“We are one family even though we all come from different areas of Uganda,” says Nellie Ssali, a Ugandan businesswoman with a mission – to lift fellow women out of abusive relationships and empower them to make enough money to support their families.
Her company, Makika Stylz, is celebrating a decade in business this year. Since 2006, it has grown to employ seven people and train an average of ten vulnerable women each month.
Manufacturing beautiful textiles, garments, home décor and accessories, her business is woman-owned and women-facing. It’s an enterprise with a deep-rooted social mission.
Once graduates from the scheme have finished, they are lent one of Nellie’s sewing machines for a year so they have an opportunity to earn and purchase a machine of their own.
And more recently, it has been supported by Challenges Worldwide ICS volunteers who have helped Nellie with her financial management and marketing, as well as pitching for funding.
Empower the world
“It is very important for all of us to empower women. When you empower a woman you have empowered the world. A woman is the mother of the nation,” said Nellie.
“Some of these women have escaped from violence – the main cause being that these young girls are jobless and have to depend on the men to support the children and themselves.
“In most cases when they ask for money and the man does not have it, they fight.
“And some of them were in relationships with married men who lied to them that they were unmarried. Once the legal wives found out, the men ran back to their wives, abandoning these young girls and their children.”
Nellie feels passionately that the best way to save these women from violent, abusive relationships and destitution is by economically empowering them by training them to run their own businesses.
“I am passionate about getting jobs for these girls so they can provide for themselves and their children,” explained Nellie.
“In most cases, these girls drop out of school, run away from home after being fooled by these cruel men and after realising they are pregnant, the men abandon them or start being violent.
“By the time I meet them they are so desperate they are planning to commit suicide.”
“They cannot be accepted back home so they are left homeless with their children. By training them and working with them I am giving them another chance.”
When Nellie meets the young women, the most important first step is finding out their background and understanding whether her partnership will be able to help them.
Then, if she’s able to help, she begins teaching them about garment construction, product development, textile designing and jewellery making.
With 20 girls now in the group, Nellie’s hoping for them to all be able to have enough money to buy sewing machines so they can later become her future suppliers.
“The first group of single mothers I worked with from my community had given up on life and were finding it very difficult to find work.”
“So I decided to find a way to use fabrics scraps from the bin. We collected, cut and patched them together and made a queen size bed cover and pillow cases. We were so lucky – someone fell head over heels for it and paid us good money.
“I split it among the girls. The reason I did this is because the scrap was ready to be thrown and burnt but we managed to collect it and make a useful product.”
An empowered Uganda
Having picked up an award last month from Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited for her contributions to social enterprise, Nellie is optimistic about the future.
“Today Ugandan women are more empowered than in the past,” she said.
“Our speaker in Parliament is a woman, we have ministers who are women – and their ministries are performing better than the men’s – we have female doctors, lawyers, engineers, auditors. We’re a nation of very successful businesswomen.