Manige Merab was once called over ambitious. To contextualise this description, an over ambitious person is one who wants things that are seemingly hard to achieve-the kind that build castles in the air. Her dreams were to see through a mentorship program to empower young Ugandans to take on entrepreneurial ventures.
Today, she is the founder of Youth Empowerment in Enterprise Development (YEED), a forum that has trained over 10,000 women and youth in mushroom growing and conservation farming, and according to Ugandans At Heart, is Uganda’s biggest exporter of mushrooms.
“I had so many dreams and I knew that the only way I would realize them was by working and studying hard” she mentioned in an interview with Development Connection
Her story goes way back to when she finished high school back home in Kabale. Like most entrepreneurs, the kick start came from a challenge; her father telling her he couldn’t afford her tuition fees. However, he was the man that would inspire her and believe in her dreams most, and his first piece of advice came at the same moment.
“He explained to me that our district had so much gold which I had to make use of” she said.
The gold he meant was Irish potatoes, which flourished on the hilly Kabale terrain. On top of the advice, her father gave her one million shillings, with which she enrolled into Makerere Universityto pursue a degree in Horticulture.
She started her journey up the stairs while at the university. She grew from selling one sack of Irish, as the potatoes are more amicably known in Uganda, to transporting a truck full of sacks from Kabale to Kampala. She then got a job at an organization called Agricultural Innovations for Agricultural Development, where she learnt mushroom growing among other things.
With the knowledge she acquired, she started YEED and set about empowering others to pursue mushroom growing.
“When I realized the business potential of mushrooms, I developed two guides on mushroom production and other small scale enterprises. I also started mobilizing friends of mine to start a company” she recalls.
YEED grew at a very fast and impressive rate, with her putting in a good shift and her father backing her with motivation. She earned two memorable contracts that gave her footing an extra stability, and soon the recognition came in. In 2010, she won The Young Achievers Award for Agriculture and Agro-business, and a year later she was back to the awards, to claim an accolade in the Leadership and business category.
She has been widely acclaimed for her value addition to mushrooms. With her model, women and youth are trained to grow the mushrooms, given land where to grow them, then they are bought back and turned into soup, or more uniquely-porridge. The very nutritious products satisfy market demands here in Uganda, while sparing her some for export to Japan and Zambia.
Amidst all this, she remains calm and humble and continues to work and dream. She envisions a vocational institute and a factory for her products, and with the persistence she had for achieving YEED, it is hard to think these won’t come along soon.