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How Ugandan youthful leaders shared floor with British royalty

On June 26, three Ugandans; Elizabeth Kasujja, Stephen Katende and Bazil Mwotta Biddemu received the Young Leaders Award from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham palace.

The programme, now in its fourth and final year, celebrates the achievements of young people from the Commonwealth working to improve the lives of people across a diverse range of issues including supporting people living with mental health problems, access to education, promoting gender equality, food scarcity and climate change. Justus Lyatuu looks at how the trio made it to the top.

In 2014, a search was launched to find exceptional young people to receive the first-ever Queen’s Young Leaders Awards. Hundreds of applications flooded in from incredible young people, all dedicated to making lasting change in their community and beyond.

The Queen honours Elizabeth Kasujja

Last year, Kasujja, Mwotta and Katende applied for the award and, after vetting more than 2,000 entries, were shortlisted to be among the 240 winners from 53 Commonwealth countries.

FARMING MADE EASY

Mwotta is the brains behind the mobile agribusiness app AgroDuuka, which connects farmers directly with buyers in Uganda. AgroDuuka creates a market for local farmers, where there was none before, and eliminates the cost of working through intermediaries.

To date, it has connected more than 800 smallholder farmers from 36 villages to buyers throughout Uganda. Mwotta created the app in 2017 after seeing how his mother and other farmers in community in Mpigi were being exploited by middlemen who were buying produce from them and selling the produce at exorbitant prices in urban areas.

“For my mother, the Internet has had a significantly positive effect on her life. She can now sell her produce to the right buyers and the right price, and can make a profit – something she rarely did before. And most people in my community are very happy about this. My mother also has more time at hand – time which she would normally have used to travel to markets, she can now use to do other things,” he says.

Brian Mwotta

All one needs is to send a message to the AgroDuuka contact line or through Facebook or WhatsApp and spell out what he/she needs to buy or sell. Almost immediately, AgroDuuka peruses through their list of requests to buy or sell the product and links the two together. The app only gets 10 per cent of the sale.

However, the app is still not yet rolled out countrywide. “I really believe the Internet can influence development in Uganda and Africa more broadly – as apps like mine have shown,” says Mwotta.

“But in Uganda, very few people actually have access to the Internet. And it’s really hard to include them in the potential benefits if they don’t have actual access. Lack of infrastructure in Uganda is probably the biggest barrier to Internet access, especially in rural areas. But even in some urban areas like Kampala, the quality and speed of the Internet is often limited. Without improving access levels, and the quality of access that is available, our people won’t be able to benefit from the Internet’s potential for development. I’m hoping by 2022, AgroDuuka will be a leader in linking up people in farming.”

KISOBOKA MAGIC

Meanwhile, Katende’s Kisoboka Africa tackles issues to do with the youth and was born out of his time working with rural communities surrounding the Building Tomorrow primary school of Lukindu, Lyantonde district. Kisoboka, which means ‘It is possible,’ helps in encouraging parents to save, borrow, and invest for their children’s education.

Working with over 150 parents in two schools, Kisoboka Africa mobilizes parents to work together in school-based groups, save what little money they have, and then lend it to group members to start income-generating projects in their communities to finance their children’s education.

The savings and lending initiative has already helped over 400 children to acquire an education and jumpstart entrepreneurial activities in the communities in which it works.

Many of the parents are borrowing money to invest in small-scale agriculture, which is the dominant livelihood in the rural communities where Kisoboka Africa works, while others have used the money to set up restaurants, establish small shops, and even purchase a motorcycle to do motorcycle taxi rides, known locally as boda boda.

But Kisoboka Africa is not stopping there. Taking its model a step further to work with children themselves, Kisoboka Africa promotes Young Saver and Investment clubs in primary schools to teach children how to save money, as well as instil a savings culture and leadership skills to help them be successful in the modern economy.

As Katende explains, “In rural communities, people think they are too poor to save,” so changing the mindsets of the poor at a young age is key.

Why the trio won recognition for queen’s young leaders award

L-R: Stephen Katende, Bazil Mwotta Biddemu and Elizabeth Kasujja

BAZIL MWOTTA BIDDEMU

Bazil is dedicated to helping farmers in his community thrive. He is the founder of AgroDuuka, which helps farmers in Uganda access information about market prices for produce in their region. It is designed to act as a low-cost SMS platform to connect smallholder rural farmers directly to buyers, before and after their harvest.

To date, Bazil and his team have helped more than 800 farmers from 36 villages in western and central Uganda to gain a fair price for their produce. AgroDuuka has recently partnered the Uganda National Farmers Federation, which is enabling almost five million farmers to have access to AgroDuuka.

ELIZABETH KASUJJA

Elizabeth uses technology to transform the lives of people living with mental health issues in Uganda. Her inspiration came after witnessing the stigma surrounding mental health in her community, and discovering that many mental health problems went undiagnosed due to a shortage of trained professionals and resources.

This led Elizabeth to co-found Clear Yo Mind, which creates secure online platforms for people to express their feelings and access free help from mental health professionals.

Clear Yo Mind also offers a text message service, where users can request help, and secure one-to-one appointments with professionals outside of a hospital environment. Elizabeth is currently studying towards a Diploma in Psychology to further support her work.

STEPHEN KATENDE

Stephen works to ensure that children in rural areas of Uganda are able to complete their education. He is the founder of Kisoboka Africa, which runs School Community Banks in the rural districts of Lyantonde and Lwengo that allow parents to save, borrow and invest for their children’s education.

In addition, Kisoboka Africa equips parents with entrepreneurial and agricultural skills to help start and run their own businesses.

The parents are also encouraged to engage with teachers to address any challenges their children are facing at school. Stephen and his team now work with 150 parents in two schools, and have helped over 400 children to acquire an education.

The organisation is also starting to operate Young Savers and Investment Clubs in rural primary schools so that children can learn how to save money and boost their leadership skills.

L-R: Elizabeth Kasujja, Bazil Mwotta Biddemu and Stephen Katende in the UK

Kasujja’s rare noble cause

Elizabeth Kasujja has over five years of experience in the health sector of Uganda. Currently, she is the brains behind Clear Yo Mind which builds technologies focused on mitigating the mental health illness of depression before it becomes chronic.

Clear Yo Mind also raises awareness about mental health within communities in Uganda so as to ultimately contribute to reduction of stigmatization towards mentally ill or depressed people.

Kasujja has certification in public health from Johns Hopkins  Bloomberg School of Public Health and is currently pursuing a Diploma in Psychology.

Kasujja says she chose the path of entrepreneurship within the health sector because health is what makes everything else relevant and in that regard. “I desire to make a big difference where it matters most. I’m an innovative business leader and value my work of raising awareness on mental health.”

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