"Be bold and seek to succeed in the face of opposition...bring to the table your unique perspective and talents and no one can reasonably refuse you a seat. Believe me, if you do that, the sky is the limit."
Inspired by her mother’s experience, Ugandan Anne Rweyora aims to help low income women escape the rental trap by providing secure affordable housing.
We interviewed Anne about her innovation, the Africa Prize and her advice to women in STEM:
Can you briefly describe your innovation and tell us what inspired you to create it?
Smart Havens Africa aims to get low income women out of the rental trap by providing them with a secure, affordable home in which to bring up their children and to allow the whole family to flourish, all while creating social and environmental impact.
When my father died, without leaving a will, my family were kicked out of our home by relatives. My mother fought for the rightful ownership of our home but eventually had to give up. For many years we were practically homeless and it affected our education, health and nutrition.
It was this experience that inspired me to want to become a female civil engineer; I wanted to create housing opportunities for people like my mother. Despite securing a place to study civil engineering at Makerere University, I couldn’t afford the fees as most of my mother’s earnings went on paying rent. I therefore completed a government sponsored degree in industrial design.
Although I never fulfilled my dream of becoming a female civil engineer, it gave me a passion and desire to help the 48 million women who face the same problems as my mother did. This led me to found Smart Havens Africa, a for-profit social enterprise with a mission to provide a sustainable, affordable pathway to homeownership for women in Africa.
What impact has the Africa Prize had on your business?
I have participated in many accelerators, but the Africa Prize training and follow-on support is unmatched; the impact it has had on us has been tremendous. It has helped us to understand our customer needs, target the business to our market segment and prepare our business model for scalability. The visibility given to us has also led us to achieve greater milestones; we have secured more investors and financing for the next phase of our project.
What impact has your innovation had so far?
For every home we build, we create 25 jobs for women and youth, both contractual and temporary, including in brick moulding and construction. Each home houses a family of approximately five to seven people.
Finally, with the brick technology we use, for every home we build we save over 50 trees that would have been cut down for burning standard bricks.
Therefore, in the last 12 months we can say we have created 630 jobs for women, impacted 160 lives through access to safe, affordable housing, saved 900 African trees and transferred 150,000 dollars of assets to women.
What stage are you at now?
We have completed market testing and are now scaling to other regions. We have just started work on another sixty-unit affordable housing project that will further help us impact more women and their children. Our plan is to start impacting more than 50,000 lives per year starting in 2021.
I have recently joined the Global Good Fund Leadership Programme, and we have been nominated for the Grinnell College Prize for Social Innovation.
What one tip for success would you give to your fellow innovators?
Some advice I can give to my fellow innovators is to ensure that they seek legal advice for all their early stage actions. If they are not well thought through, these decisions can seriously affect you in the future. If possible, I would recommend having a legal advisor on the team.
11 February was the UN day of women and girls in STEM. What advice would you give to women aiming for a career in this sector?
Choosing to follow a path less travelled by those of your demographic will always be a difficult decision. It can be even more challenging sticking to that path as you are continually faced with the actions and opinions of those who may be implicitly biased towards maintaining a particular status quo. I have seen this stereotype first-hand; in my field there are people who don’t believe women can work in construction and compete with men.
My advice to women aiming to pursue careers in STEM fields, especially housing and construction, is to be bold and seek to succeed in the face of opposition. Recognise that some internal biases exist but refuse to let them corrode your sense of self-worth or limit what you think yourself capable of. Bring to the table your unique perspective and talents and no one can reasonably refuse you a seat. Believe me, if you do that, the sky is the limit to your success.
Find out more on Smart Havens Africa's website.