No matter how much you prepare before beginning an international contract, it never seems to be enough for what life is truly like on the ground.
Upon arriving in Tanzania’s capital of Dar es Salaam for my six-month internship with MEDA, I was immediately captivated by the energy of the city. Everywhere I looked, I saw examples of creative entrepreneurs and small business owners using their ingenuity to sell their products. As I watched the world around me, I understood why MEDA partners with entrepreneurs and businesses in places like Tanzania – the opportunity and potential for economic growth is palpable.
As I navigated the busy streets, I reflected on how emersion in a new place with its own unique culture and history, can spark feelings of insecurity and force us to come to terms with our privileges and assumptions.
Although I work hard to dispel assumptions and stereotypes in my own mind, entering into a new environment brings to light the areas I may be biased. As I travelled through Dar es Salaam, I reflected on how we, as Canadians, have much we can learn from those in Tanzania.
Here are just a few of the many examples:
Plastic Bag Ban
On June 1st, 2019, Tanzania banned the importation, manufacturing and use of all single-use plastic bags. Those caught using or importing single-use plastic bags are fined $19,50, and those caught producing them can face up to two years of jail time and fines up to $560,000.
Not only is the production of plastic bags, one of the world's worst polluters, but they are also profoundly dangerous to wildlife and their ecosystems. Although plastic bags are proven to be harmful to wildlife, in many countries in the Global North, they are still readily available and used. Sure, many countries, territories and even municipalities are moving towards phasing out single-use plastics, yet very few countries have proactively put it into law at the national level.
Valuing Small Farmers
In countries like Canada and the United States, it is common to see enormous mega-farms that prioritize profits over people and the environment. However, projects like MEDA’s Strengthening Small Business Value Chain (SSBVC) not only encourages the growth of small farmers but help make their business model financially viable and environmentally sustainable. In a world addicted to mass consumerism, it’s inspiring to be part of a project that values small, and growing businesses (SGB) and small entrepreneurs (SE). This is accomplished by helping SGBs and SEs to implement environmentally sustainable initiatives and proactively support women entrepreneurs while allowing them to maintain a competitive edge.
Environmental innovations include solar refrigeration for the horticultural production of fruits and vegetables and using greywater recycling for irrigation.
The SSBVC project has also created metrics for ensuring women are empowered through their businesses and conducts training sessions and conferences to highlight their successes and share their knowledge.
Sense of Community
Wherever I went in Tanzania, I found helpful people that made me feel welcome. This is the Tanzanian way; they are kind and genuine people. For example, during my time in Dar es Salam I became very ill and required frequent visits to the local clinic. Because it was quite far, I often took Bajajis (offered by Uber), and every time the drivers were incredibly understanding, even though I only spoke an elementary level of Swahili.
Not only are they friendly towards foreigners, but there is a certain religious amalgamation, a mutual respect between Muslims and Christian that adds to the already rich cultural fabric of this beautiful country.
From a conscious consumer’s perspective, I enjoyed the ease of buying local products. Nearly every product that the grocery stores offer is made in Tanzania, plus they are usually the more affordable and natural than their imported counterparts. Products such as one of SSBVC’s lead firm Halisi’s peanut butter and flour are readily available. Furthermore, local vendors and markets are everywhere, giving you the chance to experience a variety of locally source products that wouldn’t be typically sold in a supermarket. These kinds of affordable products make environmentally sustainable and healthy options accessible to more people.
These are only four areas where Tanzania has thrived - they highlight aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship that surround this astonishing country. Sadly, due to COVID-19, I had to return prematurely to Canada, nevertheless, I have been working remotely, which has allowed me to develop a whole new skill set that I never thought that I would have the opportunity to learn.
Denis is the Business Development Intern on the Strengthening Small Business Value Chains Project in Tanzania. He is passionate about working towards long-term solutions to poverty and making a real difference in the world.