Motivated sellers

Dar es Salaam Travel Blog

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Isa (or Isa.com as we nicknamed him)

The next morning, everything changed. After meeting the second half of our group the night before, over a silent and exhausted group dinner, we all teamed up in the morning to meet some local non profit programs.

Isa, our smiling, always professional, business suit wearing driver arrived to pick us up for each of the following two days. Turns out he is a pro at navigating the complicated , eternally "under construction" dirt roads of Dar and has seemingly limitless patience in the chaotic and dangerous traffic of minibuses packed with dozens of people, motorscooters, bicycles and cars that flood the streets during "rush hour." Clearly, the two million plus people who live in Dar do come out during the day afterall (just not on Sundays).

Angelina from Village Enterprise Fund was the first woman who came to show us the great work they are doing in the community by making micro-grants (the precursor to the much discussed micro-loans which require you to already have a business and some money to qualify for).

Angelina, Village Enterprise Fund
We all loaded into Isa's van and set out together to see the Abraham's Sons Marketing Group in action. An hour later, we arrived, in one of the central provences of the city of Dar, a very sprawling metropolis.

"Hi Guys!" "HI!" "Hi Guys!" "HI!" "Hiiii Guys!" "HI!" We could hear the group of about 80 men and women shouting and laughing as we disembarked from the van. We entered a very modest cement house to find the large group gathered into a small 8 x10 room in sweltering heat at 630am, all with wide smiles on their faces. One man, in a dress shirt and tie stepped forward to address their group. "Ok guys, I am going to tell you about the 5 steps to make a sale, ok? Step 1 - Introduction. Ok what does this mean?" and he begins to explain in swahili, pausing midway through his lesson to lead the group in some kind of chant, then dropping back to wrap up his lesson in English (for our benefit undoubtedly) ".

An amazing speaker
.. Ok and last you Close, you say thank you to your customer and tell them you will see them again soon. HI GUYS!" and the group responds "HI!" this goes on until the next tie-wearing sales manager steps forward for his lesson the 7 steps to success. All in all 5 sales managers continue this routine for about 30 motivating minutes, complete with chants and role playing to keep their audience of sales reps engaged. The walls of the main room are lined with the lessons, as well as a list of the day's top sellers (posted daily). The energy was palable and the enthusiasm contaigous. I couldn't help but wonder what US business would look like if they had similar morning meetigns everyday.

John, the Director of the site was proud to pass out sodas (Fanta at 10am?!) and to show us the more than 15 accounting books where he hand wrote every transaction for each salesman everyday.

John and his books
If they packed their bag that morning with 4 plastic plates, 2 flashlights, 6 batteries and 5 water bottles to sell in their door to door territory, then each item was carefully accounted for - both their original purchase price and the suggested retail price. There would be more check ins that night. The numbers and the heat in the small, dark cement space made my head spin. I wanted so badly to hand John a laptop computer, knowing it could save his team hours everyday and help them earn more too. At least a second calculator for the office would come in handy?

The program began when Village Enterprise Fund met a handful of women who were selling fish door to door at homes where the occupants couldn't always afford the bus fare to town for their food.

Ready to hit the road!
Village Enterprise Fund trained the women in business, suggesting they start to sell items that aren't perishable and then granted them $50 to expand their business. Less than one year later, the business is booming with 5 sites like the one we visited, all with local site directors and managers who have increasing responsibility and opportunities to share in the profits. The site we visited turns an annual profit of $65,000 this year with big aspirations for growth. In a place where most people earn less than a dollar per day, the owners and management are extremely proud of their accomplishments and rightfully confident in their ability to do better and better.

Other than the sales manager who whispered in my ear "Be my wife" during the morning motivations, I seemed to make another friend during our brief stop.

An admirer
I don't know if it was my slightly translucent white shirt that had him transfixed or if it was just some fascination he had with American women, but nonetheless we had a lengthy photo shoot together, which he even brought his girlfriend in to join, which eventually had to be cut off by John, the Director. It reminded me that I really need to work on circumventing my concern for hurting people's feelings sometimes and actually assert appropriate boundaries every now and then...

We loaded up the van, as the 80 salesmen trickled out of the building and off to start their 8 hours on the road. I left with high hopes for big sales and a full heart from the warm smiles. I made a mental note as we drove away - send a letter to my friends at HP to see if they can donate a laptop...

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Playing

After lunch, our representatives from CARE International picked us up and we headed out to meet with a group of women they had trained and helped fund in support of their local businesses. Our van pulled up in front of a dried out lawn and a small group of children flocked to the side windows. I dug into my purse to see if I had anything to give them and shared the left over juices in the ice box from lunch. These kids loved posing for photos and were elated to see themselves on the digital preview screen. When I looked around next, everone was gone and one of the neighbor's had to point me to the building they had entered into while I was playing with the kids (this was to become the routine at every stop we would make...).

As I walked up the stairs I could hear the sound of a woman's song in Swahili over a chorus of some 40 others singing background.

Barafu Womens Group singing
Walking into the room, I was overwhelmed by the colors of the women's sarongs and skirts and amazed by the foreign sound of their beautiful voices. A man sepped forward to greet us and explain that this was a meeting of 3 local neighborhood groups of women, each who meets regularly on their own but sometimes join together for CARE sponsored business training. He invited us to introduce ourselves and explain about Spark, then we sat in as the 3 women's groups conducted their separate group meetings.

First the lockbox comes out, then the key (each kept by separate women). Each women receives a small bookelt with her cash inside. Once the books are passed out, they ask if anyone would like to purchase "shares" from the bank. A stamp is placed in the booklet for each share bought that day.

Barafu Women's group meeting
Cash is exchanged and then they ask if anyone needs a loan for their business. If so, the cash is distributed from the bank and document in the booklet. Shares in the bank earn interest and the women use the loans to help grow their small businesses selling homemade clothes and jewelry. They keep their profits or buy back into the bank. The money they make (about $1/day) is too much to bring home around their husbands and neighbors but too little to be able to open an account at a bank. So the women's own bank is the safest physical place to keep the cash, as well as an investment. All of this was entirely too difficult for me to understand, took multiple explanations and a few days to absorb before I got it. I really should have taken an econ class at some point in my life.
Women meeting
..

I asked our translator if the women had any questions for us and told him to tell them we are very impressed by their success. A proud looking woman said something in Swahili which was translated into what I suspect is a watered down version of what she actually said. "We are still poor, how can we improve our business? We still need help, can you get us more business training so our families and neighborhoods can do better?" My heart sunk. We scribbled down notes and promised to send them information about business that would help. They looked doubtful and unsatisfied with our reply. I understood completely and felt ashamed to be there so empty handed.

As the group concluded their meeting, we reconvened to see some of the items some women had brought to try to sell to us.

Women business owners
The simple clothing and beaded jewelry were displayed with a pride that made my ears tear. At first it was clear that no one in our group could imagine themselves in one of the pink and green tunics or understood what to do with the orange and green crocheted circles, but all eyes were on us and someone had to make a move. I think it was Karen who spotted a tablecloth to purchase and with that, the palable tension was lifted and the women started to show off the jewelry and other items, as more purchases were made.

While we were shopping, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and a woman handed me a small piece of paper and introduced her self. On the paper was her name, phone number and email address. I wrote down mine and a few others from our group joined.

Local Barafu politician
Eventually I think she acquired all our contact information. I was happy to see her email in my inbox when I arrived home to the US.

Bottles of soda were passed out and the local government representative said a few words to thank us for being there. For some reason, as he spoke I was in awe of the way he carried himself and his eloquence. I secretly envied the integrity their politician exuded. As the women began to sang again, I couldn't help but start to cry (thankfully I had on my sunglasses). I was frustrated at being unprepared to help and saddened to have not done more during the brief visit. Again, I made a mental note - be sure to send business training information...

Isa (or Isa.com as we nicknamed hi…
Isa (or Isa.com as we nicknamed h…
Angelina, Village Enterprise Fund
Angelina, Village Enterprise Fund
An amazing speaker
An amazing speaker
John and his books
John and his books
Ready to hit the road!
Ready to hit the road!
An admirer
An admirer
Playing
Playing
Barafu Womens Group singing
Barafu Womens Group singing
Barafu Womens group meeting
Barafu Women's group meeting
Women meeting
Women meeting
Women business owners
Women business owners
Local Barafu politician
Local Barafu politician