Youth Employment: Boosting Creativity and Business Performance
An interview with Marion Busingye, CEO of Mohca Beauty and Skincare Ltd
Q: Could you give us some more information about your business and what services / products you offer?
A: We set up about 5 years ago with a focus on the shea butter that originates in Uganda. Most people know about shea butter that comes from West Africa, but not about the one which comes from Uganda. The shea butter from Uganda is specifically suitable for the skin, so I started making products made from this shea butter. I was primarily motivated by the fact my son was born with eczema and I was looking for a solution for this. I found that Ugandan shea butter worked perfectly, which led me to ask whether I could make this into a marketable product — both locally and abroad. This was the idea that started my business of natural skincare products. I had also often read stories about people starting businesses and this definitely inspired me to go through with my idea.
Q: How big is your business in terms of employees?
A: We’re still tiny — we only have 4 employees at the moment. The business has really been like a baby for me — a labour of love. We are beginning to bring in more semi-automated equipment, and so I can see us steadily growing. It is certainly not the most convenient of times to invest heavily into a business, and so we are also being very cautious. As the demand grows, we will grow. I would love for us to be at a stage where we can add more people based on our need. At the moment, we are able to supply our clients within 48 hours and so we don’t currently need any more employees.
Q: Does your business have a global outreach? Are there any plans for expansion?
A: Within the last five months, we have begun exporting shea butter into Europe to other cosmetic manufacturers, as there is a need for the raw material as well. As to our brand itself, I would love to look at expanding it to create products for a range of skin types, though this is a far bigger investment and would probably involve some sort of partnership. We definitely see ourselves crossing borders in both these senses.
Q: How did COVID affect your business?
A: Our clients, who are mostly supermarkets, were limiting their orders as everyone was nervous. As we saw COVID coming to Uganda, we did as much production as we could before we had to shut down for about a month. We were then able to go back for a three day week and gradually work back up to our normal working hours. So, the main issue was with our clients slowing down orders. However, this time did give us the opportunity to sit back and think, and specifically to consider exporting, as we have now begun doing to Europe. It has been tricky as there are no COVID relief mechanisms for small businesses, so everyone is just trying to survive day by day. But we’re hopeful now that the economy is slowly reviving.
Q: What wider social impacts do you aim to have through your business?
A: Interestingly, the shea butter we use grows in a kind of belt across specific parts of Africa, I like to imagine it starts from East to West — though the West Africans would tell you something different! So it grows in a tree belt from Uganda, going all the way across to Ghana. Typically where the shea trees grow, it’s a very dry, arid area. You find a lot of impoverished communities in those areas. It is largely women who collect the shea nuts and take them to be sold, or actually process the butter themselves. From a social impact point of view, we have started looking at training these ladies and considering how we can vertically integrate that part of our value chain. We can help to improve how much they’re harvesting and the quality of the product. There are other secondary factors, such as the fact the shea tree in Uganda has been under attack from logging — as a lot of people have been cutting it down to use as firewood and so environmentally we are also pushing to sustain and protect the tree.
Q: Has there been any point during your work with the business where you have had to step back from your values in order to prioritise business practicalities? Or have you always been able to align with them?
A: The population has largely been used to using imported skincare products. Most people would look to products such as Vaseline; chemical, mass produced and cheap products. So when we came in with a natural product, there was a price difference — we are around five times more expensive than these mass produced products. This causes the conflict of whether to go down this mass produced root in order to sell to a larger audience and gain monetarily, or to stick to what you always wanted to do. This was especially the case due to COVID, which has caused people to spend less than they usually would. This was the only value dilemma that I have experienced. However, because I decided to grow my business organically, the push was not really just to make the money come in. Rather, it was about whether or not I could create a brand that could sell in amidst all of these other household name brands. So far, we have managed to stick to our values.
Q: To pick up on your point earlier about women, generally, as you’ve now been working with your company for five years, do you think the role of women in business has changed and how do you think it will move forward in the future?
A: Within our society, women have actually always been more entrepreneurial. Even traditionally, women were the ones who worked out on the fields and brought produce back home to sell, whereas men generally went to the city to look for better paid jobs. We are seeing more women becoming more entrepreneurial in the sense of moving away from rural, subsistent positions into actual entities — seeing women run businesses and do things officially. There are a lot of graduates out there who want to create their own paths in this sense.
Q: Do you feel, as a female entrepreneur, you are able to gain a good work / life balance?
A: I worked for a few years before I had children, and then when I decided to have children I was lucky enough to take some time out. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be everything — to be perfect, but in my personal experience this is detrimental as it results in spreading yourself extremely thin. This is especially the case if you don’t have a good support system. If you have a support system that gives you people who can look after your children in the way you want them to, it frees up your mind to allow you to work more easily. Trying to find the balance is like juggling, you keep going and sometimes you get it right, sometimes you drop a few balls — but you pick them up and you keep trying. The less pressure we put on ourselves, the better, as it’s impossible to be perfect. It’s definitely a challenge to get to the balance, and everyone’s challenge is different, but personally I try to stringently divide my time into time for the business, time for the children, time for the wider family and so on. This has allowed me to find a balance that I feel comfortable with.
Q: How has your experience with The Challenges been, as I know a Junior Associate from the Youth to Work Programme has been involved with your business, what have they taught you?
A: Yes, Barbra (a Junior Associate from The Challenges) has been working with us and she’s been great. She has developed a customer feedback system, which has allowed us to look more in detail at what our customers are buying and thinking. We largely do not deal directly with customers as we sell to retail outlets, which makes it really difficult to ascertain what the end customer is thinking. So, now we have a database which helps us capture some of this information, which has been really great. Also, from her analysis of the business, she came up with some very interesting ideas in terms of digital marketing and our social media presence and how to push the business forward in this sense. We’re offering our Junior Associate a permanent position with us as she has been so beneficial!
Q: Do you see the Youth to Work programme as having an individual benefit on businesses it is involved with and do you think it has the potential to have a wider social impact?
A: I think the programme definitely has the ability to aid individual businesses as well as having a wider impact. The Junior Associates are fresh into the arena, and so are buzzing with ideas and giving them the opportunity to be involved with the business can really benefit you. So, from an individual point of view, the programme certainly works very well. In addition, the fact that the Associates have been trained by others is really beneficial as often you can experience hiring someone who then doesn’t fully live up to their CV, which creates an unfortunate cycle of hiring and firing, but the programme means we can avoid this issue. From a wider perspective, I guess it depends on the type of enterprise involved. What Junior Associates are able to add to the business is extremely beneficial. One thing I would say, is that I think it would be beneficial to have people from the business to be involved in the analysis that takes place, in order to further their skills as well. In this sense, the programme definitely has the potential to enact a wider impact.
Q: Any final comments?
A: Overall, the programme so far has been wonderful and I would certainly recommend it to other businesses. I would love to go through the programme again and meet some other Junior Associates. Thank you.