Barbara Birungi, director of Hive Colab and founder of Women in Technology Uganda (WITU)
Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
1. What was your first job?
I was a research assistant for Makerere University where I was trained to see how we could help market craftswomen get their products online and whether it could actually make them more money. So I used to go interview the women, see what they do, how much they are making, the challenges they face, and how online marketing could help them. I was 20 years old.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I would say that it’s Jon Gosier who I started working with as an intern and he just kept bringing me all these ideas. When I was doing an interview with him he asked me what I would want to do with my life if there was no limit. I told him that I would like to work with women and he asked me how. I told him I hadn’t figured that out yet and he said: “Figure it out and get back to me.” A week later he asked me: “So, have you figured it out?” I said that I wanted to get more women into technology and he said: “Okay, I’m going to give you a job but I want you to work on your idea.” He has always believed in me, he has always supported me even when I came with bogus ideas… he has always encouraged me and he has been my biggest influence.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
With Women in Technology we train young girls in programming, coding, web design and all that. So seeing a girl excited the first time you show her a cool website and tell her she can do that, or the first time she learns how to make a simple programme, that keeps me thinking how many more people can I help with, what to me is a basic skill, but to them it’s like rocket science.
So that keeps me thinking and coming up with more ideas on how I can help more women. The women I see on the street, and how technology can help them – that keeps me up. I just love women and seeing women elevated because I grew up in a single parent home. So anything to get a woman from level one to level two to level 50, whatever level she wants to get to, keeps me thinking.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Not giving up on myself, even when at times it has been difficult and I have thought “am I doing the right thing, is it going to work” or “I’m too young to do this and I have invested all my wealth”. At least I know if [something I am doing] fails I did what I could, as opposed to me quitting and never knowing if it would have worked.
5. What are the best things about your country, Uganda?
The people are friendly, I like that, and I also like the fact that there is not that much that has been explored in terms of technology so I see a lot of potential. Each time I travel abroad and see good ideas I think, “this would be nice to have in Uganda; I don’t have the time to do it, but I wish someone would do it”.
That keeps me really excited about my country because there is so, so much potential. There is so much that has not been exploited and if guys could just wake up and stop looking for jobs and think [about creating their own jobs] and just go online and see what other people are doing, or go to Rwanda and see what is in Rwanda that is not in Uganda. There is so much potential and that gets me excited about my country.