Consistent Progress in Tabora

With only one month left in Tabora, I wanted to write a farewell post summarizing the last few months, especially highlighting our progress in January, our most successful since I arrived. In January we almost doubled our profit from December and had our highest revenue ever. January revenue was over TZS 2,400,000, costs around TZS 1,400,000, and profit TZS 1,000,000. In addition to January’s success, the business has achieved relatively consistent revenue and profit in the past seven months. As the graph below demonstrates, revenue from July to December 2015 stayed between TZS 1.2 million and TZS 1.6 million, while profit (except for August) stayed in the range of TZS 350,000 to TZS 600,000. Consistency in profit is difficult to attain because input costs fluctuate dependent on the season, altering the profit margins for each product which creates risk within he business.

 

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Despite the consistent performance, there are a few aspects of the Tabora business that are still fragile. First among the business’s weak points is its checks and balances system. Each Partner has her own bookkeeping responsibilities, summarized in the following table.

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On paper the checks and balances system is relatively simple. But in practice the Partners’ due diligence often falls short. I frequently will find small mathematical errors in Mama Tabia’s sales book, which can trickle down and create issues with our buyer’s debts. There is a lot of room for human error, which is why this system has required so much oversight by me and by Ground Team up to this point. However, in order to guarantee small errors do not occur, this checks and balance system is crucial for business’ success.

Another weak point of the business has been aligning production with buyer demand. On one hand, we don’t want to overproduce, driving up costs and keeping too high an inventory since our products are perishable. Yet on the other hand, we don’t want to produce too little and lose out on a revenue opportunity in case a large order comes in. Up to now our production schedule has been set week by week on Mondays. But Mama Tabia often receives calls later in the week from buyers demanding products, and we wouldn’t have enough inputs to fill every order. It was stressful for the Partners. They would want to carry out the sale, especially if it was a slow week, but normally we would not have enough supplies, and we’d lose the order.

A major part of this juggling act involves the reality that transporting inputs and finished products is expensive. For the past few months we have tried to reduce our transportation costs but no system has worked that well thus far. Hesitant to overspend on supplies, we found ourselves buying too little and running out early. We’d then purchase inputs mid-week because we didn’t have enough in our inventory, but we’d take a hit on the extra transportation costs, reducing profit. We needed to find a system that would allow us to consistently buy inputs, minimizing transportation costs, while also allowing for the flexibility of buyer demand. Our new production schedule was designed to tackle both these problems.

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I am confident that the Tabora Business will be a successful, self-sustaining business. I have seen my partners work tirelessly to make the business work. They have shown more enthusiasm in recent weeks than at any other time since I arrived in August. The dedication is there; the human capital is there. Now it is a matter of consistency, diligence and working together.The intent of the plan displayed above is to standardize the number of bags we cook each week. The numbers are based on previous months averages, and Week 4 gives the business some flexibility for months that are more or less busy than the average.

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Mid-Year Investor Report

To Investors and Stakeholders in the Tabora Project,

Since arrival in August, Isabel and Project Partners have been working ceaselessly across the network to go full steam ahead towards Maisha Bora, the good life. There are not enough words to express our gratitude for your support along this journey.

Isabel has prepared a Mid-Year Investor Report to capture the progress made so far in the first half of her time working on the Tabora Project this year. The report includes highlights, challenges, status updates towards project goals, and a financial report. We hope that this report will provide good insight into the work here on the ground, and show you what we have been able to accomplish thanks to your support.

Tabora Project 2015-2016 Mid-Year Investor Report

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the Project Coordinators also filmed a video focusing on what they are most grateful for in their daily life and work here with 2Seeds.

Please support us in our ongoing journey to Maisha Bora by donating to the 2Seeds Network!

Asanteni sana from the 2Seeds Ground Team,

Ana, Jen, and Hailey

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November 03, 2015

With all the recent developments in the Tabora project there are many new habits we’re trying to instill. Generally the past few shifts been going well. The largest difficulty for the partners is our new pumzica (rest) rotation. We’re having the partners go home for an hour during the shift in order to make lunch for themselves and their families. This eliminates the number of children in and around the kitchen during the shift, as well as keeps the partners from cooking lunch during the shift. There have been instances where partners have decided not to take their pumzica shift but will have food brought to them later. The hope is that with more micromanagement these small occurrences will be less frequent and the rotations will be used as intended.

Another issue that I’ve been seeing these past few cooking shifts is having the partners who are supposed to stay in the storage room, sneaking into the kitchen and cooking. This goes along with the partners desire to have everyone feeling the heat of the kitchen in order to be fair. However, We’ve seen that in the past this leaves leeway for error and it is a habit we are trying to veer away from. The good news is that when I do ‘catch’ them, they realize right away that what they’re doing is against the new system procedures and they’re quick to head back to the storage room.

I understand that change is difficult and it’s not easy for the women to change habits they’ve been practicing for the past few years. The difficult part is going to be to prove them that there is value in the changes we’re proposing.

A highlight of the week is that we’re using a lot less oil! A LOT less. While it’s taken quite a bit of micromanaging on my end, it’s proving to be working really well. Our profits will hopefully show huge advances during profit calculation. Also we’ve been receiving large orders these past few weeks. One buyer received 200 bags on Friday and again on Monday. This is really exciting for our hope for growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10/22/15

Quick update! Yesterday I was alone on the shift and it went SO well. The women were so great. Mama Tabia a came in filled out chalkboard with the orders, Mama Mwaliko immediately after filled out her books, and the other women started to work on peanuts while Mama Agi was in Korogwe buying inputs. We ended up cooking the whole order in the day, finishing early AND they decided that they didn’t want to do their ‘rest’ rotations (a new system we’ve implemented), because they knew the order wouldn’t take long and they all wanted to be there to help finish it as efficiently as possible. I am proud, happy and excited to see how the rest next month goes. We’re hoping to start building the kitchen next week as well as opening a bank account for the partners!

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10/18/15

We had a bit of a roller coaster this week. On Tuesday Ana and Hailey came for to Tabora and we we established organized departments. The departments are as follows:

  • Finance Department (Mama Asha),
  • Sales and Customer Service Department (Mama Tabia),
  • Production Department (Mama Mwaliko),
  • Purchasing Departments (Mama Agi & Mama Mudi).

Each department has a more defined role in the business and therefore, responsibilities have changed. While the women were very excited about the changes, there was a lot of resistance when they found out that Mama Mwaliko, Mama Agi and Mama Mudi would not be cooking. We wanted to keep Mama Agi and Mudi in the storage room so that we could keep more concrete accounts, writing down each item that’s used in the kitchen. We also wanted to get started on making the labels for the day so Mama Mwaliko initiates that process. The hope was to get the cooks to start cooking around 10:30, instead of 12, and to start packing immediately after the labels are finished.

Although we explained this to the Mama’s the argument was that each member should be able to ‘taste’ the heat of the kitchen. We left the meeting Tuesday with the decision that we would give the new systems a try and adjust if necessary.

On Wednesday, only 4 of the 8 came to the cooking shift. A few were visiting friends in the hospital, but we felt they were trying to make a point about their disapproval of the new system. However, Mama Mwaliko, Mudi, Salome and Tabia came, worked extremely hard and we managed to finish the same amount of bags we had when there were eight women- and it didn’t take longer. The results of the new departments were showing.

Thursday everyone came to the shift and had decent attitudes. We ended up cooking over 100 bags of chips and finished before 4:30. It was clear the benefits of getting a head start on the labels and not having everyone in the kitchen. The cooking day was run much more effectively.

Another change that we made was to give each Mama an hour break in the day. The break is intended to cook for the kids and rest a little, especially for those in the kitchen. The women decided that they’d rather cook their own lunches, instead of having group lunch. We’re hoping that this new system will enhance our social capital in the group. They’ll be able to rest a little, handle the duties around the house and return to work ready to finish in a timely manor.

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10/5/15

There have been plenty of exciting things happening in Tabora these past few weeks! First and foremost, the storage room is complete. We now have a long table and bench for the partners to sit on when packing chips. We also bought a few additional items for storage with the hope to de-clutter what is currently in place.

One of the challenges we’ve seen thus far is the accounting. We are asking the partners to keep track of their waste as well as production. For example with potatoes; we measure out 70 kilo’s in anticipation of packaging around 200 bags of chips. During that process, we need to make sure we’re keeping track of the amount of peels we discard, potato ends that are too small to slice any further, and the chips that were burned, too oily and ultimately unusable. This requires an increased amount of teamwork from the partners. This week Hailey and I had to communicate to them that just because Mama Mawliko is in charge or recording the numbers, does not mean she needs to be the one initiating the measuring.

I’ve been enjoying helping the women use the new systems though it can be difficult to initially get them started. This coming week we’ll be explaining to the women that along with the new practices, we’re going to try and reuse all the business related items solely for business usage. For example, when we have 8 empty oil buckets they’ll divide the buckets amongst themselves and use it for personal matters. We’ve been thinking that we could actually sell the buckets in Korogwe for extra profit for the business. Additionally, instead of dividing up the extra products at the end of the cooking day, we could make small packages and sell them around Tabora (since Tabora doesn’t have any place to purchase the products).

The increased micro-managing has begun! I’ve been working on certain Swahili words to help with the processes but I’ve been impressed with how quickly the women are able to pick up the new systems, it’s reassuring that we’ll be able to be fully self-sustaining in a year!

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September 10, 2015

On Tuesday (Septmber 8, 2015) we calculated the profits for the month of August. The profit calculation is done primarily with Mama Asha, and Mama Maliko. In brief, the process is as follows: calculate total sales, costs, profit, amount to go into savings (30% of initial profit), overall group profit, then lastly, divide the group profit amongst women based on attendance.

This past week the profit totals came out to an enormous loss. Confused and distraught we soon realized that they had accounted for using over 400 kilos of potatoes, however, they only sold around 300 kilos. Meaning the accounting for inputs used were off by 100 kilos (a significant expense). Anna and Hailey are working to recalculate the profits to see if in fact there was a loss, or if the books were off and resulted in inaccurate calculations.

While it’s disappointing for the partners that there are still issues in keeping precise accounts, it comes at a great time. This week is our last cooking shift with business as usual. By next weeks cooking shift we are hoping to completely rearrange the ways in which the women complete the orders. While this will be challenging to implement, it should ensure that the accounts will be recorded correctly, orders will be fulfilled in a timely manor and the time spent in the kitchen is diminished.

As for my role in this process, it will be intensive micromanaging. I will need to be able to communicate the new processes to the women while also ensuring they are sticking to the system as opposed to switching back to what they are used to. We will see how it goes!

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