The journey of an entrepreneur can be likened to the life of the mythical phoenix. When the bird dies, from its ash rises a younger and better one. From the ash of the Kaveera ban of 2007, rose Oribags Innovations, a company manufacturing recyclable paper bags. Oribags, according to the director Rusia Orikiriza is an emotional ride, with ups, downs, joys and disappointments.
While still a student at Makerere University, she began manufacturing and supplying bags and boxes made from recycled paper using an initial capital of USD 300 and by the date of her graduation, she was employing 18 people. Today, she owns an astounding 30 Oribags outlets in various districts of the country like Kampala, Luwero, Masaka and Wakiso.
“When the government banned polythene bags in 2007, I saw a business opportunity” she says as the interview gains momentum at one of her outlets at Equatorial Mall in Kampala.
Orikiriza, a Young Achievers Award winner in the Vocation (Business and Trade) category in 2010, fully registered the company in 2009, which as per its description, deals in the design, manufacture and marketing of environmentally friendly bags manufactured from agricultural waste, waste paper and natural waste fibers.
“At Oribags, we manufacture go-green bags and boxes. Our products are currently being sold in over 30 supermarkets in Kampala. “ She explains.
To date, Orikiriza employs about employs 30 people and has a production capacity of 50,000 bags per month in a low-tech, zero-carbon production process that emphasizes natural beauty over mechanized perfection.
In addition, the company also produces wall hangings, jewelry, and boxes made out of paper from wastes of wheat straw, elephant grass, and other natural fibers.
Oribag’s watershed moment was when its products hit the Ugandan market. “Seeing our products on shelves in supermarkets across Kampala competing favorably in terms of quality and prices with imported products is one of my best moments.” Rusia narrates.
Orikiriza can’t also miss the night she won the Young Achievers Award. She vividly recalls everything with a beaming smile like it was yesterday.
“The night I won the award for Business and Trade in 2010 was an awesome experience. I remember addressing the president and the audience. That night is when I appreciated that our efforts had been recognised not me as a founder of Oribags but those who participate from the time we are collecting raw materials, production, product development. It keeps on pushing me.” She explains.
It may seem all glory, but then as Orikiriza says, not everything has come on a silver platter.
“We had financial challenges when we started. We never had capital to finance our costs as we started in facilities which were not ours. We remain grateful to have had Uganda Industrial Research Institute researchers which fundamentally helped us when we were starting” she adds.
Orikiriza is also a tech-savvy person and she has not left Oribags behind. She believes Social media is a very important tool in creating long lasting relationships with customers.
“Oribags has Facebook and WhatsApp accounts which we update very frequently. Our buyers are also online and therefore we need to keep them updated with developments that are coming up at Oribags and it is one way we are using to get instant feedback.” Rusia explains.
The valiant lady also recognises the importance of mentorship and networks for any growing entrepreneur.
“I have also come to appreciate that mentoring and networking are vital, and it is better to start small. The skills you develop as you overcome the challenges of growing your business are priceless.” She explains.
As such, she has won several awards for example The International Alliance for Women (TIAW World of Difference Award) for her efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment awarded in Washington DC and 2012 fellow of the US President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
She is also Young Entrepreneurs Director to the Board of the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association (UWEAL), all courtesy of Oribags.
She believes the Young Achievers Awards are a great platform for enterprising young people, regardless of where they are located in the country.
“I am really happy that the Young Achievers Awards are back. Many young people are doing a lot without being appreciated. The youth must take advantage of this golden chance (The Young Achievers Awards). When you are in Kabale or Arua, you might not feel significant until you win the award. You meet like minded young people [at the awards] doing exactly what you are doing and become inspired.” Rusia states.
Looking forward, Orikiriza’s vision is to become the leading producer of environmentally-friendly products and services in East Africa by 2020. Given her resilience and experience over time, clearly the sky can only be a limit.