21 April 2017

Uganda: Tuition Challenges Gave Nabwire a Business Idea

University tuition can sometimes be unforgiving, considering deadlines and the penalties that accrue. It is this immense pressure that gave Mercy Nabwire the much-needed push to start a decorations business from which she is earning besides her formal employment.

Nabwire had always loved business. As soon as she was admitted at Uganda Christian University (UCU), she began exploiting possible avenues to meet her financial needs without engaging in dubious behaviours.

"Most girls who desire luxuries like smartphones, fancy accessories and the like end up jumping into bed with rich men to get such items," she says. "I wasn't going to be another one of them."

With her pocket money, Nabwire hit the busy Kampala streets and shopped skirts from Owino market. She would then sell to her colleagues in hostels and during the university trade bazaars to keep herself financially afloat.

This cost her some friends who did not want to associate with a skirt vendor. Nonetheless, that didn't alter her zeal.

"I didn't mind them. I just kept doing my thing door-to-door. Eventually, girls would seek me out asking whether I had new arrivals or any left for sale," she says.

Her business acumen could have been good, but it proved too little when her father Mathias Mugeni, a clearing and forwarding businessman, failed to raise her tuition balance of Shs 700,000. This left her struggling to get the money and pay, or get a dead year during the second year of study into her Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree.


Uncomfortable with the dead year option, Nabwire hatched the idea of starting a decorations business. Although she had always harboured the dream, she had never organised a single event or had the capacity to put one together.

"I made 100 fliers from the skirts' money, and moved through finalist students who were due to graduate," she says. "In doing this, I was marketing my yet-to-start decoration business."

Fortunately, she got potential clients who wanted her to decorate their graduation parties. She would charge Shs 500,000 to decorate a single function. However, delivering the service would try her since she didn't own a single material for decorating the smallest function.

While walking around Mukono town one evening, she met a one Nathan carrying a bouquet of flowers.

"I followed him to his shop and asked him if he decorated events. I told him I was a student and had a deal," she narrates. "I asked him to decorate the two parties with his materials, and pay me a commission."

At first, Nathan was hesitant for two reasons. One, he often decorated a graduation party for at least Shs 1 million, yet Nabwire was offering half the price. Secondly, how could he trust this overly ambitious student on face value?

On explaining her tuition predicament, Nathan obliged. After the two events, he gave her Shs 300,000 onto which she added a top-up from the UCU Chaplaincy to clear the outstanding tuition fees. By a whisker, she survived the dead year and was registered for exams. This was a relief to her parents and friends who could hardly help.


Now that Nabwire had tested the deep waters of event decorations, she was ready to go. She later formed Mercelina Events, her company, in 2013. She has since decorated several events ranging from baby showers, get-together dinners, weddings and birthdays, among others.

From each event, Nabwire takes home at least Shs 1 million. From the revenues, she has secured tents, chairs and expanded her business to include ushering and make-up for her clients.

"I don't want my clients to get make-up and ushering services from somewhere else when we can do it ourselves," she says.


However, she decries late payments, errant clients and rains, especially for outdoor events. These, she says, in one way or the other, disturb her operations and affect her delivery in the long run.

The challenges notwithstanding, Nabwire is set to add a public speaking system for hire and a beauty shop in which she will sell mostly hair extensions. Nabwire vowed she would be employed for precisely three years after school. Ever since she graduated in 2015, she has served as administrative assistant at the School of Research and Postgraduate Studies and, currently, the faculty of Business and Administration at UCU.

She advises women to be creative if they are to equally contribute to their families' wellbeing instead of waiting for men to do all the 'heavy lifting'.

"Some even sit on their own ideas because they lack confidence and esteem to start. I encourage them to concentrate on where they are going rather than on the criticism they get," she says.

Although Nabwire is still juggling office work and business, she told The Observer that at the right time, she will quit her job to concentrate on her business.

"It's not a question of if," she said, with a wide smile. "It is a question of when."

Her close friend and co-founder who later moved on, Olive Ankunda, describes Nabwire as a determined and fearless lady who cannot be deviated from her course.

"Her vision and courage to pursue it wherever it leads is enviable. It is that discipline that most of us lack," Ankunda says. "We quit when things are bad, but Mercy will keep at it until she gets it right. I admire that quality about her."


She was born on December 27, 1992 to Mathias and Grace Mugeni in Majanji, Busia district. She is the third of seven children. She attended Rock View primary school in Tororo district, but left while in P4 to join Bio-tech primary school in Muyenga, Kampala, from where she completed her P7.

She later attended Wanyange Girls in Jinja for O-level before joining Mpoma School in Mukono for her A-level. She now holds her hard-earned BBA from UCU.


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