BYU grad makes a difference with Ugandan startup

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Lauren Schneider Photography
Musana empowers women in Uganda by providing both steady employment and education that includes health, entrepreneurship and English.

Linden Baker wants to empower displaced women in Uganda with the jewelry startup Musana.

Baker, 22, entered the startup world after graduating from BYU in 2014. A public relations grad, she decided to work for Musana because she was eager to help create a positive impact in the world.

Musana’s mission is to empower Ugandan women by providing them with education classes in English, literacy, entrepreneurship and health. Along with these classes the women also work for Musana as jewelry artisans. Through education and stable employment the Ugandan women are empowered to provide for their families.

“Initially I was interested in Musana because I’d been researching IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in northern Uganda and wanted to find a sustainable way to help,” Baker said.

Uganda has an alarming number of internally displaced persons, especially children. Internally displaced persons, as opposed to refugees, have fled from their homes due to unsafe circumstances but have yet to find permanent refuge. They remain under the protection of their government. However, sometimes the government exacerbates the internal conflict.

There are massive numbers of internally displaced persons in Uganda because of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan army. According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2005 there were 1.8 million internally displaced persons in Uganda, and there are about 30,000 displaced Ugandans.

By working with Musana, Baker hopes to help Ugandan IDPs with education and employment.

“I’ve always been motivated by making a difference in the world,” she said. “Cliché, I know, but I really mean it. People measure success differently. For me, I won’t consider myself successful until I’ve made some sort of difference in this world.”

Lauren Schneider Photography
Linden Baker with one of the children of the artisans. Linden, 22, graduated in 2014 from BYU and immediately joined the male-dominated world of startups.

Baker said there is no better time to enter the startup world than when one is young and fresh out of college. She feels that women who are excited about an idea or eager to enter the business world shouldn’t hesitate.

“Many women assume it will be uncomfortable to dive in to the predominantly male business world with a new idea, but they’re wrong,” she said. “I’ve never felt out of place or disadvantaged as a woman in the business world.”

The startup world is open to crazy and creative ideas, Baker said. Startups’ drive for innovation causes them to be inherently accepting.

According to a study done by the Kauffman Foundation in 2011, only 35 percent of startup founders are women. The number of women involved in technology startups is substantially lower, only 5 percent. Despite this trend, Baker’s experiences have increased her motivation to continue in the male-dominant industry.

“When I teamed up with Melissa Sevy, one of the Musana co-founders, Musana was at a make-or-break point. It started as a small nonprofit in Uganda, and in order to keep it going, we needed to launch and expand Musana in the U.S.,” Baker said.

Since opening in the U.S., Musana has doubled the number of its employees.

“It’s benchmarks like that that keep me motivated,” Baker said.

Opportunities for women to enter the startup world are continually increasing. Baker believes there is no better time to do so than right after college.

“There’s no need to wait until you have a rock-solid business. Once you start discussing your idea with others, it’s amazing how people come together in support of your mission,” Baker said.

Baker’s ambition to enter the business world so early and her motivation to make a difference in the world have led her to build a Ugandan brand in the U.S. Consequently, displaced families are becoming self-sufficient because of dedicated women who created and built a company.

“Knowing that the time I spend has the power to improve the lives of not just the women, but their entire families, motivates me to spend regular time helping Musana,” said Rachel Barker, a marketing Musana volunteer.

Making a difference in the world doesn’t depend on race, gender or age — it depends on dedication and purpose. And Musana’s purpose enlivens both those who give and those who receive.

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