Updates from March

Upendo Dinner (2nd)

While it is great that the business has been growing so quickly and the numbers look and sound amazing on paper, we have been challenged with poor group dynamics since our arrival in August. We have had a continuous concern over the lack of group “upendo” or love within the group. There have been tense moments during some workdays or trainings. One-on-one conversations have led us to the realization that our partners do not fully trust nor depend on each other. We came into this feeling that 2Seeds and all of its partners would be like another family to us. We depend on our partners to help us and support us when we need it, and we do the same for them. What is missing now is that same link between all of our partners.

We had been brainstorming ideas with some of our fellow Project Coordinators for how to increase group dynamics and build that needed trust. Our friends in Bungu had been doing a series of teambuilding and discussion activities for the past three months and had some suggestions for how to create the safe space necessary for partners to open up. And our friend Avery, in Magoma, suggested doing something together outside of work to build a different kind of out-of-the-workplace friendships. We took all of the suggestions into consideration and decided to begin a monthly Upendo dinner with our partners. We would take care of the cooking and preparing, and our partners just had to show up with open minds. We wanted it to be a time where we wouldn’t talk about chips or markets, but we could joke and laugh together.

When March 2nd rolled in, we found ourselves up to our elbows in lentils and rice which had just finished cooking with all of our partners slowly trickling in. The lentils were a recipe Eliza learned in Kenya and the rice was a gift from Mama Asha (She knew we lacked the proper rice making skills). When our partners and some of their children had all showed up, we dished out our dinner and hoped for the best. Giving a group of cooks a traditional Kenyan meal cooked by two Americans who didn’t even know how to make fried rice 8 months ago, was slightly nerve racking. Our fears were completely unfounded as they all loved the food and we had a great time talking and joking. The second half of our dinner was reserved for a teambuilding game in which we said something we liked about the person sitting next to us. It was a great start to introducing activities that foster friendship and unity. Everyone left feeling full and happy!

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Lots of Peanuts, increased orders (3-7th)

After distributing profits, we all realized how larger orders required more work hours, but they resulted in larger profits. It meant more time in the kitchen trying to find the hours to squeeze another cooking session in between cooking lunch for their families, going to the farm in the evening, and running their own individual businesses. The week of March 3rd we saw a slightly unusual cooking schedule. We began the week with a small order of candied peanuts and popcorn to sell in 4 shops in Korogwe. It was nothing too far from the standard and we knew we could easily finish the order in one day without a hassle.

The following day Hailey and one of our partners Mama Mudi delivered all of the products and recorded the sales. A few hours after they returned to Tabora, Hailey received a call from one of our buyers saying that they had sold ALL of the bags we had delivered and they wanted 40 more that same day! We explained to him that we could not cook again that same day, but we could schedule with our partners a time to cook again the following day. As a group our partners decided to cook the next day, Wednesday the 5th. It was a small order and we all knew it would take next to no time. Hailey was able to bring in bags that same day thinking that would be the end of it. She happened to pass by one of our other buyers who asked where she was going. When she excitedly told them that one of our other buyers had sold all of the bags in a few hours and had requested more, they excitedly told her that they needed more as well! So when Hailey returned to Tabora, we met once again with our partners to decide on another day to cook. They third cooking session of the week went smoothly and the products were delivered without a problem.

At the end of the week, our partners were all excited for the increased demand for our products and they knew orders like this could significantly impact our group profits and revenues. It is not an ideal work schedule, but it really showed us how flexible and fast thinking our partners are and how invested they are in this work.

International Women’s Day (8th)

Just one week later, on March 8th, we saw ourselves building off of this upendo dinner on International Women’s Day. We described what this day meant and how everyone all around the world would be celebrating women. So together, we used this day to come together as a group and munch on some snacks while reviewing the business terms and trainings we had been through together. We hosted the review session in which we went through the key concepts with all of our partners to see what they remembered and how they could help each other.

We saw that many of our partners knew the concepts, but they don’t have confidence and conviction in their answers. In smaller conversations, they know the terms and the basic principles, but they believe that we are waiting for a very specific answer. We made a concerted effort to ask individuals questions and guide them toward answers to ensure they fully understand the concept and are not simply regurgitating what we had said earlier.

Our partners are all incredibly smart women who have all grasped difficult business concepts. They may not have studied economics or even have been to secondary school, but they are strong and smart business women. They faced great challenge of people saying they can’t start a business because they are women, because they don’t have the education, because they should be doing other work. But our partners have started a successful business. They have showed great strength and courage to undertake this work in a culture that may not be as receptive as they would like. They have inspired us and can serve as an inspiration to women all over the world.

Hosted Christine from VSO Tanzania (13th)

As you may remember from a previous blog post, we connected with a number of people when Eliza went to the farmers market in Dar es Saalam. One of those groups we connected with was UWAMWIMA, a farmers association based in Zanzibar. Christine, a VSO Tanzania Volunteer working with UWAMWIMA , recently reached out to us to ask about our solar drying machine. On March 13th,she was able to visit Tabora to sit down and talk with us about our project and share stories of their successes and hardships.

After a short meeting at our house we brought Christine over to our kitchen where our partners were waiting with tea and chapatti (a flour based tortilla like breakfast food). All of our partners introduced themselves and were interested to learn about Christine’s work in Zanzibar. She was able to see first hand what our solar dryer looked like and talk with our partners about how we use it and what we might do differently moving forward.

Christine inspired us to do more planning. She was traveling around looking at different solar dryers here in Tanzania. She was gathering up resources and planning thoroughly to find the best design for her partners in Zanzibar. We both really appreciated her method and thought it could be very beneficial for the Tabora project to do more planning for our solar dryer and in future drying investments. This has significantly shaped our strategy for our remaining time in Tanzania. We want to research with experts and plan with our partners so that next year and all future project coordinators will have a strong base and foundational knowledge to build upon. They can then fully take advantage of fruit and vegetable seasons and availability. We believe this will prove invaluable to the storage of specific dried fruits and vegetables for hunger seasons.

PBS NewsHour (18th)

Some of our biggest news this past month as been the publication of a news article about the Tabora project and the 2Seeds Network as a whole on the PBS NewsHour website. When we found out someone had requested to interview us for an article on social entrepreneurship, we were shocked. It came as a complete surprise and would be the first interview for a major news station we had ever done. We wanted the article to reflect the work that 2Seeds as a whole is accomplishing by using specific examples from our project. With the exception of a couple nervous “umms,” everything went off without a hitch and we could not have been more excited to read the finished piece which can be read on the PBS NewsHour website.

Banana Bread Scones (22nd)

We made a decision this quarter to begin introducing our third product line: nutritious products. A majority of this third product line will be dried fruits and vegetables, but as we are still learning how to use our solar dryer we wanted to look at other potential nutritious products. We narrowed it down to four potentials: fruit bread, jams, granola, or nutrition flour. On March 22nd, we did a trial run for fruit bread. As you may have guessed, baking bread without an oven is difficult to say the least. We set up a time to meet with our partners where we would show them how we make banana bread and they would teach us their version of “scones”. It was not a mandatory meeting, nor did it count as a workday, but we hoped that our partners would be interested to learn how to cook something new. A handful of partners showed up, others had prior obligations, and we got to work. We began by preparing the dough for scones and the finagled recipe for banana bread. After constructing an oven like structure using multiple pots and corn husks as coal, we set to work baking the banana bread and the scones. It was not a perfect process, but we did learn a lot from it. We all think that there is a way we can combine our version of banana bread and their version of scones to make Banana Bread Scones. We are going to continue to peruse this in April.

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Dar order/Farmers Market/ Korogwe (24th-26th)

The week of March 24th rolled in and we were exhausted, both mentally and physically. The rains that we had been so excited to welcome with open arms had slowed down significantly and the heat and returned. We were feeling pressured to utilize every sunny day to solar dry something, so we could then sell it; we had been quickly flying through the remaining business curriculum trainings; and we had seen increasing orders from our buyers in Korogwe. All good problems to have, but exhausting to keep up with.

In one week (from the 23rd to the 29th) we cooked three separate times to fill four separate orders. We began the week with two orders standard from Korogwe…45 bags of regular, salted potato chips, and 45 bags of spicy potato chips. We normally divide these orders into two separate work days as it is beyond our capacity to cook 80 bags of chips in one day. We finished cooking 40 bags as smoothly and as quickly as we could have expected given its size. We had planned to cook again on Wednesday to fill the remaining 40 bags when two short phone calls changed everything. We received a second order from John Bosman, in Dar, as well as an order for the farmers market in Dar that weekend. Neither were huge orders, Bosman wanted a total of 30 bags of chips and 20 bags of popcorn, and we had decided to send 11 bags of each product to the farmers market, but it did required an additional work day.

Our partners, thinking on their feet, decided it would be best to cook all of our Dar orders on Wednesday and then cook the remaining for Korogwe on Thursday. By cooking on for Dar on Wednesday we had enough days to easily get them to Dar before the market on Saturday. Tuesday night we prepared the best we could for a midmorning cooking session, expecting this to be a monstrous couple of days of nonstop cooking. We woke early Wednesday morning to the sounds of rain slapping against our roof. We thought for sure mother nature had won this round, there was no way we could cook in the rain, the kitchen would be flooding with water. Around 10am the rain subsided and a kid who lives down near the kitchen knocked on our door and said our group members wanted the keys to the kitchen so they could start working! We had planned on meeting at 11, but they knew the earlier we started the faster we would finish and they were determined to work despite the rain. The day was just as long and wearisome as we expected. Cooking each of our products in one day is not something we do often, but it all turned out well and we did actually finish earlier than expected and in good spirits! We had also bought more potatoes to cook the next day and prepared all of the bags.

Thursday rolled in cloudy and humid and despite how tired we all felt, all of our partners in Tabora showed up at 2pm on the dot prepared to work. They divided tasks so we would finish cooking early and there was never a moment during the session when someone wasn’t working. The efficiency was there and as we finished the fourth and final order, we realized that our slogan “Wanawake Wanaweza!” (women can do it!) had never been more true.  Our partners worked very hard through those four days, and the week wasn’t even over yet!

Project Site Meeting (28th-29th)

After the long hours spent in the kitchen from March 24th to the 27th it would be completely understandable if our partners took the next few days to rest, but that could not have been more opposite than what actually happened. From March 28th-29th, we hosted the project coordinators from three other project sites, Lacey and Rachel from Kijungumoto, Avery and Kendra from Magoma, and Ross and Luca from Lutindi. Twice a year each project site hosts three other sites to provide a deeper understanding to what our projects are like. It gives every one a chance to see first hand what our lives in the project sites are like and to share ideas.

Our partners decided to cook lunch for our guests on Friday the 28th so we could all sit together and they could meet some of the other project coordinators. We planned a team building activity in which all of our guests and partners were divided into three groups and given a set of supplies. Armed with four short pieces of bamboo, a scrap of fabric, a pen, a piece of paper, a rubber band, and a single strip of tape, all of the teams had to create a structure that would protect a water balloon dropped from an extreme height. Given 10 minutes to work together, each team constructed incredible structures and prepared for launch. It was only then that we realized we had nowhere exceptionally high to drop them from, short of climbing on the roof. Instead, we found a spot on our partner’s front porch that led down hill and with the support of a low stool, we had a height large enough to launch. Each team lasted through the first round, but the second round was the danger zone. In the second round, we had our partners throw the structures up higher in the air to see what that might do, and as it turned out, that did a lot. Two out of the three rounds lost their balloons and team Simba (lion) was crowned victorious.

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The weekend was not all games, however it was all fun. As a group of project coordinators no meeting would be complete without two things, 1) a discussion about the past and future of our projects and 2) a rousing get-to-know-you-with-only-slightly-awkward-questions-game to build our relationships as a group and to see who could come up with the craziest questions. Our discussion focused around how looking back at our first 100 days, what would we do differently or what would we advise future Project Coordinators to think about. And how would that have affected the current status of our projects. As a group we came to a very solid consensus: in those first 100 days we would tell future project coordinators to trust their gut. Those first few months are when our minds have not yet become accustomed to normalities and realities of life in our project sites. It is when we can provide different opinions because we are outsiders, but we must recognize for that very same reason we must be thoughtful about how we implement ideas. By engaging and working with our partners we can learn if some of these outside ideas are good or possible.

Mango Fruit Leather

Throughout the month of March we focused our solar drying efforts on learning the process of drying bananas. Initially, we had planned on focusing only on drying bananas. Eliza had read that the process was a little more complicated because bananas have a tendency to start “browning” as soon as their skin is broken. As it turns out, with the right equipment and conditions, it will not be too difficult, which allowed us to investigate another idea: Fruit leather. By shredding mangoes with a cheese grater to make a mango puree, we could then spread it thinly on one of the trays in our solar dryer. When the water was drawn out all that was left was a leathery fruit peel. The first two attempts were thwarted by untimely rains that caused the mango puree to rot before all of the water had been removed. On our third attempt however, we had three days of uninterrupted, blistering hot sun. The result was exactly as we expected! Our partners loved the snack and think it would be a huge hit in both Dar and Korogwe, but only if we added a little more sugar.

Should we find a way to produce fruit leather on a larger scale, we believe it would have a huge market as it is not a widely known product in Tanzania, but mangoes are. It would be a unique way to explore our third, nutritious, product line.

Even Higher Profits!

The latest news coming out of Tabora is regarding the profits for the month of March. We came into the month on a high from the huge profits of February. Our partners were excited to keep the momentum, but we were slightly worried about how we could possibly increase profits given the amount of work we had been doing in February. Throughout the course of the month those fears got pushed aside as daily activities took precedent in our minds. By the end of March we realized we had completed eight workdays with our partners and three business trainings.

On April 2nd, three of our partners came by our house to begin the process of calculating the group revenue, total profits, percentage of that profit to put into savings, and then the individual partners’ profit. As they calculated the production costs for each product for each cooking session we realized that our costs had gone up over 80,000tsh in comparison to February. This was not unexpected as we had more cooking sessions in March than the month before, but still higher input costs can, in some situations, lead to lower revenues and lower profits. As they moved on to calculate the revenue from each sale of each product we realized that our revenue had gone up as well! Over 150,000tsh! Our partners then calculated that the total group profit for the month of March was over 130,000 tsh higher than what we had seen in February! Each workday was just over 3,000tsh again, but since there was eight work days rather than six, our partners who attended all workdays saw another all time high as profits reached over 24,000tsh.

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We have found some strong markets with our partners and we can see how that is reflected in this huge increase in profits. We are expecting as we reach production capacity, these increases will level off and as a group our partners will need to think about project and market expansion. Our group of eight women will grow and as they grow they will search for both new markets and products.

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