Lessons Learned by a Young South Sudanese Entrepreneur

Martha Abari Bartholomew with her employee at the retail shop that she owns in Munuki neighbourhood in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: © UNDP

In a country like South Sudan, facing conflict and an unprecedented economic crisis causing the price of goods to increase at an alarming rate, it is not easy to start a new business, neither to achieve profits nor sustain your life. However, the instability has not stopped Martha Abari Bartholomew from being an entrepreneur.

“It is not about personal business but it is about what you do to transform South Sudan. For the country to reach a better status, we must have a good environment of entrepreneurship – entrepreneurs are the ones who will build this nation,” said Martha. “It’s not about the government, it’s about us standing on our own feet. If we can all stand on our own, we will prosper. If we are depending on the country to hold us up, we will all fall. I want to make sure every person around me doing business are raised together to develop this nation.”

After participating in UNDP’s Entrepreneurship Training and Business Development Services workshops, Martha gained skills and the behaviours that enable her to manage her business. She feels strongly about making a living with her shop and has bigger plans for the future.

“I have learned that it’s not good just to keep running your businesses without knowing the risks involved. I know now about the importance of setting goals with a specific target. In five years, I see myself having a large business running in this country and employing many people. I really dream of having a centre for training young people,” she explained.

Aiming to train current and aspiring young entrepreneurs, UNDP’s Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development project supports trainings facilitated by EMPRETEC Ghana Foundation, an Africa-wide Centre of Excellence which uses tried and tested approaches to entrepreneurship development tailored to country-specific contexts.

entrepreneur 2Martha attending one of the classes on advanced business advisory services, as part of UNDP’s Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development project. Photo: © UNDP

“A lot of programs just offer training. Then we ask ourselves why people are not making use of these trainings? Or you can conduct 10 trainings and always see the same faces attending, and yet you go to their businesses and they haven’t made much progress. This is because when it comes to implementing some lack the willpower or encounter fear,” explained Kwabena Dankyi Darfoor, a senior trainer from EMPRETEC Ghana Foundation. “The principle behind the training is that when people are forming their business they need to shape their business ideas and someone to guide them. What makes the EMPRETEC model work is the advisory services.”

“My business was about to collapse before but because of the knowledge I received from the trainings, right now I am implementing good strategies. The business is now running very well. Since I started this programme, my business has improved,” affirmed Ms. Bartholomew.

South Sudanese business people think that improving infrastructure services and financial inclusion, increasing transparency and accountability, and achieving peace would contribute to enhance business environment in South Sudan. The scarcity of hard currency, particularly the US dollar, is a big obstacle, along with the sharp fall in the value of the South Sudanese pound.

“With business, we face challenges in this country. There are times when we think of giving up. I had a restaurant before but I stopped it because of the challenges I faced. I didn’t have the knowledge on how to persist in what I’m doing and how to improve,” explained Martha. “But after attending the trainings, despite the challenges we are going through in the market, I told myself I would set some strategies to make sure I don’t run out of business. It helped me,” declared the young entrepreneur.

With funding from Japan, 110 men and women have already participated in the programme, drawn from a wide-ranging selection of business sectors including vegetable and poultry farming, printing and photocopying, hairdressing, logistics, IT services, engineering, construction, transportation, and public services. 

entrepreneur 3Martha, together with Daniel Kir, a UNDP Programme Specialist in the Human Development and Inclusive Growth Unit, shows proudly the certificate she obtained after finishing several stages of the Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development programme. Photo: © UNDP

“We believe there are a lot of youth, especially in South Sudan, who need to be started properly. People leave school and they always think of getting employed by government or other established corporations but we’re trying to get them to start thinking with an entrepreneurial mind-set,” said Mr. Darfoor. “We want them from school to being thinking about starting their own business and to serve as examples that there is dignity in generating your own living and self-employment than just sitting by the road side waiting for government employment.”

“I am now a person improving my business and I am an advisor to myself. I tell myself what progress in my business I must accomplish by a set time and if I do not accomplish it, I make sure to evaluate myself and figure out what I must change to be successful. I hope to see more youth thinking not just about employment but of being employers themselves,” said Martha.