As her business looks to the future, Sharon Againe (’09, Uganda) holds fast to the memory of a hardworking beekeeper she met years ago. In her third year at EARTH, Sharon interned as an Alumni Volunteer Consultant in Mozambique’s Gorongosa district with Technoserve, a non-profit organization. There, she worked with beekeepers whose limited access to markets made it hard for them to sell even a small portion of the honey they produced. She vividly remembers Verinijo Simajani, a honeybee farmer who kept pots of honey around his hut. Even so, he lost close to 5,000 liters of honey annually because he found so few buyers nearby. The community’s “plight,” and Sharon’s desire to connect small-scale producers like Simajani to their “real customers” and reduce their risks, have inspired her ever since.
Intent on better understanding “creative marketing tactics,” she continued to enhance her skills through a post-graduate internship at Allegro Coffee Company in Colorado in 2009. Sharon then returned to Uganda in 2010. There, she studied the challenges that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) faced in reaching global markets. “The memories of the beekeeper made me think harder of possible solutions for these businesses,” she shares.
The AgaSha Business Network, her company, is an online business community that supports SMEs in accessing the global market. “For most of them, it was their first time to appear in the media of any kind and to market their businesses beyond their villages,” she says. Establishing an online presence can vitally help African businesses interact with investors and promote their products. At the same time, the company offers a printed directory to serve the needs of communities lacking Internet access.
In recognition of her efforts, Sharon was chosen as a finalist in two international business competitions. In 2011, she was selected as a finalist in the BiD Network’s Women in Business Challenge, receiving an all-expenses-paid business trip to the Netherlands for a customized training program. Sharon also came in second in the Orange African Social Venture Prize in 2011, which mentors and funds entrepreneurs and start-ups who use information and communication technologies to meet African people’s needs.
Now, the Rwandan government sees such potential in Sharon’s model that its leadership has asked for her help replicating it in Rwanda in 2013. Sharon also plans to create a regional directory; it will include Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan. “The business is growing, and the challenge I have now is high demand,” she says. As AgaSha Business Network grows, so does Sharon’s commitment to helping others, like the honeybee farmers she met, flourish–not only in Uganda, but also beyond her country’s borders.