Turning a crisis into an opportunity- how Hadija provided decent work for herself and her community

Above: Hadija Jabiri, Managing Director and founder of GBRI Solutions

A born entrepreneur

Hadija always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. This truth became clearer as she graduated from university. She saw how many young people like herself struggled to find work. So, starting her own business, or creating work opportunities for herself, seemed like the natural next step. In 2015, after Hadija graduated, she learned about onion farming and took a course on manufacturing industrial products in Kenya. After this transformative course, the seed of GBRI Solutions was planted, and Hadija founded her business in 2015.

Hadija saw opportunities in the export business. Being a small business competing against bigger players in the market was initially seen as a disadvantage. But Hadija eventually saw this perceived disadvantage as a strength. Where the big companies could offer greater quantity, her company could provide quality products by working directly with local farmers. Eventually, her strategy worked, and business was going well. GBRI grew, processed, and exported various vegetables, including french beans, peas, baby corn, and avocado to various markets in Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

GBRI at a crossroads

Then the pandemic struck, and markets closed around the world. The lockdowns had a tremendous impact on Hadija and her growing business.

“So just one day you wake up, in the morning and you are told like you cannot export. And at that particular moment, we had produce on the ground ourselves, but also ourselves as a company….We did not plan for COVID….[the] pandemic affected us big time.”

– Hadija

It was at this point that Hadija and GBRI was at a crossroads. She had two choices: either close her business or adapt and try to forge a new path by selling other products. Hadija ultimately chose the latter path and adapted. Instead of looking overseas (Europe), she set her sights on local markets in Tanzania. GBRI learned that 98% of fruits and vegetables are sold through informal channels in urban cities in Africa. With the pandemic closing markets around the world, it became a viable business strategy to focus on local markets at home to satisfy the demand of rapidly growing cities.

A crisis becomes an opportunity

Hadija embraced the unknown and changed her marketing strategy to focus on the bananas and avocado value chains. She worked with MEDA to secure the necessary financing and invested in building cold storage infrastructure to store her produce. MEDA also supported Hadija’s business by securing regulatory approval and attaining an environmental certificate (which signified that her business passed Tanzania’s environmental standards) and providing GBRI with technical assistance.

GBRI then established a new business-to-business (B2B) retail business model which involved collecting the produce orders of her fruit street vendor clients using a mobile-based e-commerce platform and selling it to them directly at wholesale prices. She bought and sold produce directly from mostly women farmers and fruit and vegetable vendors. She also sold 50,000 avocado seedlings to small entrepreneurs (SEs) during the 2021 planting season.

The outcome – defying expectations

Through the support of MEDA, Hadija’s entrepreneurial ingenuity, and GBRI’s innovative new business model, the company has grown and now occupies about 60% market share in Iringa town and 90% in Ilula town. Newer and more modern infrastructure improved her business’ ability to engage with and buy produce from more farmers. Currently, the company is sourcing about 38 tons of bananas per week and eight tons of tomatoes per week for the Dar es Salaam and Iringa markets.

“By doing so, we have not only helped our GBRI smallholder farmers to get assured market but also, we have helped vendors to increase their profitability because, now they don’t need to go to the market early in the morning and incurred transportation costs; we deliver this banana right at a point of sell.”

– Hadija

GBRI’s revenue is growing quickly. The company is currently supplying 90 tons of bananas per month. Now, GBRI sells produce to 600 fruit and vegetable vendors (93% are women, 7% are men) in Iringa Market and 450 fruit and vegetable vendors in Dar es Salaam market. GBRI also buys produce from 250 banana and tomatoes small-scale farmers (85% are women and 15% are men).

Hadija’s business employs 42 permanent workers and between 50-200 casual workers. Profits are so good that she can also offer her staff wage increases. In the next five years, GBRI will continue diversifying into other regions of Tanzania and parts of Europe. It will also work to engage more farmers and continue investing in infrastructure to support its growing operations.

Lessons learned

Hadija reflects on what she’s learned from her experience. One of the lessons is about the power of diversification, or “not putting all your eggs in one basket.” Another lesson is about having faith in yourself, even during uncertainty.

“When you are in business, you have no idea what will happen tomorrow, but now, of course, being more persistent, having faith that tomorrow will be better than today. And even when I’m thinking of doing something and I try to do it and it doesn’t work, I know tomorrow I [will] try to do something else. Maybe just believing that it can work, but not giving up. So not giving up is a big lesson, which I’ve learned over time.”

– Hadija

Through the hard work of Hadija and her shrewd management of GBRI Solutions, it weathered the pandemic crisis and is once again on a more prosperous footing. Hadija’s story demonstrates that the prospect of decent work is within reach for entrepreneurs. Now, she is achieving her dream – running a profitable business while providing decent work opportunities for many local farmers and vendors in her community.

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  • MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

    MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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