In 2009, Educate!’s inaugural year, Sam Mbulamukungi enrolled in a Skills Course and changed the trajectory of his life. For years, Sam’s parents used their small farming wages for two things: paying for their family’s basic needs and Sam’s education. It was this sacrifice that motivated Sam to excel in school, hoping that one day his parents’ efforts would pay off. When James Katumba, an Educate! Mentor, told Sam and his secondary school classmates that they could enroll in a course to acquire leadership and entrepreneurship skills, Sam believed that this was the opportunity he had been searching for. And Sam wasn’t the only one who felt this way; he recalls how “the whole school was being put on fire from the flame that Educate! had lit in us.” The Skills Course, Sam thought, could change everything. Sam was right.
In less than two years, Sam and his cohort of 40 Educate! Scholars not only gained the hard and soft skills crucial for business creation and community change, but they launched real businesses in school to address local challenges. They conducted community research, pitched product ideas, networked and marketed, made profits, reinvested, tried and failed and tried again, and their Mentor guided them every step of the way. By the time Sam and his Educate! classmates graduated from high school, they had serious enterprise experience under their belts and a vision for the future. Today, Sam is the founder of two successful businesses and has created employment for upwards of 50 youth and women. When he looks back on his life, he is adamant about one thing; “From the Educate! Experience, I learned to discover who I am.”
Giving Light to Pallisa
When Sam graduated from high school and the Educate! Experience, he returned to his home in Eastern Uganda, Pallisa, with a strong desire to apply his newfound passion towards catalyzing his community’s transformation. He conducted a needs-assessment and zeroed in on two of the most pressing issues: youth unemployment and inadequate lighting in homes. To address both, Sam decided to employ idle youth to sell affordable solar energy systems to families throughout his village. After a series of pitching to unwilling solar distributors, he was able to land a deal. Sam was in business.
There were three significant benefits to solar energy: it was more cost effective than purchasing paraffin wax for candles, it was clean and renewable, and families could increase monthly income upwards of $30 by charging phones for their neighbors for a small fee. Sam and his team explained the issues to the community and went door to door, helping residents calculate how much money they could save over time. When families couldn’t pay upfront, Sam offered a payment plan. Slowly but surely, homes in Pallisa began to light up and his business, NGOs Are For Energy, thrived.
By 2013, Sam was covering the entire Pallisa district. By 2016, he was covering three more districts and employing fifteen to twenty-five youth in each. Sam’s vision for his community is a simple yet ambitious one: for families to be able send their children to school, provide three meals each day, and afford basic health care. Today, Sam has stepped back from the day-to-day operations to focus on his other pursuits, but 10 franchisees remain in each district to run the businesses on their own and continue the work Sam started.
A Coffee Kibbutz in Kampala
While Sam’s company was getting up and running in Pallisa, he was also earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture. His course of study included a year-long study abroad trip to Israel, which led him to his second business pursuit: coffee. In 2014, Sam launched Agrinvestment Kibbutz (Kibbutz is a Hebrew word for “collective community”). Coffee, as Sam knew, is Uganda’s chief export, and the government sponsors programs to incentivize farmers to grow it. Sam’s new business would help young men and women take advantage of the government programwhile teaching best business and farming practices.
In Sam’s first year of production, his business earned 45 million Ugandan Shillings ($12,500) in revenue. This year, Sam’s “Kibbutz” aims to increase profits and reduce production costs by correcting past mistakes and growing larger quantities of coffee. This season, Sam’s collective is raising half a million seedlings. He expects to make 120 million Ugandan Shillings (over $33,000) in revenue and earn 65 million Ugandan Shillings (over $18,000) in profit. He currently employs 22 women who each earn
$100 per month, and he has expanded his operation to run in four different centers across Uganda.
Anyone can become the best
Sam has a deep satisfaction for the work that he does. To him, it’s not only about being a businessman, it’s about the effect he has on his country and pursuing new possibilities that previously seemed out of reach. “Before, I was just dreaming; maybe I will study very hard, get a job from government—that is what I was hoping. But then later on I said, ‘Okay it is better to create more opportunities for people who are not like myself.’ From then, I’ve been into community development and how to empower others. I now find purpose in life, for sure. And I am feeling more fulfilled because I am seeing other people, their lives being changed, being transformed, and that makes me happy.”
Sam still has big dreams on the horizon. He hopes that, one day, coffee-lovers around the world will be able to find his roasted beans in their supermarkets. But Sam never talks too long about his accomplishments or dreams before coming back to the source of it all: “The whole thing has to do with attitude and having people around you who are supportive, having people around who are mentors who discover what you’re good at and help you to grow. If kids can have someone who can tell them, ‘this is what you can be, you can raise to this level’...people can help them achieve their dreams. Anyone can become the best.”