ASTEC founder Stephen Arinitwe is the embodiment of the phrase “an early bloomer”. At the age of 17, he was an employer of 12 young people, was at the centre of media focus in young entrepreneurs’ conversations and had won the Young Achievers Leadership and Governance Award for 2009-which he won again in his third term as a Senior 5 student in 2011. His story is of simple belief and pure determination.
“I believe solutions can only be found from problems, and in Uganda we have very many problems, so as young innovators and thinkers, we have a lot of work to do” he opened our conversation.
By then, he was in senior 2 at Kololo Senior Secondary School in 2008, and the prevailing problem was the Kaveera ban. He decided to try the “so-called” paper bags. He needed capital, though he had about 14 dollars reserved for this.
He started buying used plastic from garbage collectors around the city at 300/= per kilogram and re-selling it to plastics factories at 700/=. Each day he sold about 4 kilos, as therefore went home often with 1000/= profit after deducting costs like transport. He was patient enough to pool a total of 7,500/= with which he purchased a ream of paper from Nasser Road, and with that in hand, ASTEC-Arinitwe Stephen Entrepreneurs Centre-was born.
With the first batch of bags he produced, he realized just how much the market needed his product. At the end of 2009 he had a fully registered paper bag making company with a steady market, had pocketed the Young Achievers Award and had been promoted to senior 3.
“For me, it is all about belief in our own ideas and not giving up the pursuit of them” he explained.
As of now, he has rolled a Think Hub while training young people in skill with every chance he gets. Recently, he participated in the #GetUpSpeakOut, the 4th Annual Youth Camp by Reach A Hand Uganda, where he spent a week showcasing and training teens in entrepreneurial skills. After all knowledge must be shared.
He looks back at his awards with a lot of pride and gratitude.
“The Young Achievers Awards I won were very big boosters to me. I got a lot of media attention and more people got to know more about my product. After winning the award, my business grew bigger in a short time” he said.
He is also grateful to the awards for one other thing. A wonderful moment in his life he describes. He was able to meet two presidents and shake hands with them without restriction. It was good feeling being amidst such power, as the ceremony was graced by two excellences, Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.
Stephen looks back at the time of a young man in Kampala trying to eke out a life of his own. He is grateful that those years were well used, and remains testimony to the core values of the Young Achievers Awards; Innovation, and Excellence.