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Energy 4 Impact boosts business skills of women in rural Tanzania


Women entrepreneurs working in agricultural processing in the Kigoma Region, north-west Tanzania, have seen a boost to their income and social position thanks to newly acquired business skills, technology, better access to capital, and improved market positioning as a result of a programme led by Energy 4 Impact.

Some 86 women have taken part in the Woman’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Kigoma project, run by Energy 4 Impact in partnership with UN Women. The project aims to accelerate economic growth while ensuring that the benefits reach everyone, thereby helping to reduce poverty and create jobs, especially for young people and women.  

In Tanzania, only 4% of employed women are in paid jobs, whether in the formal or informal sector, compared with 9.8% of men; men account for 71% of formal sector jobs. In rural areas the main economic activities are agriculture production and transformation, plus activities such as light manufacturing, small mining, trade, services or food production. 

Kigoma Region is the second poorest region in the country and hosts a large refugee population from neighbouring countries, particularly Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Women rarely own assets or formal land titles, few have secondary education, and have limited access to market information or capital that would enable them to set up and develop their own businesses. Women’s difficulty in accessing finance is compounded by lack of collateral, not having a track record and low financial literacy. The Energy 4 Impact programme aims to bring more women into economic activity and has helped women entrepreneurs establish and develop small businesses in the region by tackling the financial and other barriers. 

Women’s role in agriculture

An Energy 4 Impact review of the rural economy in the region showed that women do have a key role in certain value chains and transformation areas in agriculture, in particular in the milling of cassava, maize and millet, in palm oil extraction, in honey production, baking, and in chicken rearing. The programme was therefore designed to support women entrepreneurs and groups working in these areas to help them boost profitability and expand their businesses. 

The programme covers training and support on access to capital, marketing, and business development, particularly using new technology and better equipment to improve and expand the services and products they offer.

Women entrepreneurs still face many challenges in accessing capital, in running productive businesses, and in accessing education, skills and vocational training. In order to improve the women entrepreneurs businesses performance we have focused on creating value-addition in the processing of agricultural produce by supporting the entrepreneurs to invest in technology and business formalisation, 

said Beatrice Mbilingi, Capital Access Officer and Business Development Coordinator at Energy 4 Impact.

As well as agriculture, women entrepreneurs are also involved in food vending and bakery, services and entertainment businesses. 

Financial know-how

With greater knowledge and access to capital, women’s businesses in the region can invest in equipment and appliances to enhance production – equipment such as grain mills, de-huskers, oil extraction machinery, and solar-powered fridges, dryers and ovens. Through the Energy 4 Impact programme, women and women groups increase their financial know-how and are encouraged to build their saving and credit capacity and access finance. 

To help put the women-led enterprises on a firm financial footing, and look at ways in which they can improve their businesses and profits, a mapping exercise was carried out to assess their financial needs. Energy 4 Impact Business Mentors then support them through the loan application and verification processes, and help them to identify their best options for accessing capital. They assess the woman entrepreneur’s willingness, ability and capability to take a loan, look at the viability of the investment, and help them to be investment ready. Once they are, the mentors refer them to local financial institutions. 

Where women entrepreneurs are already part of a local saving and lending group, the Mentor supports the group to help them strengthen their saving and lending capacity, or help create a local village community bank (VICOBA) group that can provide credit or links to the local financial institutions who lend to micro businesses. 

Owning an asset, and making decisions over resources, not only improves the productivity and income generation of women’s businesses, but it also acts as collateral for future investments. It also boosts women’s self-confidence and their visibility to clients, partners and local district representatives, 

said programme manager Beatrice Mbilingi.

Through the project, as of February 2019 a total of 22 entrepreneurs have already acquired appliances including maize mills, de-huskers, sewing machines, refrigerators, hair dryers, improved cookstoves and juice mixers, among others.

Adding value

Through the programme, women entrepreneurs and groups receive a combination of technology training, business mentoring and market facilitation to help them to become more business savvy and add value to their existing services and products to enhance their position in the local market, and to develop strategic partnerships along the supply chain. 

Tanzanian businesses stand a better chance of working with the government if they are formally registered. In fact, formal registration is necessary to do business with government institutions, open a business bank account and acquire loans from financial institutions. A key strand of the programme has been helping women entrepreneurs to structure their businesses and prepare formal registration by acquiring the requisite business licences, permits, and name and tax identification number (TIN) if they do not have them. By the end of February 2019, a total of 18 entrepreneurs had been supported to acquire business registration, business license and entrepreneurs Identification Number. 

Those involved in the programme also learn a wide range of business skills including business planning, how to access finance, using market research to identify new opportunities and product lines, sourcing and dealing with good value equipment suppliers, verifying and maintaining equipment, marketing and sales planning, and investment readiness. Technology mentors are on hand when new equipment is installed and train women in using and maintaining their new system. 

Networking sessions and workshops run by the programme bring together women involved in similar businesses, or using similar equipment, to share ideas on issues such as business management, leadership and dealing with suppliers. They also help to develop links with district officials, local financial institutions and equipment suppliers. 

There is a direct relationship between women’s economic empowerment and income security, decent work and economic autonomy. A gender approach can enable shifts in gender power relations and ensures that all people regardless of sex have income security and decent work. Providing those most excluded with income security and decent work helps them to be economically independent, so they can provide for themselves, their families and associates, 

said Beatrice Mbilingi.

“Women who are economically empowered are unlikely to be victims of gender-based violence in their communities because of their high self-awareness, confidence and contribution in the decision-making processes,” she explained. 

Annastazia’s stationery shop success

One person who has benefited from the programme is Annastazia Lameck, a 36-year-old woman who set up a stationery and secretarial services shop in Kabanga Village seven years ago. Though the shop was doing well thanks to its good location near a large hospital and a nursing college, the training and support she has received from Energy 4 Impact and the WEE Kigoma project has enabled her to improve her current business and develop new business ideas taking advantage of the opportunities in the area. To implement the new ideas, she needed investment capital and Energy 4 Impact supported her to obtain a TZS 400,000 ($180) loan from a VICOBA that she was advised to join. Energy 4 Impact further guided here on the procedure for obtaining a business licence, she applied for and now has a formal business licence. 

“I’m really grateful to Energy 4 Impact for broadening my thinking through its impactful trainings, mentorship and dialogues/workshops,” said Annastazia. 

“Thanks to the support that I received I could acquire a freezer and increase my revenue by selling cold drinks. Further, the business license has enabled me to add mobile phone cards activation service for which a licence is needed. I have also opened an NMB Junior account for my child. These new businesses have increased her profit by more than TZS 100,000 ($45) a month an increase of around 33% on the previous year. 

With a further helping hand from Energy 4 Impact, Annastazia is planning to expand her business by opening a new stationery shop in another village.

A-maize-ing Miriam

Mariam Kilahara, director of a milling company in Kibondo Town, joined the Energy 4 Impact WEE programme in July 2018 attending a series of business, empowerment and leadership training which gave her the tools to run her business more professionally and boost her profits. She is now on the way to a very successful milling business. 

Mariam had a challenging start  - she set up her first diesel-powered milling business in 2000 in partnership with her husband, but when he married a second wife he took control of the business and its profits. For a couple of years Mariam did all the hard work, walking 30 km a day with a child on her back to collect maize to be milled. Not deterred she saved for a business of her own and in 2003 was finally able to open a diesel-powered mill in a small wooden shed at Kumweruro Village in Kibondo District. 

However, Mariam needed help in managing her business as she was not keeping business records and so she could not calculate exactly how much she was earning after expenses. Further, sales from maize flour has been decreasing because of competition from new mills that have recently been opened in Kibondo Town in advent of electricity in Kibondo. 

After joining the project and attending training, she had regular visits from one of Energy 4 Impact’s Business Mentors to start working on proper business record keeping and managing costs in her production and operations. The Mentor also advised Mariam to consider investing in similar business outside Kibondo Town and explore new customers in distant markets, which would require improved packaging and branding of her maize flour. 

Implementation of these ideas started immediately. Mariam started keeping records of her business sales and expenses and since then she has been able to identify and reduce unnecessary costs, doubling her sales profit margin - from 1,900,000 TZS ($850) to 3,828,100 TZS ($1,700) – and has used her extra profit to pay the fees for her son to start college in November. 

She has started working on plans to expand her customer base across the Kibondo District, the whole Kigoma region and other parts of the country by packaging her products for wholesalers, retailers and end-users. Energy 4 Impact has also helped Mariam acquire a loan from NMB Kibondo branch to buy maize from farmers and also apply for UNCDF business grants for women entrepreneurs in Kigoma. She intends to top-up her loan to buy packaging machines for her products with Energy 4 Impact support in sourcing packaging machines, accessing new markets and product marketing. 

Mariam now owns two maize milling machines, she employs six people - a woman manager and five men who operate the machinery. Mariam’s business also contributes to the wider community not only by producing food for local people but also providing local employment. In addition to the 6 people who are full time working at the maize mills, her company employs at least 10 people to collect maize from the surrounding farms during harvest to deliver to her mill for processing.