This post is part of a 14-part series on entrepreneurship in Africa and the companies who participated in the inaugural Unreasonable East Africa program.

The idea that schools overemphasize theoretical learning at the expense of practical skills is an old one. Maalik Fahd Kayondo thinks Telesat International could be a new solution.

Five percent of the working population have job security. Tweet This Quote

Telesat is a nonprofit trade school in Kampala, Uganda, that prepares students for self-employment in Kampala, Uganda, where for up to 95 percent of the population, self-employment is sometimes the only option. “Five percent of the working population have job security,” says Kayondo, “For others, you work today, and tomorrow you don’t know what is going to happen.” So Telesat focuses on teaching skills relevant to Ugandan market demands, so that students can earn at least a modest income as soon as they finish—skills like farming, bookkeeping, engine repair, candle-making, and book binding.

Kayondo knows about developing practical skills. After leaving Uganda to practice screenwriting in Oxford, he traveled to India to pursue a masters in manufacturing engineering technology at Anna University. Upon arriving back in Uganda in 2004, he was faced with the harsh realities of the nation’s labor scene. “We have over 50,000 youth graduating every year,” he says. “But it is estimated that only 8,000 make it into a productive job.”

I said I had no opportunities anywhere for scholarships but that I could teach his son the skills necessary to live a very good life.

Kayondo felt that part of the problem was that few of those 50,000 graduates each year were learning skills that they could immediately put to use in the workforce. So when a friend asked in 2005 if he could help his son find a university scholarship, Kayondo said that for $100, he could offer a different path. “I said I had no opportunities anywhere for scholarships but that I could teach his son the skills necessary to live a very good life,” he says.

In three weeks, the young man had learned how to repair printers and refill ink cartridges. About two years later, he started his own business doing just that, a business that is still supporting his family seven years later. He ended up being the first of more than 45,000 people Kayondo has helped become financially independent workers through Telesat.

Kayondo formalized his educational service in 2006 as Telesat International. In keeping with Kayondo’s emphasis on immediate, on-the-ground skills, Telesat constantly changes and adapts its course offerings to reflect market demand “We look at the local market demand because we want the people we train to be able to sell within their local communities,” he explains. For example, for $12, students can take a two-day course in making notebooks, which they can sell to secondary schools to the tune of about $15 per day, says Kayondo. That’s roughly five times the average income in Uganda.

Telesat currently has six full-time and two part-time employees and has generated about $500,000 in total revenue. Kayondo is now looking to build a small campus where Telesat can offer machine training and host exhibitions of student products.

Kayondo’s pursuit to empower his Ugandan sisters and brothers is seen through his international efforts as well as his local involvement. He is currently garnering the interest of the United Nations global accelerator committee as a delegate and American nonprofits, such as Bead for Life. Kayondo remains optimistic as he looks to reach 74,450 Ugandans by expanding Telesat International’s curriculum within the next five years.

Nate Beard

Author Nate Beard

Nate is a thinker and instigator who occasionally tries to write, sometimes on

More by Nate Beard