Looking back, I can now see that I was always interested in entrepreneurship, in fact it was the norm in my country Uganda even though we didn’t give it a name.
Like many African women, I went to an all girls boarding school. While there, we had only male photographers who came out on Saturdays to take pictures. In those days we didn’t have digital pictures so they would take the pictures on a camera, go away and print them then come back and sell them to us a few weeks later. This was perhaps one of the first times I spotted a gap in the market. I asked my brother to buy me a camera and I started taking pictures. Knowing that men wouldn’t be allowed into our dormitories, I would take pictures of fellow students on weekends and important days like birthdays. I would then take the film (younger people might wonder what this is but that’s what we did then) and print the pictures when we were given a day off to go home. I would then come back and sell the pictures to the students as a side hustle for my pocket money.
Prior to this, when I was 10 years, I remember working with one of the women in our community who was a Rwandan refugee to make jam. Armed with the skills, I started making jam which I would take to my aunt Betty who would help me sell it to her friends in the bank where she worked. To some she would introduce me and I would tell them all about it and to others she would tell my story, sell for me and then give me the money.
This story may seen quite simplistic but it captures two lessons which I have learned in business which I will come to later. The next time I spotted a gap in the market, it was a different story. This time it was out of desperate need. When my husband, with I our 2 children under 3 years and a 7 months pregnancy moved to Scotland, we were neither allowed to work nor claim social security support due to immigration controls. Following five years of extreme difficulty, depending on the good spirit and charity of friends, family and the local community we were granted permanent residence in the UK. Six months on and it was clear no one wanted to employ us despite the vast amount of skills we had between us including marketing and business training. We quickly realised we were either going to depend on government support or do something ourselves.
Armed with what we had learned about migrant experiences through running an initiative which we had set up during those five years my husband and I founded Radiant and Brighter Community Interest Company to plug a gap -providing relevant support for migrant communities to meaningfully and fully integrate into the Scottish society, able to contribute socially and economically.
Through our own experience, we discovered that issues affecting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Communities needed a holistic approach. Only then could migrants to reach their full potential. Beyond that Scotland had the opportunity to benefit from the untapped potential that is the knowledge, experience, skills and expertise migrants come with. Radiant and Brighter is arguably the leading organisation in Scotland working with the public and private sector to understand culture and ethnic diversity. Services include; Diversity and Workforce Diversification programs, Leadership & Enterprise support for migrant communities, Orientation and Wellbeing programs and Young People’s programs which address isolation and build life skills.
My biggest challenge was
It is hard work setting up a business but eventually it pays off. It was extremely hard when we started. We had the first 3 years unpaid while we made it work and still experience perception related issues seven years on but we absolutely love our work and it is all worth it. Sometimes people know the problem but may not have the answer. If you think you can provide a solution, go for it. This may seem very simple but not everyone has the skill, expertise or determination to take the plunge or go through the hustle.