At sunset in the last rays of the golden hour, the innovation space in Mbarara is flooded with music that will not leave one in their chair. To address this effect, the open co-workspace is transformed into an auditorium as 19-year-old Ashraf Atugonza leads a group of fitness and dance enthusiasts through some groovy moves to a range of tunes including but not limited to Spanish music, Hip Hop and Lingala.

The person responsible for bringing this space to life is a young man from Kasingyengye Kakoba Division Mbarara City. Atugonza has managed to make the most out of his time by transforming his passion into a viable business he now calls Ashraf Dance Academy. After his dream of continuing school was interrupted by an absence of school fees, the young dancer was forced to look inwards for resources to survive. A talented dancer already, Atugonza chose dance as his way forward.

One evening as he strolled through Kakooba in Mbarara town, a new office space that had mushroomed where a dairy used to be, prompted him to call in for inquiries. That evening, he discovered The Innovation Village and its vision for entrepreneurship. What immediately caught his eye was the corporate feel of the place coupled with the friendly team at The Innovation Village.

“After that conversation, I went back home and spent some hours at night, pondering on how I could utilize that space for my dream. By morning, I had an idea. I went back to The Innovation Village Mbarara community and requested for free space with a promise to start paying rent once my business picks up,” Atugonza says. 

The team agreed and he proceeded to set up the place for Zumba sessions for older people who want to stay fit. As time went on, he introduced Afro Dance, Dancehall as well as Lingala lessons for young people who would like to explore their talent in dancing.

Atugonza says this was a breakthrough for his dance company. He says, “I started dancing way back when I was young and as I grew up, I tried to follow my passion. Although I tried my best to publicize my services as a Zumba, Afro-dance, Dancehall and Lingala dance trainer on social media and other networks, it was not yielding much until The Innovation Village gave me a platform and free space to showcase my potential.”

Like many beginnings, the sail was barely smooth. Mbarara’s denizens were accustomed to other forms of relaxation or exercise. 

“I had a bad experience at the start and sometimes I contemplated giving up even after being given space by The Innovation Village. On the first day, only one person turned up even after I had massively publicized the service. I could not even afford transport to the venue. I would take a walk from Kakoba which is seven kilometres away from The Innovation Village offices. However, within a short time, the numbers grew tremendously and so did the income. 

Atugonza does not have to walk to the village space anymore because he can afford a boda-boda ride to the venue. What he earns is able to cover his rent at The Innovation Village as well as afford him the basic necessities of life. His business negotiation skills have improved as a result of several business classes he has attended at The Innovation Village. 

“I am now able to negotiate well with my clients. My networks are growing every day and life has completely changed in a short time,” Atugonza says.

As the dance business picked up, it gave birth to another business opportunity.

“I realized many people came to the space for Zumba and other dance sessions in inappropriate shoes which were a little bit uncomfortable during the Zumba classes so I started a side business of selling comfortable sports shoes for workouts. This business too, is picking up very fast,” he says.

On average, Ashraf Dance Academy trains 15 people per day and generates about Shs75,000 daily. Atugonza attributes his business’ growth to The Innovation Village Mbarara particularly the various entrepreneurship training opportunities that have enhanced his business management skills and innovation. Atugonza hopes to formalize his business by registering it. Another small win for the Dance Academy is providing employment to Ibra Menya, a member of The Innovation Village community, with whom Atugonza co-runs the dance business. Their vision is to blossom into a fully-fledged company in Mbarara City and provide employment to over 20 young people in the region.

The dance academy is set to go beyond Mbarara City and across borders. The duo joins thousands of young people that have benefited from the mission of The Innovation Village and Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works (YAW) programme to reduce the youth unemployment challenge by enabling young people to find fulfilling work.

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