demonstration gardens showing your know-how, inspiring places for the people you are supporting and a source of food for your staff and family. We call them eco places.

To increase your impact, you are also supported by volunteers coming to work from anywhere in the world (over 180 have already come) as well as by private donors.

This sector is expanding in France : a lot of structures are created and new ways of working have emerged. How did you come up with that model ?

Joséphine : I am providing solutions to real needs. To succeed in that mission, I always keep thinking out-of-the-box and continuing to progress. I am driven by passion. I have never tried to copy someone or get inspired from similar organizations. This is the way I work. If I fail, nobody will question me.

Cécile : You are well-known in the international volunteering platforms such as WorkAway, as well as on social media : you are actively posting on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. Which messages do you provide and what does it bring you ?

Joséphine :  I am communicating about our organization and our work. During the first lockdown, I started spreading positive messages on Facebook and Instagram: many people suffered from loneliness and idleness. Seeing the mushrooms growing and working in the garden made me happy and I wanted to share it. I also learnt a lot from the mushrooms thanks to people around the world who were on the same FB groups :  thanks to the advice received, my growing techniques have improved since 2010. Many of the followers come from such interactions. It has not always been as easy and simple as it seems today: therefore, sometimes, I explain that in the garden as well as in our lives, we have to be patient and persevere. 

Cécile : You meet an increasing number of persons who would like to help Eco Agric Uganda. What do you tell them ?

Joséphine : Yes it is true that we are currently well-known, but we still need support to progress with our projects: therefore, for those who are passionate about the causes we fight for, do not hesitate to help us. We have meaningful projects and have the capacity to manage them well.

Cécile : Thank you Josephine for having accepted to host me as a volunteer and delivering this testimony. You are an inspiring model for social entrepreneurs women all over the world and Eco Agric Uganda is a model of development for Africa. 

French Version is here

Watch here the institunional video I directed for Eco Agric Uganda