From where I stand: “I started my business with 15 dollars” – Sandra Letio

Sandra Letio. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Sandra Letio started a soap-making business with only USD 15. Today, she is 29 and her business is valued at USD 700,000. With sheer determination, talent, supportive parents and a team of young staff who believed in her, Letio overcame the barriers she encountered. At the CSW 61 Youth Forum, she inspired young entrepreneurs, but also reminded decision-makers to give equal opportunities to youth.

“I was 23 years old and unemployed, looking for jobs, but finding none. My mother suggested the idea of making and selling soaps. I had USD 15 to invest and a basic recipe for making soaps.

I made soap at night, and went door-to-door to sell them during the day. I had ten customers that first week. They all liked my soap and asked for more. I made USD 22 from the first batch of soap. I kept aside some of the profit and bought more supplies. Within a month, I had more than 50 customers.

I still remember the first time I went to a shop, to ask the manager, if she would buy soap from me. She looked at me from head to toe, saw my shabby outfit, my unbranded soap, and told me that unless my soap was branded, had the standardization mark, no shop will buy it.

I felt demoralized at first, but didn’t give up. Without hesitation, I wrote to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute and sought their help to improve and brand my soap.

I registered my company as “Pelere Group”. In my Madi (indigenous tribe) language, Pelere means ‘something wonderful’.

Today, I employ 20 people—half of them are below 30 years of age, and most of them are women. I have expanded my business and sell over 10 products now, from detergent to soaps and cosmetics, all organic. Today, my business is valued at USD 700,000 and I plan to expand it internationally.

When I first started, no one thought I would be so successful. Many people refused to take me seriously, or give me contracts, because I was young. Some men even harassed me; said they would give me business if I married them! But I persisted.

I am the ambassador for youth entrepreneurs in Uganda. Whenever young people tell me that they don’t have the money to start a business, I remind them how I started, with USD 15 and an empty jerrycan, where I mixed the ingredients for my soap.

We may be young, but we should be given equal opportunities.”

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