Elizabeth Ajok is only 28 but has dreams of becoming a highly regarded businesswoman, known not only in South Sudan, but internationally.
“I see other women in East Africa, like Uganda and Kenya, doing business. I want to be counted as a successful woman in South Sudan, in the region, and in the world. I want to become a rich woman like them,” she said.
Since 2015, she has been an established rice farmer in Aweil, cultivating on 20 hectares of land and employing 10 seasonal workers. She also makes beadings, sheets, and produces bricks for construction purposes.
Elizabeth was one of 80 participants selected from over 1000 local applicants for UNDP’s first round of Entrepreneurship Training Workshops held in Aweil. Her cohort joins previous trainees in Juba and Gbudue State who have received the UNCTAD-certified training programme, which is based on the EMPRETEC model of entrepreneurship.
The training was funded by the Government of Japan and is part of UNDP’s efforts to restore livelihood and productive capacities as part of an integrated recovery and resilience response.
“Before this, I didn’t realize I could earn money weekly. It has always been seasonally. I’ve learned I shouldn’t plan just for certain months out of the year but I should plan for sustainability,” she shared.
Last year, Elizabeth’s rice crops did not yield as expected due to lack of rainfall. The variability in weather patterns in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, resulting in prolonged dry spells, is an ongoing challenging when it comes to improving community resilience and food security.
“I don’t think this is a problem which will go away. So, I need to think both short term and long term. I am now thinking of a plan to look for a new rice seed, as they have in Uganda or Kenya. In the meantime, I will split my farm into sections and try different tactics,” said Elizabeth, citing a practical example of the concept of risk management shared during the training. This is important for Elizabeth as this year is the first time she won a contract to supply the state government with rice from her farm.
Elizabeth says the Entrepreneurship Training Workshop has built her competencies and thus her confidence to run an effective business.
Elizabeth alone generated 7000 SSP in a single day during the “Business Create Exercise” component of the training. By the end of the six day programme, she had an order request for 14 intricate pieces from a South Sudanese expat from Aweil, now living in the United States.
“I’m preparing now to calculate my pricing for them based on the bead cost, labor time, and profit margin,” said Elizabeth. While explaining her strategy for fulfilling the order, she begins to dive into the need to build her brand and register her business.
As an entrepreneur, Elizabeth is brimming with ideas. She speaks without a trace of doubt in her voice and she beams as her workshop colleagues model some of her beaded creations at the closing ceremony of the Entrepreneurship Training Workshop.
Selected as one of the participants to speak on behalf of the group, she appealed to government officials in attendance to support young people and women as they pursue entrepreneurial activities.
“Where I’m from, girls are seen as assets. If young women now go on to achieve wonders, others will be inspired to take young girls to school. They will see opportunity in young girls, that they can do more than fetch a dowry, and that they can be productive,” she said.
At the top of her requests: local government support for people interested in applying for land, and to strategically allocate that land near access to markets and economic hubs.
“Businesspeople will build our economy, pay taxes, and support government. Businesspeople will build our communities. If I can manage to feed myself and maybe 10 others, then in that way, I can help reduce poverty,” said Elizabeth.