Yesterday we had our first meeting of our ambitious decision-making week. The idea for this week is that Ashley would lead half of the women and I would lead half of the women in a week of researching and fact-finding about the two options. Ashley’s group would research keeping chickens and we hope to give them a very visual and visceral sense of the amount of work it takes to keep chickens and begin walking through how to make all of the necessary decisions to start the project (what kind of chicken coop, how many chickens, where and how will we sell the eggs etc.) My group was going to research starting a processed food business and I was hoping to expose them to the range of things they could sell, the different techniques they could use, and the selling and marketing end of this business.
The plan was to have two meetings, one with each group (at the same time) and begin walking the women through the process of how to research in order to make a fully informed decision. I was going to begin with a speech about the criteria you can use to make a decision (we could choose the project that maximizes profit, minimizes daily work, or would increase their family’s nutrition the most etc.) My group was going to come up with a list of questions about food processing we needed to answer this week (what processes can we use? What are the costs of the machines? What kind of prices could we sell for etc.) I was then going to take them on a few field trips to stores that sell goods that we could make and to talk with a woman who already has her own food processing business.
The meeting went nothing as planned. I had a very hard time getting across the concept of criteria upon which you can make a decision. I think a lot of this is that I don’t have the vocabulary to explain this very well, so I think I accidentally chose words that aren’t very clear. We then split up into two groups. I tried to begin with a brainstorm of questions for us to answer. I had a hard time getting the women to participate, and I think this is mostly because I was trying to do a very American-style brainstorm when I really needed to try to make it more culturally familiar.
As I was trying to lead this brainstorm, the meeting devolved. Instead of thinking about and engaging with the idea of food processing, the women just flat-out told me that they want to do the chicken project. They don’t want to spend time researching food processing, they don’t think it’s a good time of year to start, and they would much rather just get started. They brought forth some good arguments, which I appreciated because it showed they were thinking about and engaging with reasons for each project, but their arguments are not as based in fact as we would like. Their desire to do chickens is based on the idea that it’s a much easier project and I’m not sure that they have enough information to know that yet (and I believe they are underestimating the amount of work it takes to care for chickens and get the project up and running.) As our discussion about food processing was going nowhere, I told the women that we should just go in the room with the other group and all talk together. The feeling in the room was very strongly pro-chicken and that the women all want to get started right away.
I ended the meeting by letting them know that we heard what they had said and that we had to talk to the women who weren’t at the meeting. After packing up Ashley and I both just kind of looked at each other and sighed. The meeting went nothing like what we wanted it to, and it seems that the women have selected a chicken project without doing very much of the informed decision-making that we wanted them to, but they are excited about this idea. We still have to talk to the other women and see how they feel, but for now it seems that we are beginning a chicken keeping project in Tabora.