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Atim tackling youth unemployment in Uganda using technology

When I met Vanessa I suddenly understood what the term a breath of fresh air on a personal level. She is more than a figurative breath of fresh air, she presents fresh perspective, ideas, conversation and humor. A woman of the present and future, who supports other women, fights for the advancement of the youth and wants to leave the world better than she found it.

At the tender age of 24 Vanessa Atim packed her bags and moved from the country she was born and raised in to her country of origin, Uganda. Here, she founded the dynamic organization Pro-Interns that connects students and graduates to internships, placements and entry-level opportunities. I have always watched her in awe of how hard she works, her bravery and her ability to network speedily in new environments, always ready to venture into the unknown while teaching and learning something new.

What wakes you up in the morning?

I am a young ambitious, vibrant and layered woman. I am driven by the need to fulfil my highest potential in this one life that we have all been blessed with. I love to create impact in the work that I do which is extremely rewarding. I am also very social and enjoy spending time with my family and friends which is how I strike the work life balance.

Purpose and passion wakes me up in the morning, I believe that we all have a call to do something which is greater than ourselves, when I feel sluggish or ‘not in the mood’ I remember my purpose which is to positively impact the lives of others especially young Ugandans because I believe the popular saying that ‘Someone’s destiny is tied to your purpose’.

What was your background like and do you draw inspiration from it?

I grew up in inner city London, East London to be specific. I was brought up by an amazing single mother who has raised my brothers and I lovingly. I would definitely say that my main inspiration are the women in my life (mother, grandmother and aunties) who are strong, loving, extremely hard-working and highly educated (one of my aunts is an Oxford and Cambridge Alum, and another aunt is an Assistant Principal, my mother is a Mental Health professional as well as owner of an online business). Having these direct role models has really paved the way for me. I learned from their lives from a young age that anything is within my reach.  

What are you most passionate about currently?

I am passionate about job creation and tackling youth unemploymentand underemployment by using technology to connect graduates and students with employers through formal internship, placement and entry-level opportunities in Uganda.

Above all I am passionate about social impact, how can I impact someone’s life? Or transform livelihoods? I believe that every student and graduate has the potential to thrive and deserves the opportunity to better their chances of transformed livelihoods through gainful and decent employment. This is my passion.

What was it about Uganda that made you leave everything you knew to come here?

Thankfully my mother brought us (my siblings and I) on trips to visit home during the summer. She was intentional in ensuring that we were in-touch with our culture and extended family, I didn’t think that years later I would take a solo-trip at 24 years old which would inspire my move back home. Ultimately I wanted to do something more fulfilling in my career and life. The quality of living is much greater in Kampala (from my personal experience). I was extremely nervous about the move but I was also very excited. Initially I had booked a one way ticket to Uganda and it was supposed to be for six months, but as things gradually started to pick up with ProInterns I knew I was here for the long-run.

How did you come up with the ProInterns idea? Did it evolve over time or is what we see today the exact blueprint?

Well I resigned from my job in London and relocated to Kampala in 2016, following a conversation with a relative who was unemployed for two and a half years post university graduation. This inspired my mission to connect and educate young people on labour market conditions and in-demand skills in Uganda through ProInterns. I was very intentional in the beginning stages of what I wanted to build and achieve, I carried out thorough research, set up a landing page which helped attract early adopters who I later met to better understand what they would want from a platform like ProInterns. Over the course of time things changed with regards to our service offering but this was always in line with our mission.

Where do you see Pro-interns going in say five years?

The vision is huge, definitely scaling across the East Africa region and connecting thousands of young people to decent and meaningful work opportunities.

You are extremely passionate about seeing women living fulfilled, liberated and successful lives. How do you intend to achieve that goal in a society that is still male-dominated? Do you see any progress so far?

I don’t think the goal is unattainable, and there is some progress with regards to this when you observe the growing number of active women in political, business and senior positions, for example  Anne Juuko (CEO of Stanbic Bank Uganda), Phiona Wall (President of Uganda Law Society) Evelyn Namara, Dr. Nataliey Bitature, etc. Since relocating in 2016, I have noticed a high number of women taking up space in their respective fields (which is so inspiring), but there is still work to be done with regards to how we value and treat women, especially in the traditional African context.

 In your opinion do you think women can run successful businesses, have a social life and even a family?

You know my answer Brad…. Yes! However, I do believe that it does depend on the support systems one has in place, I have seen women who “have it all” and are thriving, however, they also have a lot of support from their husbands/ partners or family/ friends. I do also believe that there are some sacrifices that will come into play also which may mean spending less time with family or friends as a result of striving to have it all. But as for me, right now I’m single and will worry about those things later.

What is it about life everyone should be excited about right now?

Thriving in the midst of uncertainty.

Name four people that inspire you and you think young people (both male and female) should look up to?

  1. American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.
  2. Social entrepreneur and the Chief of Staff at The Simba Group, Dr. Nataliey Bitature.
  3. CEO of Stanbic Bank Uganda Anne Jukko
  4. Aisha Ali, the Founder of I Profile Foundation

You can follow pro-interns on twitter: @pro_interns

Vanessa on: @Vanessa_Atim_ (on Twitter) and Vanessa Atim (on LinkedIn)

Interviewed by: Bradford Kamuntu

@bkamuntu (on Instagram) @bee_kay_0512 (on Twitter)