In Uganda financial literacy training for refugees and host communities develops the skills necessary to grow refugee businesses and transform lives

Imagine fleeing your home with little more than the clothes on your back and what few items you can carry. You are running for your life — forced to leave your house, job, belongings and famil behind.

This was the reality for Mary Nadia, one of the 1.3 million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. In 2016, Mary and her family fled their homeland, seeking refuge from the conflict there. Escaping in a small car, she had to leave everything behind and start anew in Bidibidi, Uganda.

By watching videos online, Mary taught herself to cut and sew clothes, transforming her passion into a source of income. But setting up a business was not easy, as Mary struggled to understand how businesses operate in Uganda.  “I just used my money recklessly,” she says. “If I got money today, I would just spend all of it. That poor management of money made me become poor.”

So she participated in Centenary Bank’s two-week training for entrepreneurs in 2019. With support from the European Investment Bank, the Ugandan bank provided business and financial training to over 1 776 refugees and local entrepreneurs across Uganda.

Now, Mary is a proud owner of a successful tailor’s shop. “I hope in the future my shop will grow big, so that I secure the future of my children,” she says.

Training for a better future

Centenary Bank serves vulnerable communities in Uganda and contributes to the country’s socio-economic development. That was why the bank decided to offer business training in nine districts with significant refugee populations: Isingiro, Kamwenge, Hoima, Masindi in Western Uganda; Adjumani, Arua, Koboko, Yumbe in the North Nile region, and Kampala in the Central Uganda.

Refugees, women, and local entrepreneurs learnt how to improve their businesses and manage better their savings, allowing them to grow their personal and household incomes. Mary used her new management skills to save money, enabling her eventually to produce more clothes, buy more machines, and even hire more people.

Centenary Bank’s project is the first of its kind in Africa. The European Investment Bank’s support played a vital role in making it possible, says Kasi.

“Loans to finance microfinance activities, combined with technical assistance, help microfinance banks, such as Centenary, to best support small and medium-sized enterprises,” says Hannah Siedek, a senior microfinance investment officer at the European Investment Bank. “The beneficiaries of such loans use the provided liquidity, for example, to hire additional staff able to sell more bread. So, the baker can generate more income, grow her business, diversify her product and maybe, even pay for her kids’ school fees.”

In practice, this adds up to training 2 200 Centenary Bank staff, supporting 75 capacity-building exercises, and changing the lives of 6 000 entrepreneurs across Uganda just like Mary, who is sharing her craft skills with other single mothers in her community, helping them create a better future for their kids in Uganda.

This story is part of a series, Chance for Change, which shows how our projects improve lives around the world. See more stories here.