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Free Financial Literacy Program helps Ugandan women market vendors get money smart

In the development world, Women’s Empowerment, Gender Equality, and Financial Inclusion are three big buzz words that often come up. Access to financial and social assets is a key contributing factor to supporting youth with making their own economic decisions and escaping poverty. Organizations like the MasterCard Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have invested millions of dollars in programs that seek to advance learning and promote financial inclusion in low and middle income countries like Uganda. The big dogs are screaming loud- and they’re right- but what about the homegrown solutions?! What about the Ugandan nationals like Akram Mpagi who is basically the African version of Dave Ramsey?

Last week, my social media algorithm led me to an advert for a financial literacy training happening halfway across the continent in Uganda. The advert was targeting market women and as a female entrepreneur who interacts daily with market women, financial management is forever the bane of their existence. In fact, Nigeria’s hope of quick recovery from recession and significant increase in economic growth is under threat from the low levels of financial literacy. Lack of financial knowledge translates to little to no sustainability. I know at least 3 Market women that had to close down their business this year due to low capital and poor management practices.

In an effort to learn more about this invaluable resource, I reached out to Akram directly to see if this homegrown solution is the key to helping women successfully navigate financial challenges, capitalize on opportunities to invest, build resilience and recover from economic setbacks. Our chat shed light on the financial situation of women, especially market women in Uganda. By the end of our chat, I dubbed Akram the king of financial fitness!

Akram Mpagi is an accountant poised to change the financial literacy scene in Uganda. From his experience as a child of a single mother, Akram developed a passion for finance. Uganda’s unemployment situation resulted in Akram’s slight deviation from accounting to instructing CossFit fitness sessions for a mixed group of expats and Ugandans.

His journey away from accounting didn’t dampen his zeal to make a difference; rather it added fuel to his passion. From fitness training to financial literacy training, Akram Mpagi has stayed ahead of the game and made a difference. In 2020, he launched Akram Accounting Services (AAS), an accounting firm that has saved over 20 startups in Uganda from poor financial choices.

Akram recently launched Project FinGrow, a social impact initiative of AAS. One lecture at a time, Akram Accounting Services is set to financially empower women. In this interview, he speaks to Sonia Ehizewele about his love for financial technology and his motivation to pay it forward with kindness and asset-building tips in his local community.

 

What is Project FinGrow?

Project FinGrow is a social impact initiative that focuses on financial empowerment and adult literacy to improve women’s digital financial inclusion in Africa. Akram Accounting services seek to address gender gaps in skills, access to capital, and financial management.

The project seeks to drive change by maximizing the profit-making capabilities of female-led businesses in Uganda. The focus is on Ugandan market women.

 

What inspired you to launch Project FinGrow?

As a child of a single mother who tried and failed at several businesses, I knew I had to make a difference. This zeal inspired Project FinGrow. I recall a particular incident when I was 10 and I came home to meet my mum crying because she had lost all her money because she lacked financial literacy and couldn’t properly manage funds.

I also discovered that my mum was not the only one with the challenge in Uganda! The World Bank lists Uganda as one of the seven countries worldwide that have attained gender parity with a strong culture of entrepreneurship. Women own one in three businesses in the country but these businesses are typically smaller and in less profitable sectors than those of their male counterparts. Working in CrossFit with experts in various fields also contributed as I saw women who were financially literate amongst the expatriate community succeeding in their roles.

Project FinGrow aims to reverse this trend through financial literacy empowerment for Ugandan women.

 

What background did you have in financial literacy before launching Project FinGrow? 

I have a background in accounting and finance. I have worked as a Financial Analyst for Development organizations funded by bilateral and multilateral donors. The experience I gained over my career led to me founding Akram Accounting Services. At Akram Accounting Services, we provide financial services to small businesses globally.

Project FinGrow is an initiative under Akram Accounting services.

 

Your program caters to female market vendors; why women? 

Do you know how much cash flow traditional markets have? It’s a lot! These women have not even tapped 10% of the potential of this cash flow.

In my accounting and financial experience, I worked with Emata, a microfinance that provides loans to dairy farmers in Uganda. Over 80% of our clients were women and a trend I noticed was they made better financial decisions in terms of reinvesting their loans. I observed that with the right education, women can manage finances well and make good business decisions. I also considered the gender gap when it came to financial education among female market vendors and their inability to create wealth due to a lack of knowledge.

With Project FinGrow, women do not have to struggle to make financial decisions and take care of their homes. They are empowered and taught to easily make these decisions.

 

How do you think the financial education landscape needs to change for Ugandans of all backgrounds to be more confident about building a more stable financial future?

Financial education is not prioritized as it should be in Uganda. There needs to be more support from the government towards financial education. It should be considered a right and not a privilege for everyone irrespective of financial status. This would improve the confidence level of Ugandans and improve wealth creation in our society.

At Akram Accounting Services, we strive to bridge the existing gap in financial literacy by providing services such as budgeting, payroll accounting, bookkeeping, and revenue forecasting. Our packages are customized to suit everyone’s financial needs.

 

Uganda, Ghana, and Botswana have the highest percentage of women business owners in the world. Furthermore, Youth in Uganda are the youngest population in the world, with 77% of its population being under 25 years of age. As the demographic changes, how will the financial services industry change in how it serves this new demographic?

Technological advancement is the response to demographic change. As the demographic changes, the financial service industry has to change and adapt to this new demographic of predominantly younger people. At Akram Accounting Services, we have taken into consideration this expected change in demographic. We have fully automated our operations to give a better service to our clients. We’ve also been able to leverage technology to minimize business risk for our clients. All financial services need to adapt to the changing technology to be able to effectively serve the new demographic.

 

Raising money and gaining investment can be one of the most challenging parts of building a business: what resources do you recommend tapping into here in Uganda?

I’ve come to realize that naming a business, having an idea and even getting people to believe your idea is easy. The hardest part of a business is business funding. The two resources that are readily available in Uganda are venture capitalists and bank loans.

Bank loans are more common and easily accessible. To be able to access these loans, you need to have more than a good idea. A solid business plan and good credit are necessary to tap into bank loans. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, invest in technologically driven businesses in high-growth and profit sectors. Venture capital is not for all entrepreneurs; before you choose investment offers, you need to understand the pros and cons. If you’re a small or medium-sized business, here is a friendly resource: M-KOPA is a connected asset financing platform that offers millions of underbanked customers access to life-enhancing products and services.

 

Financial Literacy encompasses a broad range of knowledge and skills that are crucial to the social impact venture building experience (and your team’s long-term success). What’s your advice to early-stage entrepreneurs looking to broaden their knowledge of financial literacy?

Do not try to get it all at once. Early-stage entrepreneurs find themselves under a lot of pressure to achieve their goals and sometimes they try to do everything at once. This will just leave you overwhelmed and fatigued. You need to know that Rome wasn’t built in one day. You cannot get all the details of financial literacy in one day. Take out time to understand the concepts and how to implement this concept. Understanding and application are necessary for your financial success. At Akram Accounting Services, we’ve evolved in the accounting sector by customizing services for clients. Everyone has a different desire so knowing a concept and being able to apply it in diverse ways is key. We have broken away from the set financial norms and successfully applied variations of these set norms.

 

What are the top 3 things entrepreneurs should know when building financial literacy skills?

The top 3 things I feel entrepreneurs should know in building financial literacy classes is to first; know that it is not going to be easy. It’s not impossible but it’s not a walk in the park either so you need to set your mind to it and be determined to achieve it. Secondly; understand the value of money. Your operations, decisions, forecasts, and budgeting are tied to your understanding of the value of money. Financial literacy cannot exist without budgeting and if you do not understand the value of money, you will budget wrongly. You need to make sure you are making the best use of the money resource. Lastly; learn from your mistakes. You cannot be perfect so if you learn from your mistakes, you won’t repeat them. You would perform better once you’ve understood how and why a mistake was made.

 

If you were to give your younger self financial advice, what would it be? 

Lol! This is a funny one. One financial advice I would give to my younger self is not to spend money on frivolous things. The trendy clothes, shoes, and watches I got when I was younger are lying in my closet with no financial value. I would tell my younger self that we don’t need them and could invest the money. I will advocate for a minimalist lifestyle with my focus on how I can financially situate myself and my future. When you make the right decisions, good things always come.

 

Do you have anything else on the topic of financial literacy you would like to share with our community?

I have a lot of things to share and I doubt if we can finish them today. One of them is this; our community needs to know that the stability of their individual or business lives depends on the decisions they take. At Akram Accounting Services, we save you the burden of making these decisions by making them for you. We leverage our extensive expertise in the financial sector to customize different packages for different business owners. These packages address the fundamental choices for clients. Our goal is to ensure profitability and we guarantee to always make the right choices for you.

If you are a small business owner and you would like to better manage your money and build momentum with small wins along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out 🙂

Our website is www.akram-accounting.com. Please reach out to us on our website or via email. We don’t bite! 🙂

For small bite-size tips, we do have a podcast where we share easily digestible tips and tricks to automate and facilitate ease for small business owners and start-ups.

We can also be found on LinkedIn, IG, and Twitter under @akramaccounting.

Cheers

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Written by Sonia Ehizewele

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