Johannesburg — allAfrica's Nontobeko Mlambo spoke to Joan Nalubega, 22, who was 2018's Anzisha Prize second-runner up. She is the co-founder of Uganics, which produces mosquito-repellent soap to combat malaria in Uganda. She explains how the U.S.$12,500 has helped accelerate her business and widened her impact in the fight against malaria.
I am Joan Nalubega from Uganda and I am the CEO and founder of Uganics - a company fighting malaria in Uganda and in Africa through a mosquito repellent. I won U.S.$12,500 as the second runner-up of the Anzisha Prize. In Uganda, malaria is one of the most killer diseases that continues to kill a lot of people, including children. And some of these children end up becoming disabled because of this disease. This is mainly because the most affected people lack awareness and knowledge about the disease. The doctors that treat them just give them medication and do not tell them about the prevention measures they can take, which makes it hard for the affected people to deal and fight the disease that they do not even understand.
My business works with hospitals to carry out malaria campaigns in hospitals and also in communities. We also try to encourage health workers to give out more information about this disease so that ordinary people are able to understand what they are dealing with. We are also making malaria-preventing measures affordable and accessible to communities even to the most low income families through a mosquito repellent soap that we sell to the high-end market like the tourism industry in Africa, to hotels and resorts in Uganda. We are also selling it outside of Uganda.
How did this business idea come about?
I grew up in an orphanage in Uganda near the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda and I suffered a lot from malari. I suffered from it almost every week. I used to miss school and I was always discriminated against and was called different names by my schoolmates because I was very skinny, as a result I was suffering from a lot of trauma.
When I finished high school one of my sponsors invited me to Social Innovation Academy - a place that empowers marginalised youths to become socio-intrepreneurs or to start social businesses, or even to just discover their purposes not just entrepreneurship but what one really wants to pursue. When I started looking into my life and what I could do, I found myself leaning towards doing something that will combat malaria because I was a victim of the disease.
Finding out that there are still a lot of children that are still dying from the disease that is preventable made me want to do something about it. I first had to identify what the problem is so I decided to develop or to come up with solutions that will tackle the disease. One of the solutions was to go to communities and talk about the disease and finding out how I can help, talking to hospitals and giving out as much information about the disease and symptoms as possible. I developed the products using different malaria research on malaria interventions that were available about the disease, and working with institutions and chemistry institutions to help me test the product I was developing. It took me almost a year and four months to really come up with this product and another year and eight months to get a certificate to even sell the product in Uganda. It was a long journey with ups and downs and challenges.
Did you have funding before winning the Anzisha Prize money?
Most supported mostly came from the Social Innovation Academy when I was doing the field studies In the communities to understand what would work better for them. In 2017, through the Social Innovation Academy I received my first funding from a Germany NGO through a competition. They were looking for two businesses and I was one of the two businesses that were picked for funding of U.S.$3,000 which I thought would be enough to develop my products and grow the business but that wasn't the case. I then applied for Tony Elumelu foundation funding of U.S$5 000 and that amount helped me to finish developing the product. I would say it was the basic capital I needed to kickstart my business.
How has the Anzisha Prize helped your business?
It has really boosted my business to produce the good and quality products that people can buy, not because they want to support me because they are my friends or my family but because they see a good, well-packaged product and its a repellent and they see potential in it. This year I was awarded as the Champions of Science by the Africa Innovation Academy during the World Health Organisation forum, so this is all the support that doesn't just find you where you are, you need to look for it and the Anzisha Prize was one of the opportunities that has helped the business get where it is today.
How many people does the company employ?
Because our product is natural we outsource most of the material that we use to have a quality and natural organic products. We have to ensure that the organic components and that the raw material that we use is of quality and effective. We wanted to do it ourselves but we didn't have the resources. We took the advantage that in Uganda, usually in rural areas, there are people who inherit large pieces of land and they use the land for agricultural purposes, not to even sell the food the land produces but for their usually-large families. We identified these kind of families that have big pieces of land and we trained the women on how to grow these herbs that we used for the repellent, and then we buy those herbs from them for our product. We have 24 of those women doing that for us so we basically employed them because we pay them on a monthly basis depending on how much they supply to us. I also have a team of five administration people that I work with so including myself I employ 29 people and most of them are women.
What would you say to a young person who is thinking of starting a business and one days hopes to win the Anzisha Prize?
I think it depends on what business you are starting but if you are starting a social business I think right now we are not even competing anymore. This year I met a girl who wants to start a mosquito repellent business just like me and she was asking me if I wouldn't feel bad that she is starting the same thing that I already am doing and I asked her how can she ask that when over 16 million people in Uganda are still suffering from malaria almost every year. Right now the United Nations says it wants to end malaria by 2030 and that is almost in 10 years and I don't think I will be able to make my products accessible to all those 16 million people because we are 24 million in Uganda, I do not know where the 16 million people are. I told her that there is still room for many people to start such a business. Entrepreneurship is not only about starting a business that will make a lot of money, you want your business to be sustainable and also you want to make an impact and be able to solve problems that people are facing. My advice to any young person who aspires to becoming an entrepreneur, I would say you need to start right now because what to do is within you and around you. It is up to you to stand up and start what you would like to start because the resources are there. We live in the times of advanced technology, the Internet is available for one to find information on the kind of business they are interested in starting. There are people that are willing to support you but you have to go out and look for them because they are not going to look for you. You are the one that is supposed to show them that you are capable of doing what you are saying you want to do. Also keep in mind that there is no such thing as failure. At some point your business might take a wrong direction but you will learn and then you will eventually find your way.