While in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania I spent the day with Investours. As their website states:
Investours is a non-profit organization bridging the gap between international tourism and local development. Our mission is to provide travelers to Mexico and Tanzania with meaningful cross-cultural interactions that empower micro‐entrepreneurs and directly stimulate economic growth. Simply put: we channel tourism dollars into local, productive hands.
The guide was a volunteer, a university student who was finishing up his degree in education. We went to the arts and crafts market popular with tourists. Just about everything in the market is done by hand. It’s all very skilled labor but low prevailing wages hurt workers and high competition limits profits for owners. Some of the workers develop a specialty and can sell their products to the stores, who then resell them to tourists. Others, if they can’t open their own stores, rent shelf space in an existing store with the hope of saving up to eventually have their own store.
Tony was the first microloan recipient I met. He was 33 years old and learned how to carve from his dad. He makes intricate chess sets and owns part of a store. He sells his chess sets there but he also sells them to competing stores. Tony used his loan to buy more materials and to pay for others to do the sanding/finishing. He could then sell his additional wares to other stores and earn more money. He paid back the loan in only 3 months and has achieved greater sales/profit as a result.
William was another loan recipient. He also learned how to carve from his dad. He comes from a family of 13. William left his hometown at a young age to come to Dar Es Salaam to support his family. He used the loan to buy a small part of a store. He sells his wares there (as well as to other stores) but reaps far greater profits when he can sell directly to customers. His goal is to have his own shop and he is on his way there – and will probably take a second loan to make it a reality.
Finally there was a guy who went by the nickname Swagga. He came to Dar Es Salaam at the age of 15 after finishing basic schooling. He joined his brother in the city and they ran a tiny shack store selling cell phone recharges and small products. They saved up and bought a bigger shack after three years. Three years after that he used a microloan to get a bigger shack selling more products.
Throughout this entire process of progressively upgrading and expanding his business, he’s been going to school. He has learned English, is enrolled in college and plans to attend university – yet at 15 he seemed destined to not continue education. The loan helped empower him and he wants to continue working in business.
In Africa I got to see the beauty of micro-entrepreneurship as described throughout this article as well as tech incubation at the numerous hubs. This century will belong to Africa as its growth is projected to outpace all other continents. What a journey it will be!