If there was an award for perseverance in presenting at a MEDA convention, Rose Mutuku of Smart Logistics Solutions would be the hands-down winner. Mutuku, a MEDA lead firm partner who flew in from Nairobi to be part of several panel discussions in Indianapolis (see story, pg. 12), showed up under extremely difficult circumstances.
A few months earlier, she suffered a manufacturing accident, breaking her arm and hand in more than 20 places. Despite being in considerable pain and requiring some assistance, she cheerfully took part in tours, conversations and multiple presentations over the weekend, then travelled on to Ottawa for sessions with Canadian government officials. You can watch the latter presentation on the web, at vimeo.com/302144477
Mutuku is grateful for how the support of MEDA’s M-SAWA (equitable prosperity) program has allowed her to grow her business and improve the lives of subsistence farmers in Kenya.
“It keeps me smiling the whole day,” she said. “That’s what made me come here with a broken hand, because I know we are supporting people, men and women in this world, and we are doing the work of God.”
Her commitment to suppliers’ wellbeing cost her an earlier job, as supply chain manager at East African Breweries. When management there noticed that she spent more time helping farmer suppliers than just doing business as usual, she was told to quit focusing on farmer well-being or quit the job. She chose to leave and started Smart Logistics in 2009.
With only $5,000US in capital, she couldn’t afford to buy the amount of product she needed. Because the farmers trusted her, they gave her credit to buy her first supplies.
Mutuku has developed a process to cut the cooking time for dried beans, a staple in Kenya, from several hours to 10 minutes, simply by putting them in a glass of hot water. The process, which she jokingly calls the “under the bed” method, came about after she found a plate of dried-out beans that her son had left under his bed. Annoyed, she set the plate on the table and poured hot water over them to make cleanup easier.
Returning later to the table, she found that the beans were both fully cooked and tasty.
Not having to collect firewood and using far less water to cook beans provides significant time savings for women, and environmental benefits as well.
Mutuku’s business approach has been transformative for her farmer suppliers. She helps them obtain the inputs needed to grow crops, buys their harvest, adds value to the products and resells them. Smart Logistics mobilizes farmers as door- to-door distributors of dried beans, bean powders and other products as well, creating jobs and hope for people who previously had little of either.
Investing in farmers is more sustainable than investing directly in the business, she says.
All in with lean
Indiana entrepreneur Steve Brenneman, who became committed to lean manufacturing concepts after losing a business in the 2008 recession (see story, pg. 14), doesn’t confine his drive to find efficiencies to the shop floor. A “bit of a fanatic” when it comes to improvements, Brenneman incorporated some lean thinking into his home life. Tired of finding dirty dishes in the kitchen, he gave his children color-coded plates to underline their responsibility for not leaving a mess behind. “If you decide to just get up and throw your stuff on the counter and not do it (clean up), we all know who it is.”
He has also worked on a way to reduce the waiting lines at his church’s booth at the Michiana relief sale.
TEDX talks often provide valuable insights. If you get a chance, watch Bruce Taylor’s “Better than Charity” speech to the TEDX UW 2017 conference.
Taylor, president of EnviroStewards, makes a pitch for economic development that sounds like it could have come from a MEDA staffer. Here’s the closing line from his argument: “When you invest in charity, invest in durable, shared prosperity.” -MS