Women's IT Sector Enterprises

Case Study No. 5


A Women-Operated ICT Services Unit in North-Western Uganda

 

Case Study Author

Alfred Lakwo A.Lakwo@maw.kun.nl

 

Enterprise History

In August 2002 the author took up a volunteer position in AFARD (Agency for Accelerated Regional Development), a local NGO operating in North-Western Uganda. At this time, AFARD was providing two female orphans with volunteer internship positions. Unfortunately, there were no funds for their subsistence costs.

 

It was decided to start up an income-generating ICT unit which could be managed independently from the other project activities by the two female volunteers. Initial financial support was secured from Gorta (Ireland) and Regina Fonds (The Netherlands) to buy two PCs. AFARD itself generates its funds from grants, sales of consultancy and other services, and members' contributions. The Founder Members (FMs) pay a mandatory annual membership renewal fee as well as their annual subscription fee. However, from time to time the FMs make an extra contribution to a specific activity in this case they funded three more PCs for the ICT unit.

 

It was agreed that the proceeds from the new ICT unit should be divided as follows: 30% to AFARD for maintenance and purchasing and 70% to the work team of which 15% was to be used for operations (covering routine servicing of facilities such as the generator changing oil filters, air cleaners, plugs, etc and bimonthly servicing of the computers) and the remaining 85% for their upkeep.

 

Enterprise Profile

Of the two female volunteer interns, one works as cashier and typesetter and the other as typesetter and office administrator. The first has a Diploma in Journalism, the second an Ordinary Level Certificate in Computer Application. One other person, a man, works in the ICT unit as a trainer. Note, however, that the Founder Members of AFARD are all men; the Board of Directors is composed of both men and women; the technical team is all male.

 

The ICT unit carries out computer application training, typesetting, data entry and photo scanning. Its main customers include civil servants, students on vacation and from tertiary institutions, local government contractors and local government councils. It has five PCs (Dell, Compaq, Acer) and uses MS Office Suite, Adobe Pagemaker and SPSS.

 

Enterprise Performance

Staffing has not increased since the unit started up in December 2002. In 2004 total sales amounted to US$4,200. 21 people were trained; there were typesetting contracts with seven local council, and three data entry contracts. In addition, there were non-contract typesetting and scanning jobs

 

In 2004, after asset value, wages, and operations and maintenance costs were deducted a profit of US$1,010 was recorded. This calculation of profit is somewhat unusual and innovative. Right from the start it was agreed that all ICT items be depreciated at 25% per annum. Unlike the practice in many organisations where depreciations are book-values, AFARD ensured that the equivalent of the depreciation value was saved in a separate AFARD account. This fund is meant to be used to replace the ICT facilities when they are written off.

 

The average monthly expenditure is US$48 whereas the average monthly income is US$244. The only subsidy is from AFARD which often provides fuel for running the shared generator.

 

Main Success Factors

1.      Working long hours every day (opening at 7.30am and closing at 6.30pm). This has enabled work deadlines to be met and established a reputation for dependability.

2.      Maintaining personal contacts with clients.

3.      Provision of advice to clients on how their work can be improved through print and graphic enhancement.

 

Main Benefits for Women

1.      A monthly salary for each woman of about US$75.

2.      Improved computer application skills.

3.      Improved social status through being employed and self-supporting. The unemployment rate is rising locally for school-leavers and many feel disillusioned. The peers of these two young women always refer to them as the 'lucky ones' because they are earning their own money and are self-supporting. In this small town society, largely structured by occupational status, they are not seen as ordinary women but as 'employed wage earners'. This adds value to their social status.

 

Main Negative Impacts or Risks

1.      Some clients, especially young men, continually bring work to the bureau in order to make sexual advances.

2.      Isolation by school mates who have failed to secure employment.

3.      Fear that the male trainer will leave for a better-paid job.

 

Good Practice in Management

1.      Proper financial records management that has improved accountability for funds received and expended. A cash receipt is used for finished works that have been paid for. Invoices are provided to those who have not yet cleared their bills. And an (adjusted) cash book is kept to reconcile daily transactions: income, expenses, and debt/credit incurred. At the end of each day the transactions are balanced and a summary generated weekly.

2.      Timely reporting to the Programme Officer (PO) on performance at the weekly AFARD technical team meeting which the PO chairs. One of the women reports on accounts performance with a focus on sales and credit collection especially in relation to organisations that require AFARD management pressure at times in order to secure payment for ICT-related services provided. In relation to this, see also the earlier remarks about the innovative approach to costing, which includes depreciation, and which allows the enterprise to have a clear and accurate picture of its financial situation.

3.      Open communication between the secretariat and AFARD management.

 

Main Challenges

1.      The women's lack of training skills.

2.      High maintenance costs especially due to depending on thermal power, the price of which is in constant fluctuation.

3.      An inability to widen the package of services to include, for example, Internet, pay-phone, photocopying, and fax services. Such an expansion would involve a pretty huge initial investment which is not available.

 

Case Photograph

Staff members assisting a trainee

 

Case Details

Author Data Sources/Role: Enterprise Advisory/Research Role

Region: East Africa Start Date: 2002 Submission Date: March 2005


The "Women's ICT-Based Enterprise for Development" project is coordinated by the University of Manchester's Institute for Development Policy and Management. The project is funded by the UK Department for International Development's Knowledge and Research programme.

 

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 http://www.womenictenterprise.org/afard.htm August 2005