Can you imagine an episode of Shark Tank where all the competitors are Ugandan youth with innovative social enterprises? If you can, then you’re picturing Educate!’s annual National Student Business Club Competition.
National Competition brings together the top Student Business Clubs from Educate! partner schools across Uganda to showcase their products and compete for awards in categories like sustainability, financial management, and innovation.
Out of nearly 400 Student Business Clubs, 23 finalists were selected to pitch the businesses and community projects they had launched in the past year to a panel of distinguished judges, who scored them on criteria like bookkeeping, community impact, resourcefulness, and teamwork. The judges were leaders in business and education in Uganda, like Cynthia N. Mpanga, Head of Corporate Affairs at Standard Chartered Bank, and Khwaka Mary Cajo, Senior Examinations Officer for the Uganda National Examinations Board.
Every Club was unique and impressive—we were blown away by the diversity of projects we saw at this year’s competition, and the resourcefulness of the students in making innovative products with cheap (or free!), sustainable, and locally-available materials. A few highlights:
Making the old new again: Students give new life to discarded materials
Students from Kijjabwemi Secondary School in Masaka were strong contenders for the sustainability award with their innovative products, which recycle rubbish into new and improved household items. The students developed recycled plastic roofing tiles, made by melting down discarded plastic bottles and remolding them. The roof tiles are inexpensive and far more durable and weatherproof than traditional roofing materials, like thatch, wood, clay, or tin. Learning from their success with this project, the students then extended the same technique to another product—aluminum pots and pans. The students collected old aluminum cans, broken and discarded aluminum kitchen items, and other aluminum materials, melted them down, and remolded them into new pots and pans. These pots and pans are inexpensive to make but look and work like new, meaning the students can sell them at a lower price point and turn a bigger profit.
Ndejje Senior Secondary School from Luweero showcased the products they had made with recycled tires. With no adequate disposal technique, discarded tires litter Ugandan communities, often piling up in great quantities on the side of roads and in trading centers. The Ndejje Club collected these old tires and made them into unique and useful new items: sandals, hats, bracelets, and keychains. Incredibly durable, comfortable, and inexpensive, the judges were especially impressed with the sandals—a great option for low-income families in the students’ community.
Innovations in agriculture
Students from Pilkington College in Jinja displayed their well-developed agriculture projects. The students created an all-natural pesticide by testing various formulas until they found the most effective recipe. The students have an agreement with their school to farm a small plot of land on school grounds, where they grow cabbage and cassava for sale. They currently produce so much cassava that they are unable to sell it all before it goes bad, so they now set aside their surplus to dry and grind cassava into flour, which they sell at a higher price. The club launched a poultry project for additional income, and built an incubator so that they can hatch healthier chicks. When their incubator is not full, they rent out the surplus space to members of the community so they can also benefit from the invention.
Tororo Girls' School won the Community Impact award for their partnership with a local orphanage. They regularly volunteer there and donate crucial supplies like soap, food and soy milk that they make themselves. The girls discovered soy milk accidentally while making soybean snacks. After learning about its nutritious value and that it was cheaper to make than dairy milk, they began selling it to the community and donating it to the orphanage.
Also impressive, we saw Clubs exploring technology—for example, creating mobile apps and building solar-powered batteries—and helping their communities, by volunteering to mentor out-of-school youth, creating savings groups, and using a percentage of Club profits to pay school fees for classmates.
Research has continually shown that students learn best through the active practice of skills. Starting a business in school in a safe and supportive team environment is the best way to experiment, learn, and put these crucial skills to the test. Nearly 400 Educate! Student Business Clubs were operating across Uganda last year, and of those, 97% had a profitable project. The atmosphere of Nationals exemplifies this attitude of innovation and experimentation, and we are always so proud and inspired to witness the creative businesses students can launch when they are equipped with the skills they need to make their ideas a reality.