One year strong: Business after the SG2X Gender-Smart Exec’s Program
By Margaret Mandeya | Wed Nov 30 2022
Q&A with Rebecca Mugwanya, CEO of Ugandan-based Lhexcopt Investments
For the past six years, Renew Capital has been helping to build the capacity of East African small and medium businesses through its training platform, the Renew Capital Exchange. Addressing gender imbalances and enhancing the role of women in SMEs has increasingly become an integral focus of that program as noted in the firm’s latest Impact Report. Today, Renew Capital is furthering that effort through the creation of an SME Gender Growth Acceleration (SG2X) Playbook and its corresponding SG2X Gender-Smart Exec’s Program.
Ugandan business leader Rebecca Mugwanya was one of its 2021 participants and agreed to share some of her learnings with Renew Capital. Rebecca has worn many hats in her career and within her community, something that explains her passion for community-centered interventions. Today, she is the CEO of Lhexcopt Investments, the owner of the Orga registered trademark. In 2018, Rebecca got her start with the value addition of sugarcane, producing natural sugarcane juice that is preserved with lemon, ginger, and passion fruit. This was after a life-threatening situation that took her off all carbonated soft drinks and processed sugars, as well as wheat. Through this innovation, her purpose was to provide a healthy alternative to the many carbonated soft drinks that are currently flooding the Ugandan market. Together with her innovative team, the company later added on more products like cane caramel, pumpkin-based flours, gluten-free pumpkin rice, and cassava blended flours for baking and for porridge that are now in a number of supermarkets.
She says she continues to pass the value of SG2X throughout the business, and she is seeing the difference that it’s bringing to the company, such as successfully achieving gender balance in their senior management team.
-This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q.Roughly one year has passed since you were part of the SG2X Gender-Smart Exec’s Program. What are some components that still stand out in your mind?
A. The Five Habits of Effective CEOs training changed my way of thinking and doing things, especially the habit of practice. As entrepreneurs, we learn a lot, go through many training sessions, and read a lot, but the challenge is that we don’t put it into practice. During training, I learned that you first learn to do, and then go ahead and teach others. That's integrity because you cannot teach what you're not doing. And then the other habit is the habit of mindset, having a winner's mindset, waking up early and having my desk set, journaling my day, making sure I take my water, making sure I work out, making sure that I repeat my vision, the vision of the company and the vision of my life. I find that very interesting and exciting. You know you wake up and you're all bubbling with energy because you're focused. You have reason to live. You have reason to win. I find that very encouraging and very interesting.
Q. In what ways did the tools you learned during the training have an impact on the way your business operates?
A. When we started working with Renew Capital, I was afraid of strategic planning. I thought of an encyclopedia of plans that are too broad and too wide, and that you cannot put into practice. The training demystified that, asking what your future state is, what is the case for change, what are the bottlenecks and barriers, and what is the strategy. And then, of course, there’s the execution system that enables you to achieve your strategy. The other thing that really stood out for me was, as a team, we didn't know whether our product is a sold product or a bought product, but when we did the mastery of sales and marketing training, we learned that our product is a niche product, and therefore it is a sold product. That means sales leads and marketing support. Now that we know who our clients are, we’ve stopped getting into the spaces of clients that don’t belong to us, and we are already seeing the results.
Q. The sessions specifically focus on teaching SMEs how to incorporate gender equality, diversity, and inclusion. How have you been able to incorporate gender-smart practices in your business?
A. Right from lesson one, I remember gender balance was intertwined throughout the course. We were challenged about the mindsets that we hold even as entrepreneurs, even ladies, and gentlemen. For example, we learned that the two genders balance each other. You cannot afford to have so many ladies and you cannot afford to have so many gentlemen. We learned that as a company, these two contribute effectively when they're well balanced. So as a team, we did have a board, but that board was basically male-dominated. During the training, we were able to work through that. So as a team we are now cognizant of the need for gender balance. Whether it's in the production function or in the senior management, you find that we are well-balanced. For example, my production manager is a male. I'm the CEO. Our head of operations is male. Our finance is female. Our HR is female, and the head of marketing is male.
Q. Have there been any difficulties in implementing gender-smart business practices?
A. We realized that it can sometimes be hard to recruit the right talent while working to create workforce gender equity because of already existing opportunity gaps in education and professional development in which women haven’t been afforded the same privileges as men. At the same time, we also know that attitudes about women’s place in society have an impact on employers giving them a chance to show their skills and talents.
You need to constantly keep educating because we come from different backgrounds. But as a team, we are determined to make sure that we challenge negative beliefs, stigmas, and gender biases that we had held on to. All of us are works in progress, I would say. Once in a while, you find something that is not gendered smart, or this is not favorable. And then because you are already aware of the challenges that all of you are dealing with as a team, then you're able to discuss it openly and see how best it can be resolved.
The SME Gender Growth Acceleration (SG2X) Playbook portal for entrepreneurs
Q. What advice would you give to SMEs deciding if they want to take the journey to become gender-smart?
A. So, for an SME to progress and grow and flourish, we need to have gender-smart goals, and we have to be very intentional, right from the board. Having a board that is full of one gender will definitely affect the talent that you're bringing and can cause the company to miss out. Just be focused always on being gender-smart and setting gender-smart goals. We come from different backgrounds, and we are raised by the culture of the communities that we live in. But some of the culture we grew up with is making us miss such a very important component when it comes to the growth of an SME. I'm just encouraging them to try it out. It has worked for us, and I know it will work for them.
Q. How could these tools be improved? Or what would you like to see more support in to develop your gender-smart business?
A. I think that gender smartness starts from home. Those of us who have worked in the community as development workers can tell you that sometimes when a parent does not have enough school fees for all children in the household, the boy goes to school and the girl stays home. Sometimes you find that religious institutions have been key in promoting gender inequality. How do we promote gender equity at the school and community levels? This is a journey that we have started, but I know that it can't be solved by just having training of a certain few individuals.
I am requesting that entrepreneurs, SMEs, the business community, and the development partners come together on this journey that we are supposed to work on as a team. We need more corporate social responsibility in that area of educating our people, of educating the different power centers about the need for gender equity and its benefits also at the family level, just knowing that all children are equal.
As a CEO, you are at a level of influence, and you’re interacting with farmers and suppliers. You can identify key players in the community. We need to get started now by knowing how to deliver this material, how to influence, how to train, how to sensitize what you should say, what you shouldn't say, what may sound offensive. We need help in that direction.
Q. Do you have any final words of encouragement for people who are thinking of participating in the training?
A. We've just been onboarded by one of the biggest players in the confectionery industry and they were clear that they want to work with us because of the way that we do things. Where did we learn all these things that we are doing differently? From Renew Capital. The training has transformed our business forever. So, I'm encouraging those who have not yet gone through the SG2X Playbook training. For me, it is the best business training I've attended. I don't think there is anything that can transform an enterprise as well. It changes not only the business, but also changes your family, your mindset, and the way you carry yourself. I'm encouraging my fellow SMEs and my fellow CEOs. Let's get on board. It's what Africa needs.