For many women, breaking the proverbial 'glass ceiling' is a daily struggle, especially in sectors that have traditionally been seen as a preserve of men, especially sciences.
The problem is compounded by lack of self-confidence, and a lack of role models and mentors, among others. However, there are those that dare to dream and pursue their passion like Charlotte Uwamahoro, a Ruhango-based technician. She is an example that nothing is impossible when one is determined and works hard.
The managing director of Kazi Ni Kazi Ruhango, a firm that deals in electrical installation and repair, and maintenance of electronics, has managed to flourish in this business due to her go-getter approach to everything she does. For many people in Ruhango she is the "Lady Mechanic". The entrepreneur has managed to thrive in the sector and turn her passion for electronics into a gold mine.
Residents say they are attracted to her workshop because she is skilled and provides good services. In fact, this reporter found a number of customers waiting to be served, while Uwamahoro and her staff were busy repairing mobile phones, television sets and computers.
On average, the enterprising technician earns more than Rwf500,000 per month.
She credits her success to the timely support from Business Development Fund (BDF).
Uwamahoro was always fascinated by gadgets as a young girl and dreamed of becoming an engineer right from her childhood. She often visited electronics repair workshop to observe understand how business was done.
When she completed Senior Six at St Joseph Kabgayi in Muhanga, she joined a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institute, where she specialised in electronics engineering.
"I had wished to pursue my dream of becoming an engineer, but I didn't have money to pay for my university studies. So, I decided to join a TVET institute for a diploma course in the same field," she adds.
While she received training at VTC of Workforce Development Authority (WDA) in Ruhango, Uwamahoro, kept receiving mentorship from friends who were already in the profession.
After graduating from college in 2014, the 25-year-old set out to start a small workshop. She was, however, to encounter a lot of challenges that most startups face, including lack of credit.
"It was difficult because all I had were the skills I gained from school and working with friends in the same field."
BDF comes to her rescue
The lack of funds did not discourage Uwamahoro as she continued looking for funders of her project. She approached different banks and pitched her business idea hoping to be supported, but none of them were interested.
"So I decided to visit BDF who in turn accepted to give me start-up capital of Rwf500,000, plus a grant of Rwf250,000," she narrates.
She used the money to buy start-up equipment and hired two other youth to help in implementing the project.
"Ten days later, the workshop was up and running," she says.
Being a woman, not many customers trusted her, which affected the business during the initial stages.
"Some clients never believed that a woman could repair their electronic equipment. However, with time, people were able to realise that I was very skilled and knew what I was doing. This helped build some level of trust and confidence among clients," adds the business woman.
According to her, the bias against women technicians affects their businesses and makes them less competitive.
Lack of exposure is yet another challenge that the budding technician battles every day. To counter the problem, Uwamahoro always networks with sector players and also develops partnerships with relevant firms and individuals from economies that are technologically advanced.
However, despite these challenges, the young entrepreneur has been able to thrive by embracing innovation and new technology.
"For instance, I was able to bring to the industry ICT and modern software thus modernising business.
"This improved our operational efficiency, thus further strengthening consumer confidence."
"I always worked around the clock to ensure repairs and software installations we done and finished quickly because that is what customers want to hear," she said.
Uwamahoro does not regret trying her luck in the male dominated profession.
She says the profession has shaped and sharpened her entrepreneurial skills, enabling her to create jobs for fellow youth.
The enterprising technician currently employs eight TVET graduates and has opened branches in Ruhango, Gitwe and Kinazi sectors.
"The idea of expanding is designed to ensure we reach to as many customers as possible with quality services," she said.
Uwamahoro plans to continue expanding her business to other parts of the country. She also wants to play a key role in job creation employing more youth for sustainable development. She also plans to enroll for a degree course in electrical engineering.
Advice to youth
Uwamahoro advises the youth to look at TVET as another exciting opportunity for career development.
"It is one way of creating employment for others while making your own contribution to the country's development agenda," she says.
Young people must also take advantage of the visionary and good leadership of president Kagame who has been at the wheels of ensuring the youth have a conducive business environment to become more profitable for the nation, Uwamahoro added.
She also says female youth must be courageous enough to join sectors dominated by men. The entrepreneur urges female students to embrace science and technology and urges government to continue encouraging girls to take up careers in engineering.