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cofoundHER Interviews: Janine Roberts of Ukama Holdings

by Tolu Agunbiade

After nine years in a nursing career, Janine Roberts got interested in the packaging industry and chose to take her interest further by getting a diploma in packaging technology. This led her to work with Fair Packers, an outsource food packing company, in 2009, where she was the Managing Director.

Janine’s entrepreneurship journey really began in 2010 when she started her first business, Zimele Packing Solutions, a consulting business in packaging and product development. Unfortunately, that did not work out as planned, so four years after, she closed up shop. Not one to be defeated by failure, Janine gave entrepreneurship another try in 2014 with Ukama Holdings, a social enterprise started with the aim of creating or identifying micro enterprises that act as a supply chain for various services.

Janine is passionate about reducing unemployment in South Africa and helping to ease the daily struggles of children in certain townships, which she does by ploughing some of her time into the Ukama Community Foundation. She loves reading and spending her free time with her family at home or out camping.


Why did you start Ukama Holdings and what does the company do?
Ukama Holdings was started to address the needs of unemployment in South Africa, as well as cater to the need of small, medium and large companies needing to outsource their production and packing. In South Africa, we have huge unemployment rates. I sincerely feel that solving the unemployment problem lies in alleviating poverty and that this can be done with our unique business model.

Ukama provides contract packaging for customers in a food grade facility using solely micro enterprises as our supply chain. We identify, train, set up, and provide work and premises for micro-enterprises in our business. These micro-enterprises serve as the supply chain who pack products for our customers. Each micro-enterprise owner employs up to five people. In this manner, we have created jobs for over 60 people already. We have over 20 customers who use our services for production and packing of food products, non-food products, sewing, crafts and labeling.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I felt that there was a gap in the market for a lot of the niche services we offered. I had over ten years’ experience in the packaging sector and I felt that we could offer an amazing service to clients.

How would Ukama Holdings change the world?
Our business model is unique and sustainable. Not only do we offer a valuable service to other businesses, but socially we are also empowering people and creating jobs. The model is easily scalable and repeatable and makes huge in-roads to massive unemployment problems in Africa. We also enable small businesses to get to market by packing their products for them in a fully accredited food facility. This is something that is expensive and unobtainable to many small businesses.


What is your biggest business challenge right now and how do you think the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme will help address it?
My most difficult challenge has been raising capital and getting finance in South Africa. I hope the programme will address this through the process of being able to apply for capital and through the new contacts that I will make. With the exposure, networking and funding we will receive, we’ll be able to take our business to a new level in our expansion project.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
Being an entrepreneur takes amazing strength, courage and perseverance. Sometimes it seems that you will never get where you need to be! The thing that has kept me going is my faith, the knowledge that this is my life purpose, and that the journey is worth all the struggles I’ve had to endure. Never give up!

*To find out more about Ukama Holdings, visit their website and follow on Twitter and Facebook.

**We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

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