By Lilian Nantume*
The education and dissemination of knowledge about Intellectual Property Rights for small women-owned businesses in Uganda is still in its infancy. Unfortunately, most women do not know that they can transform the business ideas they have in their heads into protected business products. Others have never realized that they are naturally creative and innovative regarding the kind of products they are producing. This is one of the reasons I founded Grooming a Successful Woman with Intellectual Mind (GSWIM). GSWIM is an organization that aims to empower and inspire women to be successful by using Intellectual Property (IP). GSWIM focuses on encouraging women’s economic empowerment through the transformation of their ideas into business assets for enhanced commercial value and self-sustainability. GSWIM believes in women’s potential for creativity and innovation and that they can participate in the growth of the economy equally to that of men. In this way, GSWIM aims to close the gender gap in the use of IP Rights.
What is GSWIM Doing to Support Grassroot Women?
GWIM is a knowledge-based organization that empowers women from local communities in Uganda to establish businesses based on the use of creativity and innovation. This is done through partnering with local community leaders, who recommend and organize women – many of whom are already entrepreneurs – that might benefit from knowledge about IP. This is either to help them to grow their businesses or to create businesses from innovative ideas they have. In addition to individual mentoring, we train them to develop their business skills, with the emphasis on making sure that these women are empowered to transform their knowledge into something tangible with commercial value. GSWIM also collaborates with other institutions, such as WIPO, in joint training seminars on the value of IP as a tool for economic empowerment.
Over time, we have seen how innovative women are when it comes to ideas for business products. A good example is Mrs. Matovu Caroline, who is making unique products such as sitting room tables out of reused car tires. Other products developed by women include beads made out of paper, handmade bags out of local fabrics, shoes, place-mats made out of African bark cloth and bitege, earrings made out of snail shells, food products using local herbs, wines made from local varieties of fruit, clothes out of African bitege, and more.
How women have benefited from Intellectual Property
Another way we help to ensure that women benefit from their creativity and innovations, GSWIM does joint trainings on the value of IP to women entrepreneurs. When we educate these local women entrepreneurs about IP and how they can use it to grow their businesses, we find that most of them have never heard about IP. This is because in Uganda, IP is not taught in schools or institutions apart from the lawyers who learn about it as a course unit. This comes as a new concept to these women entrepreneurs who are interested in making their businesses better and unique through the use of IP. We often encourage those who can register and protect their IP assets, to do so. For those who choose not to because of the process being expensive, we encourage them to operate within their means but with a concept of IP for future business development. Meanwhile, others are not registering because they do not fall within the IP system or their products do not meet the registration criteria. In these cases, we encourage using IP, such as trademarks, for the names of their businesses and/or products.
Promoting Women Entrepreneurs through Intellectual Property Expos
GSWIM recently collaborated with WIPO and the Ugandan Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in the organization of a workshop for women entrepreneurs on product development and branding. During this workshop, women were trained the different IP tools and techniques available. In addition, they had the opportunity to showcase their products in an expo, allowing them gain exposure to outside markets. The women were very excited to promote their products through this expo as it allowed them to gain exposure outside of their local communities. Several were interviewed by local media outlets and many of the women communicated to me that this event was a big milestone for them. They look forward to selling their branded products to more clients and within larger markets.
Through these activities, women from local communities are being economically empowered to compete in local market and also improve on their standard of living, helping them to be self-sustainable and improve households. “We are building a woman of bravery and Intellectual Mind”
* Lilian Nantume is a guest blogger and founder of the NGO Grooming a Successful Woman with Intellectual Mind (GSWIM).