“Dear graduands, Rusia Orikiriza is a young Ugandan, who has been studying at Makerere University, and is a living testimony that entrepreneurship, even from humble beginnings, can earn you international recognition,” said Makerere Chancellor Prof Mondo Kagonyera in his speech at the university’s 61st graduation ceremony in 2011.
To the undiscerning, Orikiriza passed as another graduand but to those with a desire for entrepreneurship, she was an inspiration. She is the founder and managing director of Oribags Innovations (U) Ltd, an organization that recovers agricultural waste such as banana and pineapple peels and paper waste to make paper bags.
The 27-year-old mother of two and winner of the 2009 Rising Star Award from the International Labour Organization (ILO) did not know that producing paper bags would be such a hit. She only discovered it after the enterprising giant made pitiful returns from making jewellery.
“I was using paper as one of the materials to make jewellery and I reasoned that making paper bags would be the best alternative to using paper to preserve the environment,” the soft-spoken, chubby entrepreneur explained.
On the day I visited Oribags head office at Creations Centre on Second street, Industrial Area, it was business as usual. The sight of scissors, dye, paper and workers in overalls said it all.
Here Orikiriza, together with her staff, work on orders from gift buyers, corporate companies, schools and universities to make ends meet. Her products range between Shs 700 and Shs 15,000 depending on the size of the bag.
How it began
Having failed at making jewellery, Orikiriza, then a Library and Information Science freshman, used her position as the vice chairperson of Kigezi Students Association to network as much as she could.
Yet the signs of her entrepreneurial spirit can be traced back to Orikiriza’s S.6 vacation from Kigezi High School, where she volunteered with the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref) as a youth co-coordinator in Kabale district in-charge of youth entrepreneurship.
She finally hit the jackpot when she met the then Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Gabriel Opio, with whom she shared the idea of turning waste into paper bags.
Impressed with her idea, Opio wrote a recommendation letter for her to receive mentorship and training at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI).
“Although the people had doubts of whether my business was going to succeed being the young girl I was at the time, they later accepted me and even signed a memorandum of understanding with me to establish my business there,” she recalls.
Luckily for her, the institute contributed Shs 3m as start-up capital to her venture. She added Shs 800,000 she had saved from her jewellery business to establish Oribags, which started in 2007.
Today, Oribags has expanded beyond UIRI offices to the Industrial Area and Mukono with 19 employees. It also boasts of a host of partners such as Ndejje Women’s Group and Towode Women’s Group who contribute to product development through weaving straps attached to the bags.
Oribags has brought her success beyond what she envisioned. See, in October 2011, Orikiriza made it on The International Alliance for Women (TIAW) World of Difference 100 list, and got the TIAW World of difference award. The award recognised her as an outstanding global young woman leader, whose actions, efforts and inspiration have advanced women’s economic empowerment.
She has been featured on Wisdom Exchange TV, an educational resource to inspire African women to learn, lead and succeed in life through featuring the achievements of women who have succeeded in business.
Orikiriza admits the cost of production is high, especially due to the high taxes levied.
“Oribags is one of the small and medium enterprises but we are treated as a big investor and we face a challenge of high taxes,” she said in a sad monotone.
Nevertheless, she says she has managed to stay afloat because of existing competition which has helped to spur her on. To market her products, she uses social media such as Facebook, Twitter and the website: www.oribags-innovations.com. She also uses committed clients who recommend others to market Oribags.
In the long term, she envisions Oribags as the leading producer of eco-friendly products across East Africa.
Orikiriza has many achievements up her sleeve. Not only was she honoured with the Young Achievers award (Business and Trade) from Young Achievers Uganda for her innovation and excellence in December 2010, but is also a 2012 fellow of the US president’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
YALI is President Barack Obama’s latest long-term administration programme that seeks to engage Africa’s young leaders in solving African problems.
“When the US Mission-Uganda called for applications for innovative entrepreneurs, I did not hesitate and luckily, I was chosen for the YALI programme and flown to Washington DC for the innovation summit,” recounts Orikiriza.
Thereafter, she was given the opportunity to be mentored for six weeks by Earth Links in Colorado. She is now working to educate young people about entrepreneurship and help them build the skills set necessary to start their own businesses under a YALI-sponsored project dubbed Empowering Youth Entrepreneurship Through Hands-On Innovation, Creativity, and Skills Training.
In March 2011 she was recognised with the “SEED Award 2010” from United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for her exceptional social and environmental enterprise.