We sat on a wooden bench in a small shop tucked in behind the bustling street of Bagamoya in Manzese, Dar es Salaam. We had walked past many similar shops to find her, being embraced by the sights and smells of leather sandals being made, street food, and the dusty roads typical of the Dar dry season.
Christina is a small entrepreneur (SE) who has been in the shoe-making business for the past nine months. Her entrepreneurial spirit, however, has been alive for much longer. She graciously shared her journey with us as we sat in her shop watching customers come and go and her fundis (which in Swahili means employees) make sandals across from us.
Christina grew up southwest of Dar es Salaam, learning from a young age the importance of hard work. Her father, who was a carpenter and a teacher, taught Christina and her sister about money management and doing their own household repairs. Christina initially got her nursing and midwifery certificate, running a pharmacy shop for eight years. When new government regulations were imposed however, she was no longer able to maintain her business without significant expansion and capital investment. She returned to school to earn a Bachelor of Law degree, but unfortunately upon graduation several years ago, she found the job market was incredibly difficult.
Christina first met WOISO, a Tanzanian leather shoe-making company supported by MEDA’s Strengthening Small Business Value Chains (SSBVC) project, at the Saba Saba International Trade Exhibition in Dar es Salaam two years ago. She had attended as a volunteer for the Dar es Salaam Law School pavilion in hopes of making connections with law firms in Dar. The response she received from these firms, however, was demoralizing.
As Christina returned to her pavilion, she recalls passing WOISO and was intrigued by the leather shoes she saw on display. The next day, on her way back to the Saba Saba exhibition, she came across a woman making sandals with leather raw materials and colourful beads purchased from WOSIO. Through conversation, Christina learned all about the woman’s business, how she was able to support her family, and the support the business woman received from WOISO. Christina says she was deeply motivated to learn more and felt that she too could become a successful shoe-making entrepreneur as a way to support her family while she continued to look for a law-related job.
Through entrepreneurship trainings and the provision of discounted raw materials in partnership with WOISO, Christina was able to launch her new business nine months ago. Since the beginning stages, she has learned how to improve her record keeping and money management, the importance of producing sandals with high quality materials and designing sandals with varying designs and colours to appeal to different cultures and customers.
Through the sponsorship of WOISO, Christina was able to return to the Saba Saba Trade Exhibition this past year in July where she expanded her customer base and networked with other small entrepreneurs. As a result, she has been able to expand her business, retile the floors in her house, and ensure that her kids are able to stay in school. Because of the connections made at the exhibition, she went on to form a Savings and Loans Group with like-minded business owners and has also become the chairperson for the women’s unit representing small businesses in her area.
In a moment of deep sincerity and concern, Christina opened up about the serious problem in her area of the city of young women and girls (as young as 12 years old) being forced into prostitution as a means to help support their families. Though illegal in Tanzania, UNAIDS estimates there are 155,450 prostitutes in the country. Christina candidly talked about the unsettling reality of many young adolescent girls “inheriting” clients from their parents in order to earn an income. She made the practical case that these girls generally earn TSH 2,000 – 3,000 per client (the equivalent of approx. CAD $1.50) and up to TSH 10,000 if they are “very lucky”. However, they could easily make TSH 10,000 – 15,000 (approx. CAD $5.70 – 8.50) per pair of shoes. This represents an increased profit of up to 400%.
To Christina, it just makes sense to go into the shoe-making business, not only to improve women’s livelihoods, but also to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS and to give them hope for a better future. And she isn’t shy to tell you why she thinks its important to encourage other women to become entrepreneurs. Christina is incredibly passionate about gender equality and encouraging others to challenge gender norms and traditions. She believes that the mentality that women can’t run as successful businesses as men is too common a mindset in Tanzania, and she is determined to change that!
Christina no longer has any intention of leaving her business to find a job in law – she has found freedom in making shoes and zealously wishes for others to realize this freedom as well. Her new goal? To become an entrepreneurial trainer, teaching others how to make high quality leather shoes and run a successful and sustainable business. She believes that economic empowerment and gender equality are vital to a thriving society and wants to do her part to ensure that when women benefit, everyone benefits!
Want to support businesses like Christina’s? Donate to our SSBVC project here.