From Hawking Beads To Running A Billion Shillings Company
“The success I have today is a culmination of all my past attempts and failures,” Rusia Orikiriza begins her narrative. Orikiriza is the visionary behind Oribags a multimillion eco-conscious business venture for which she has won very prestigious local and international entrepreneurship awards, including the 2009 Rising Star Award from the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Young Achievers Award (Business and Trade) and Woman Achiever of the year.
Unlike other manufactures that use paper, Orikiriza uses traditional materials like banana fiber and cotton waste to make stylish, high quality, customized bags, boxes and stationary.
“I knew at a very early age that sitting back and wishing would not do. I wanted money and I wanted to make contacts and I set out to look for both with relentless hunger,” narrates Orikiriza.
The 31 year old wife and mother of three, says her life changed when a well-to do family adopted her. “I noticed how life was different for this family. I noticed how easy it was for this man to give his family a quality life. At that age I realized that he was able to do everything he wanted because he had money and I vowed at that moment to make as much money as possible,” adds Orikiriza.
At age 17, Orikiriza got her first job as presenter on voice of Kigezi which gave her first capital. She invested in a second hand clothes shop in Kabale town which she ran until her senior six vacation ended. In addition to doing a computercourse during her senior six vacation, she chose to volunteer with AMREF under the youth empowerment project which gave her the opportunity to travel extensively inspecting what the youth in the region were doing to better their lives.
At the end of the vacation, Orikiriza decided to relocate her shop to Kabanyonyi from Kabale to save on operational costs. To suit the environment, she added alcoholic and none alcoholic drinks to her stock. “But I soon realized that I would not be able to run it from Kampala and I closed it down,” adds Orikiriza.
She enrolled at Makerere University for a bachelor’s degree in Library and Information Science but the entrepreneur couldn’t resist the pull and she soon starting looking around for opportunities.
“City life was so alien to me. For a while I felt disoriented by all the new things I was experiencing for the first time in my life,” she narrates. The urban shock wasn’t for long though. Orikiriza found Daughters Of Zion a youth organization ran by pastor Martin Sempa where she learnt how to make jewelry from beads. “The jewelry was making enough money for a student but I wanted more. As a first born of eleven siblings I was always looking around for opportunities that would elevate our lives. That’s why I pounced at the opportunity to work with Uganda Industrial Research Institute with the idea to expand my business,” Orikiriza recounts. At the institute, she was exposed to various options and she chose bag making.
While the bags were going through research and development, the serial entrepreneur started selling fresh juice at functions and schools a venture which was short-lived because of logistical complications. She then landed a deal to supply Irish Potatoes to Uchumi supermarkets until it closed. “Of all the businesses I had engaged in, the Uchumi deal was so far the biggest and most profitable. I was heartbroken when they closed but I also learnt a big lesson in moving on,” she relates. Already bitten by the supply business, next, Orikiriza went into grains and cereals but the business also ended after a disagreement with her partner who was a relative.
Orikiriza says that her biggest treasure is her family. “Without family all these accomplishments mean nothing. Success becomes more meaningful if you have people to share it with. “I was fortunate enough to have the presence of mind to marry someone strong and liberated enough to let me pursue my dream because his support has been invaluable to my journey. He has been by my side along the way and I know that together we will go even further” Orikiza says of her husband.
What I have learnt
Clients are looking for quality and pay no attention to whether the products were made by a woman or a man. So, I am a business person first and then remember to become a woman when I enter my home.
Women must learn to network, blow their own trumpet and even engage in some business practices that might stretch their moral values like tipping.
Green living tips
Make profit from your waste either as manure or briquettes.
Do something in a day to improve mother earth. One action per person adds up to global change.
Success is . . .
Success is a journey and it is relative. For me success is realizing that the business can run without me and that our employees are growing and prospering.
Lastly. . .
Don’t tie yourself to your past mistakes. Don’t fill your head with your inabilities. Stop focusing on petty issues. All these waste your time and brain cells that could be used for bigger better things.