September Update

I may as well just admit to myself that I struggle to do anything more than a monthly update. So, here is the monthly update:

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Another exciting month has passed for TPM. We have been overwhelmingly focused on growing the garden program. When we started the program back in April I told Mary and all of our other employees to be saving their earnings because I could only guarantee the project would continue through 2014. After that, I couldn’t make any promises about the future of the program. Over the past month that plan has changed, and we couldn’t be more excited.

You may remember from my last update (or maybe it was too long ago) that an organization called Better Lives visited our project. At the time they mentioned that they were very happy with the progress we had made. We were happy with that, because they are working on similar projects elsewhere in Tanzania as well as in the Philippines and Cambodia. The next week I met with Better Lives again and got even better news. A lot of good news actually.

First, Better Lives offered to support TPM by purchasing a small vehicle to help us transport materials and visit families efficiently. I hope to post a picture soon, but the vehicle is a motorcycle in the front and a truck bed in the back. They are great for the difficult mountain roads and very fuel efficient. A bag of compost weighs around 100kg. A full size garden requires between three and four bags of compost depending on soil quality. While we made a great caravan – me pushing a wheelbarrow, Mary and her sister carrying half bags on their heads, and Gilbert with a bag slung across his back – we are grateful not to have to repeat this trek too many more times – especially as the gardens we work with get farther away. And don’t forget we’re on a mountain.

We will also use this vehicle to make family visits. Currently it takes us about three hours to visit the four families we have planted gardens with. Three more family gardens should be completed around the end of the month, and then we’ll be doing a new garden every two weeks after that. The vehicle will make this task go a lot faster and will keep it manageable as the program expands.

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Finally, we are getting ready to open up a stand at the local market. From the stand we will sell the families’ vegetables as well as seedlings, pesticides, booster, and other garden products. All of this moving back and forth would be a huge task without a good vehicle.

So, that was the first piece of good news we received from Better Lives – a new vehicle. Pictures are coming soon. I plan to pick it up on Thursday.

The next piece of good news was even more exciting. Better Lives liked our project so much they offered to make it one of their supported projects. This means that, as long as Mary and the team keep up the good work, the garden program will continue indefinitely.

Excitement, relief, gratitude. It’s hard to put into words how amazing that was to learn.

Learning that Better Lives wants to support the gardening program (the garden program runs under the name “Lishe Bora” or “Better Food”) also means a bit of a change of concentration. Previously, we had been focused on coming up with ways to make the project financially sustainable by the end of 2014. While we still want it to become financially sustainable as soon as possible, we now have time to build a stronger foundation and experiment with various ways the program can add value to the community.

One way that Better Lives is interested in using the gardening program to add value is to incorporate a microcredit program into the gardening program. Much of this is still in the works, but I can try to offer a broad overview of the strategy. The idea would be that through the gardening program Better Lives would build relationships with the families – that will be a huge part of Mary’s job. She will see how people take care of their gardens and will be able to tell who is really responsible and willing to make sacrifices to improve their lives. After a family has proven their reliability through the garden, they will be eligible for small loans. The loans will start out small and grow larger as they are repaid.

An important aspect of the program is that the gardens should be generating small incomes for the families. That income can be used to repay the loans.

However, in order for the gardens to generate incomes, we will need to make sure the families are able to sell their vegetables. The process of finding a market for vegetables warrants its own separate post – one I hope to write soon. Already it has involved a trip to Arusha to meet with some experts, a trip to the local market where we will set up a small shop in the coming weeks, and visits with hotels and restaurants in Marangu to get an understanding of the value chain for small farmers and vegetables in Tanzania.

On top of all of this, we have been continuing on with the families we are working with. Soon, there will be a link on the Better Lives website with regular updates on each family. Below, you can see pictures of how all the families are progressing. So far we’re pleased with every one of them!Image

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Soon, we will be falling into our two week schedule where we put in a garden every two weeks. We hope to increase this pace to two gardens every three weeks after a few months.

Lots of updates to come and exciting news to share. It’s hard to believe I have just over two months until I go home. I hope to pick up the pace and get some updates up about the entrepreneurs we have worked with, our trials with our new water pump, our work finding markets for vegetables, and a number of other subjects.

Thanks as always for the support!

Progress Update

It’s been an exciting week! We welcomed Mary, her new baby, and Mosses back to the TPM team. Mary has returned for good from Mtwara in the southern coastal region of Tanzania and Mosses is just back for a couple of weeks before returning for his last trimester of college. It’s great to be back and we are already making more progress because of their presence.

On Monday I offered Mary the job of being in charge of the vegetable gardening programming we are hoping to begin in the coming weeks. She accepted enthusiastically and immediately hired Babu Lyimo as her assistant. This will be a team that does great things! Mary is hardworking and energetic and she brings an entrepreneurial energy to everything she does. She also has a huge heart and is excited to be given the opportunity to help some of the poorer families in her community.

Lyimo brings experience, professionalism, and language skills to the team. He was a team leader for a contracting company for many years before losing his leg and he knows about project management and village politics. It will be exciting to see what this team can accomplish!

Mosses and I have some meetings lined up with various local organizations that we are hoping to support. Mosses started a youth group a couple of years ago that seeks to create local employment opportunities, so we will definitely be meeting with them. We are also hoping to continue meeting with Mama Betty.

Just yesterday I finally worked through the last step in the loan process with Bosco before actually applying. He now has his business plan, his bank account, and his Tax ID #. This was a very valuable learning experience. Once we know the process we can help more entrepreneurs – and we do have many more in the pipelines – to secure financing for their projects, big and small. I believe that it is very important to get people working in the formal financial sector. The government of Tanzania has recently passed legislation making it much easier for small farmers and other business people to access capital for their projects via low interest loans. Getting into the formal financial sector provides much quicker pathways to growth and prosperity. Local microfinance can help people get started in business and learn the basics, but most local organizations aren’t able to provide funding for more than around $100 per loan. Bigger loans mean bigger businesses and more jobs. Additionally, working in the formal financial sector means entrepreneurs build credit and relationships at banks that they wouldn’t build with small microfinance institutions. Our goal is to create a solid microfinance organization that produces entrepreneurs capable of taking out banks loans within a few years.

So it’s been a busy week and no doubt next week will bring more challenges, opportunities, and progress. Thanks for the support!

Out and About in Mkyashi

Some things never change, like Scola's ability to chug soda.

Some things never change, like Scola’s ability to chug soda.

A typical Sunday in Mkyashi - bibis hanging out after church drinking Mbege, the local banana beer.

A typical Sunday in Mkyashi – bibis hanging out after church drinking Mbege, the local banana beer.

Asante (left) and his sister Haika after Asante received his First Communion last week along with about 100 other kids in Mkyashi.

Asante (left) and his sister Haika after Asante received his First Communion last week along with about 100 other kids in Mkyashi.

Just a little Saturday afternoon fun.

Just a little Saturday afternoon fun.

It's nice to live in a place where even a casual walk to a friends house can be beautiful.

It’s nice to live in a place where even a casual walk to a friends house can be beautiful.

Mary's baby! So happy to finally meet her.

Mary’s baby! So happy to finally meet her.

Getting a bath.

Getting a bath.

Progress with perks.

Progress with perks.

Did we mention about the waterfalls? Here is the bottom two thirds of Ndoro falls. It's about 80 feet tall.

Did we mention about the waterfalls? Here is the bottom two thirds of Ndoro falls. It’s about 80 feet tall.

I really can't explain other than to say that I love Haika's onesy.

I really can’t explain other than to say that I love Haika’s onesy.

Babu Lyimo's new baby cow, just two days old.

Babu Lyimo’s new baby cow, just two days old.

Valentine’s Day Progress Update

Simon meeting with one of the landowners on the proposed TPM building site.

Simon meeting with one of the landowners on the proposed TPM building site.

We are continuing to make progress towards the goals of our 2013 program. To be effective in Tanzania, one has to be able to make the adjustment from American speed to Tanzanian speed. That can be frustrating at first. It feels unproductive and slow. However, it is the only way to build solid programs and institutions that can be successful long-term.

Just this morning I was telling Babu Lyimo about making this adjustment and he advised me to be like a chameleon. He explained to me that the chameleon moves very slowly. It can’t outrun predators and it takes a while for it to change colors. It should be easy prey. However, the chameleon can reach branches that no other animal can reach. It moves slowly because it tests each branch and twig as it moves further and further out. Thus, it always knows the branch will be able to support it. Other animals move quickly and cannot travel with this same confidence. So, we must move forward slowly and build upon foundations of trust.

While the day to day can feel frustratingly slow, I am quite pleased to look back and report on our progress to date. We have received continued interest and support for the vegetable gardening program we are aiming to begin in March. Local leadership has shown resounding support for the project and many people have asked how/if they can be put on a list to receive training and supplies to start their own gardens. The next step will be for me to go down to Kah’e and get trained on the program for a week. I will visit again the next with a small team from Mkyashi. After that we will be ready to implement a garden shop and three gardens here in the village. We hope to do one garden per month for the rest of the year and then evaluate the program’s success and potential for the future.

I have also met with a number of local entrepreneurs working on an array of small businesses they hope to begin or grow. With most I am still working on business planning and financial management, but a few are beginning to seek credit from banks. I am working with Bosco – village chairman and entrepreneur – to learn more about the lending process for small businesses in Tanzania. Recent legislation has made it much easier for people to get small business loans in Tanzania. However, the changes have not been well-publicized. If we can learn more about these changes – and if they play out as they are supposed to – we will be able to help a number of local entrepreneurs receive credit.

Along this same line, we have made an exciting connection with Mama Betty. Mama Betty is a former bank employee who has worked for the past year to start a series of Village Community Banks (ViCoBa) in Mkyashi in surrounding villages. ViCoBas function as community help groups as well as banks. A group of 20-30 local people (mostly women) get together and agree to each deposit 2000 Tsh (about $1.25) per week into the bank as well as 500 Tsh into the self-help fund. During once-per-week meetings group members discuss any difficulties they are having and can receive money from the self-help fund to take care of these difficulties. Then members make pitches asking to receive loans. Loans are given out Grameen Bank-style to groups of five people who are all accountable for ensuring other group members pay. It’s basic microfinance and it helps people build credit and business acumen so eventually they will have the assets and the knowledge to take loans from banks.

In the past year Mama Betty has started six banks serving 130 members and holding around $30,000 in deposits. She has done it all without a salary and without any donations. We are currently working with her to develop a sustainability plan for the project that would allow her to continue to grow current banks and start new ones. We hope to create a plan that would allow her to take a salary from her work with the banks within two years. During those two years we would give her a small salary to compensate for the time and energy she spends working on the banks.

It could truly be a powerful partnership and would fit perfectly into our goal of supporting local initiatives and local visionaries. Still, there is much work to do before anything formal can be agreed upon. Perhaps we will find it is best to let the banks be and stay out of their way!

We have also visited the proposed property for the eco-lodge and confirmed our agreement with the landowners. It was great to stand their again and take in the incredible view, dreaming of what could one day be!

The Program Begins

In the first few days of the program we’ve already had great meetings and things are feeling very promising. Two major lessons stand out almost immediately and frankly probably could have been predicted by someone who had never visited Mkyashi before. Still, it is important to understand them in a local context.

The first lesson is that lack of capital is almost always cited as the primary difficulty to starting new businesses. You would probably get this same answer if you asked entrepreneurs anywhere in the world what their primary limitations are. At the same time venture capitalists will say their major limitation is a lack of good projects. The same is true of charities and philanthropists. However, there are some added difficulties for the entrepreneurs we are working with. Getting loans from banks is difficult and costly even if you have a proven business idea and plenty of collateral (not many people do). Banks charge around 30% interest and the process for getting a loan is very time-intensive. The banks drag their feet carrying out feasibility studies and other research, hoping to attract a bribe to grease the wheels on their operation. 30% interest plus a bribe are tough terms.

Still, we have met with a few entrepreneurs who have found innovative ways of saving up money to finance the slow expansion of their businesses. Emmanual is a great example of this. He is in twenties and his dream is to run a large livestock operation on his parents’ property. They had almost nothing to start with so he got trained to sell Vodacom vouchers from his phone. It’s a common small business for young men who can give you phone credits electronically and they take a small percentage of the credits they sell. Using money saved from this as well as hard manual labor on his property he has managed to complete about ¾ of a pig pen to house four couples of pigs. His plan is to breed the pigs and sell the offspring. I asked him if pig farming is his dream or just a means to an end and he said his dream is to have pigs, cows, chickens, and a number of other animals all being raised on his farm. I asked him why he wanted to do that and he said he just loves it from his heart.

Emmanual's parents insisted on a picture together, and I'm not one to ever turn down an awkward photo opportunity.

Emmanual’s parents insisted on a picture together, and I’m not one to ever turn down an awkward photo opportunity.

So, some people are managing to raise capital and slowly build their dream businesses. However, what we’re still looking into is how many people don’t save because they live hand to mouth and how many don’t save because they budget poorly. There seems to be a bit of both.

Another lesson that made itself quickly apparent is the importance of really digging to reach women and the truly poor. Many people have approached me in the past and in my first few days back with development and business ideas. They often hold leadership roles in local organizations. They are all fairly well-educated men who have their basic needs met and feel confident approaching foreigners. Women and poor people are not accustomed to being so assertive in their community and don’t seem to feel as confident approaching foreigners or speaking about their ideas. It takes some intentional outreach to hear the thoughts of those who aren’t in power. Then it is a delicate balance between approaching people and making it clear you want to work with them, and ensuring you aren’t spending time convincing people to come talk to you – they have to come on their own accord.

While we keep a strict policy of confidentiality for the entrepreneurs we work with – we want people to feel secure that their ideas will not be leaked – we can share some vague descriptions to give an idea of the kinds of business dreams we are hearing about.

–          A project piping water into a tank in the center of the village and then selling the water cheaply to people who don’t want to have to walk to fetch water (it’s the distance so much as the gradient that makes it a hassle here) as well as providing delivery services

–          A business providing music for local celebrations

–          A service that collects rotten bananas that people would otherwise throw away and ships them to facilities that can make use of them (I haven’t yet heard what that use is, but I’m super curious)

It’s still early and we haven’t gotten into any great detail with people, mostly just meeting entrepreneurs and sharing what our plans are. But it’s exciting to see some ideas already taking shape and people who are excited to get to work.

Over the next week I hope to continue to spread the word about our programs. Meetings have been scheduled with the local women’s microfinance projects, the agricultural specialist for the village, and a few other individuals. Hard to believe it’s only been a few days!

We’ve also got a meeting scheduled for March in Dar es Salaam to meet with the Dutch embassy – and hopefully a few others – about getting funding for the ecolodge and a trip tentatively planned for the end of the month to visit and learn from Mambo View Point. Check them out at www.mamboviewpoint.org

 

Great to be Back!

It’s great to be back. The anxiety and exhaustion that had built up after 36 hours of travel and six flights was washed away quickly with the familiar sights and sounds of Kilimanjaro. The night time orchestra of crickets followed by the predawn wake-up call from roosters whose internal clocks have been destroyed by electric lights, the faint and ever-present smell of smoke drifting out of houses hidden by banana trees, and the constant chatter of life hit you pretty hard when you’ve been away too long. It’s amazing how much life we block out in America. Here in Tanzania you are reminded with all five senses that you are surrounded by people, animals, and plants who are busy living.

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My living quarters have been established at least for the time being – although I may decide to move later on. I’ve been given a room by Dr. Tumaini and his father Mbando. Dr. Tumaini is only 24 but he’s a very well-respected doctor who makes the two-hour commute to Moshi twice day a by dala-dala. His father, Mbando, is an out of work mechanical engineer who has taken great interest in TPM’s projects. He has excitedly offered to introduce me to as many people as possible and help spread the word that we are looking to connect with entrepreneurs.

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The house is a modest cement house with corrugated iron roof. It has a nice porch set about 20 feet back from the road, a living/dining room with a few chairs and a coffee table, and separate rooms for myself, Dr. Tumaini, Mbando, and Mbando’s mother. My room is about 8’x8’ with a single bed and just enough room for me to squeeze my suitcase in and open the door.  There is no plumbing but there’s nothing like a nice bucket shower at the end of a long day and I’ve been told that squatting into a “choo” (a hole in the ground toilet) is actually better for you than sitting on a western style toilet anyway.

In just a few days we’ve already had some great meetings and met some inspiring entrepreneurs. Over the next few days I hope to post some updates about all of that. So make sure to check back soon!

The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly – Review

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The White Man’s Burden is one of the densest and most technical books reviewed here, but it is well worth reading. It’s tempting to skip over parts of the book when Easterly begins to cite study after study and example after example to prove his points. However, all of the facts and figures serve to strengthen and validate his arguments and give readers an in-depth understanding of foreign aid over the past forty years.

The term “the white man’s burden” refers to a Rudyard Kipling poem and to the false idea that we have a responsibility to help the poor because we’re their only hope. In fact, Easterly argues, all these years of aid have just made things worse.

Easterly begins by separating people into two groups: planners and searchers. Planners tend to be large NGOs and government programs that try to make large-scale change happen from the top down. They look at a government or economy, come up with a plan to overhaul it, and then get to work implementing their plan. Searchers work on a smaller level in local governments and economies. They experiment with smaller solutions to problems and use a local focus. They don’t have a complex plan, they just try simple solutions to individual problems. Easterly cites projects like IMF structural readjustments and the Millenium Development Goals as examples of planners at work. He argues that these plans fail for a number of reasons. For one, the planners are not accountable to the people they are planning for and they usually aren’t held accountable at all. The MDGs had a twenty year timeline. Nobody is going to remember the people who thought up those goals twenty years later. He also argues that when we try to transplant what has worked well in one society – like American democracy and an American free market – we ignore local customs, assumptions, and culture and put systems in place that don’t mesh with the societies they are supposed to serve. Allowing growing economies to work through their own awkward growth phases and come up with local solutions is the only way to create sustainable governments and economies. According to Easterly:

The great bulk of development success in the Rest comes from self-reliant, exploratory efforts, and the borrowing of ideas, institutions, and technology from the West when it suits the Rest to do so. —p318

Easterly advocates for smaller scale development projects and lays out simple tenets for successful development. The tenets seem very obvious. Sadly, most major efforts today fail to fulfill one or a number of them:

If you want to aid the poor, then

1. Have aid agents individually accountable for individual, feasible areas for action that help poor people lift themselves up.

2. Let those agents search for what works, based on past experience in their area.

3. Experiment, based on the results of the search.

4. Evaluate, based on feedback from the intended beneficiaries and scientific testing.

5. Reward success and penalise failure. Get more money to interventions that are working, and take money away from interventions that are not working. Each aid agent should explore and specialise further in the direction of what they prove good at doing.

6. Make sure incentives in (5) are strong enough to do more of what works, then repeat step (3). If action fails, make sure incentives in (5) are strong enough to send the agent back to step (1). If the agent keeps failing, get a new one. It’s so obvious, I’m embarrassed even to lay it out. But it’s worth laying out only because it is the opposite of the present Western effort to transform the rest. —p333-4