Olive Akware’s creative, entrepreneurial spirit has generated dozens of jobs for women in rural Uganda. The founder of Zimba won $25,000 in the 2015 African Entrepreneurship Award to continue scaling her good idea. Scale she has and, Olive has also pivoted her business idea to bring in more revenue and deal more responsibly with the environment around her.

Zimba, or “construct” in Swahili, is Olive’s brick-making company. Zimba creates eco-friendly bricks with a customized kiln, which Olive fires on dried pig dung from pigs she raises on her land, and also from biomass, such as corn husks. Bricks are then sold to local construction firms, helping meet the increased demand for affordable housing.

When Olive applied for the Award in 2015, her business looked quite different. She says, “Initially, I was one woman working from hand to mouth. I would use a rudimentary method of production.  I’ve graduated from using the ordinary clamp method, whereby I would burn 2,000 bricks at a go, to burning 10,000 bricks at a go.” And, Olive says “I’m a proud owner of 5 acres of land, thanks to AEA.”

The growth hasn’t stopped there. In the last year, Olive says, “With mentoring and funding, I have diversified Zimba and developed clay mining sites into fish farming ponds.” And so now, the entrepreneur says, “in addition to selling bricks, I am also selling fish.”

Olive’s biomass burning kiln onsite in Uganda.
Olive’s biomass burning kiln onsite in Uganda.

Pivoting to Ponds

 

With the digging of clay for bricks and the growth in production, the resourceful Olive realized her business idea must deal with the holes on her property. Instead of carrying on with her usual activity of bricks, Olive filled the clay pits, stocked them with fish, and now sells these in addition to bricks. Standing in front of a small fish pond, Olive says “after removing the clay and you leave it like this, the environment gets destroyed.” This pivot increases employment, increases local provisions of a staple protein source, increases revenue, and decreases the environmental impact of Zimba.

 

Olive Akware (front, third from left) sits with several of the women she employs at Zimba in Uganda.
Olive Akware (front, third from left) sits with several of the women she employs at Zimba in Uganda.