Damali Ssali, an MBA graduate from France’s Grenoble École de Management, has her finger firmly on the pulse of Uganda’s entrepreneurial prospects.
She has her sights set on starting up her own business in Africa — a venture capital fund supporting Ugandan entrepreneurs.
And Uganda is a good place for aspiring entrepreneurs to be. Last year, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranked African nation as the most entrepreneurial country in the world; nearly 30% of the adult population were registered as new business owners.
Damali believes that one reason why so many native Ugandans have turned to entrepreneurship is a damaging lack of access to inexpensive trade.
Working at Kampala-based TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), she liaises with both public and private sector organizations to improve an inefficient trade network. The aim: for the region to trade itself out of poverty and unemployment.
Previously, Damali worked as a finance manager for UK-based KIDS charity and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, before relocating to France for her MBA.
What are your future plans?
I would like to start up a venture capital fund that provides seed capital to Ugandan entrepreneurs who may have innovative business ideas but lack the capital to start or expand.
I live in the most entrepreneurial country in the world. So I suppose I’m in the right place!
Why has Uganda become such a thriving start-up hub?
Aside from the obstacles to inexpensive trade, a long period of economic stability has fostered a positive environment for start-ups.
Uganda is a natural logistics hub, neighboring markets in DR Congo and South Sudan, which are more accessible now after years of political instability.
It’s also home to one of the youngest populations in the world. The internet has enabled the transfer of money and services to every part of the country, creating opportunities for young risk-takers.
What problems does an ineffective trade system pose to East Africa?
The situation is such that an imported drug is 70% more expensive for an East African than for a European; purely due to an inefficient trade and transport system.
For the same reasons, Ugandan coffee on a European supermarket shelf is for example 40% more expensive than Brazilian coffee. The product is uncompetitive and the extra 40% does not pass back to Ugandan coffee farmers.
How are you currently working to improve trade in East Africa?
The TMEA are working to improve physical and soft infrastructure at Kenya’s Mombasa port and Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port — the gateways to East Africa.
We are also working on linking the various trade agencies in Uganda to a single electronic portal that will enable Uganda traders to log standardized trade documents.
Which industries are likely to take off in the region?
The extractives industry is certainly going to take off. Gas and other mineral deposits are particularly crucial in Tanzania, and the oil industry is taking off in Uganda and Kenya following substantial oil discoveries.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to work there?
Africa is made up of 44 countries within eight economic regions, each with its own unique competitive advantage. Conduct your own research and be informed about the industries and sectors that are expanding in the location that you are interested in.
Leverage your existing social networks and register with the professional bodies in your region of interest. Recruiters often advertise with these bodies, which contact suitable candidates from their databases.
How have you profited from your MBA experience at Grenoble École de Management?
The MBA equipped me with the tools and skills to function in any role. It widened my career options and broadened my understanding of all business sectors.
Grenoble is consistently and justifiably ranked as one of the most innovative business schools. The city [of the same name] is home to some of the most innovative French companies.
As if that’s not enough, it’s also a holiday town. At the weekend you can squeeze in some skiing in the French Alps or easily drive over to Nice, Monaco or even Venice!