To Dry or to Sell? How to Move Forward and Finishing Strong

As mentioned in our previous blog post, we have made great strides as a group of businesswomen. We have expanded the business and increased profits. Not a day passes when they do not ask when and where we have our next orders, as well as where and how we can find more! Our partners have begun assuming more roles and responsibilities in the business. They are beginning to not only show, but shine in natural business roles. Through many discussions and the small group rotations, we can see who is beginning to fill which specific roles. This ties in nicely with our yearlong (January 2014-January 2015) goal of having each partner control a specific role in the business such that all operational roles are fulfilled. We believe this will increase both partner confidence and ownership in the project.

Over the last few weeks, we have been able to begin decreasing our presence in the kitchen. We hope, that by October, our partners will be running the business on their own, so that next year’s project coordinators will be able to focus on food security. These past nine months we have strongly regretted that we were not able to make more progress with solar drying. When the idea was brought up, we could not have been more excited. We have lots of sun in Tabora and fruits and vegetables are readily accessible in nearby markets. What more could we need right? What we quickly realized is that it is not quite that easy. How do you cut the fruit? How do you know when it’s done? Why do bananas always turn a grayish, blacky, brown color? How do you prepare vegetables? Why do you need to “blanch” vegetables before? How do you even do that? What happens if it’s humid outside? What do you do for storage after you finally have dried something?

As the questions continued to role in we began to realize what we were faced with. A mathematical scientific art form that required much more research than we initially expected. After long hours of staring at computer screens, reading through books, and numerous trial runs with our partners, we have cobbled together most of the answeres we had been searching for. Now we can finally say that we have the answers and information we need, it is the vegetable season, and we have the experts to support and fill in any gaps. All said and done, we now have all of the ingredients we need to make some serious progress with individual partner food storage, but what we lack is the time.

With May upon us, we find ourselves with just over two months left in Tabora, 68 days to be exact. Now don’t get us wrong, we could easily select a design for individual home dryers and begin construction, but what state would they be in come July? Would our partners understand how to use them? Also, what state would the business be in? If we split our remaining days so 34 total are dedicated to the business and 34 total to solar drying, how can we tell if either will be strong enough to stand during the intermission months before the new project coordinators arrive? Is 34 days enough to make our partners feel truly confident in their roles? Would they then be able to completely assume those roles in time to achieve our yearlong goals? 34 days may prove a good start for solar drying. Sure, we may be able to get eight individual machines built, but would there be time enough to know how to use the machines we had built? Time enough to facilitate the trainings needed?

We approached this problem from both sides. For nine months, our partners have been testing out solar drying with our support. They understand the general process. They have seen individual dryers and think they are a great idea. They are excited to bring those ideas to life in Tabora. The motivation and enthusiasm is here as our partners have become more invested. We too, have become invested after all of the hours of researching and connecting with experts. After all of our successes and hardships together, we are finally in a position to see this through and get some big results. Nine months of preparing and false starts, and now we finally find ourselves at the starting line and ready to go.

On the other hand, we are gearing up to cross the finish line with the business. We have gone through nine months of tremendous learning and growth with our partners. They are more prepared and confident than ever to assume control over all business operations. We have short, three month, quarterly goals that have slowly been addressing this shift of responsibilities. Every partner has been exposed to every role and they began showing natural strengths and weaknesses, which we will begin to build on more specifically. As a group, we are in a spot where, with one more final push, partners could easily assume those leadership roles.

We can either start one race or finish another, but we are afraid that if we try to split our remaining time, both will suffer. The business would not be at its best point and the solar drying would be cobbled together. Next year’s project coordinators would arrive in Tabora and be pulled in two different directions.

Our strategy for moving forward with this last quarter revolves around this last idea. We want to set up next year’s project coordinators the best we can to ensure their success. We have tried the best we could to put ourselves in their shoes. As new Project Coordinators, we arrive in a new place with an incomplete and uncomfortable grasp on the language. The partners, who we do not really know just yet, are in an “ok” place with this business that we do not yet know how to run. It is clear that they still depend on us to arrange orders, purchase supplies, keep records, and distribute individual profits. How can we possibly do all of that when we don’t know where the Kimaro Shop in Korogwe is let alone how to get products there? At the same time, our partners would be asking when we could start solar drying with these new machines they just got and how they would store that food for later. How in the world would we be able to answer that having never dried anything except laundry?

Of course this may not be the actual case. Maybe next year’s project coordinators will be business experts that specialize in solar drying and nutrition. Based on our experience upon arrival last August, even that expertise and knowledge would not make the process painless, nor is it realistic to say that solar drying business knowledge is easily transferable across cultures and countries. Would this potential success be worth the potential failure?

So, rather than creasing a sticky situation for next year’s project coordinators, we have decided to focus on finishing up strong with the business. In doing so, we will have to reduce our time spent solar drying; however, less does not meant that we will stop completely. These last few months, we will finalize and organize all background research and information needed for solar drying. This includes the compilation of all research into a comprehensive “how to” handbook, with specifics to Tabora. We will also be recording the daily food intake of a control group of four partners to better access the food and nutritional needs of our partners and their families.
Additionally, we will research potential designs for home dryers complete with a detailed construction plan and itemized budget for each selected design so our partners can make an informed choice as to which machine they would be most interested in when the time comes.

Next year’s project coordinators will be able to review all of this information, so all people involved will be as prepared as they can be to move forward. With more direct and comprehensive support over the next couple of months, our partners will more easily assume business roles to remove that responsibility from the future project
coordinators.

This was not an easy decision to come to. As previously mentioned, we have finally reached a place where we can actually take action, but what we realized is that sometimes not taking action is a harder and better thing to do than taking it. We are invested in this process with our partners and in many ways, we are just as excited as they are to see how this all turns out. At the end of the day, we remembered that this is not our project; it is our partners and we are just one step in a much longer process. We know that by moving forward and focusing on the business, we are setting our partners up for greater success down the road.

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