Meet the Ugandan entrepreneur inspiring women to find a way out of poverty

oliver kishero
Oliver Kishero: I needed to find a way to get my own money because I wanted to stand alone.' Credit: Jonathan Gregson

On International Women’s Day, one Ugandan businesswoman reveals all about the empowering project making life fairer for female coffee farmers

When Oliver (pronounced Olivia) Kishero was 17, she became pregnant. Forced to leave school, she was soon married – a mother and an orphan in charge of her siblings. ‘The life of being an orphan in Uganda… it’s difficult,’ says Oliver, now 47. ‘I managed to look after the younger ones – but I never want another girl to go through what I went through.’

Today Oliver’s life is quite different. After learning the farming techniques and business skills traditionally handed down to men, she is now a successful coffee farmer in Uganda’s rural Sipi Falls area. And, through a project funded by Taylors of Harrogate, is helping other women find their way out of poverty.

Twenty years on, she is a wealthy coffee farmer with more than 5,000 trees, and has made it her priority to help other women

Oliver once worked on her husband’s small coffee farm while raising her seven children and taking care of the household. As is typical in the area, her husband controlled their income and Oliver relied on him for the financial needs of the household. Then, when she turned 27, something changed.

‘I realised if I wanted to support my children through school, I was going to have to do something different,’ she says. ‘I had to grow and work hard and I had to start my new life as Oliver – I needed to find a way to get my own money because I wanted to stand alone. I wanted to stand as a woman.’

She began slipping into farmers’ meetings and training sessions, where women typically weren’t present. She joined a coffee cooperative, and even though she was the only woman there, was elected treasurer. Twenty years on, she is now a wealthy coffee farmer with more than 5,000 trees (she started with 100), and has made it her priority to help other women.

Oliver set up local workshops, teaching women to share their skills – which is how Taylors of Harrogate met her. Visiting Uganda to investigate how the family business could further empower its female farmers, Taylors was inspired by Oliver’s passion to make sure women were financially self-sufficient.

Sharing skills: sewing machines enable women to learn skills to support their families Credit: Jonathan Gregson

The business loved Oliver’s idea to teach the women skills such as sewing, and together with Kawacom – Taylors’ Ugandan supplier – funded the Sipi Women Economic Empowerment Project (SWEEP) to train hundreds of female coffee farmers in tailoring, financial literacy and gender equality.

‘This programme wouldn’t exist without Oliver,’ explains Krisztina Szalai, sustainable sourcing manager at Taylors. ‘It’s so inspiring to see how she achieves so much with so few resources. Sewing is a skill that women can use to support their children’s schooling, and potentially set up their own businesses. It really empowers women to become more self-sufficient and to better their own lives, and not be dependent on others for too long.’

For Oliver, it’s a solution to help women in her community gain financial independence. ‘With this sewing project, we open up our girls’ eyes. If women are supported, we can develop. And the money we make from sewing clothes can be used to support our children and better their lives. When you think about women, you think about the whole nation.

Empowering women in Uganda

This feature, brought to you by Taylors of Harrogate and Telegraph Spark, is about the female empowerment projects in Uganda highlighted by limited-edition Ingana coffee.

Ingana has citrus, caramel and tropical fruit flavour notes derived from high-quality arabica beans grown on the slopes of Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda. Ingana means ‘Love’ in the local Lugisu dialect.

Ingana is on sale until September for £3.79.