Karia-killin’ It

This is a quick post to heap praise and gratitude onto my amazing partners.

The month of January was not the easiest for the Masoko Project. We had many distractions that made it extremely difficult and at times impossible to be as present at Kariakoo Market as we would have liked. After about two weeks of absence, I was a little apprehensive about getting back to work. I feared that all of the wonderful progress we had made over the course of the previous several months would have eroded and morale would be lower than ever. Specifically, I was worried that our diligence for collecting and uploading crop data on time every day would slip without our constant supervision. After two months of trending upwards, a step in the wrong direction would have been greatly damaging to group spirts.

Let’s just say those anxieties were misplaced.

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Our goal for the month of January was to collect and upload price data on time on at least 28 of the 31 days. Nailed it!

When I came back and reviewed the metrics, I was blown away and beyond ecstatic to find that not only had our team not let their work slip in our absence, but they actually continued their upwards trend towards perfection! You may remember that in December, we successfully met our goal to collect and upload price data by 10 AM, 25 out of 31 days. In January, the goal was 28 out of 31 days – a goal which was met and surpassed, despite the fact that the Kariakoo team received very little external support from their Project Coordinators.

The reason this is so exciting to me is that self-sustainability is the ultimate goal of all of the projects within the 2Seeds Network. This goal can, at times, feel pretty lofty. With our ground presence ending in mid-March of this year, the pressure is on to make sure that all of our systems and procedures will continue to operate smoothly in our absence. The performance of the entire Masoko Project team this past month has given me more faith than ever in their incredible level of commitment to this work and I feel total confidence in their ability to keep things rolling after I leave.

Sometimes, I love being wrong.

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Friends in High Places

We’ve written about the election of John Magufuli several times now, and you may have even read about him outside of this blog. His no-nonsense, all-business style has gotten quite a bit of international attention, even resulting in the birth of the #whatwouldmagufulido internet meme. But up until last week, we hadn’t really felt a direct impact of his new administration in our project (outside of David’s participation in Usafi [Cleaning] Day, of course).

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David doing his part to clean up Kariakoo Market on Usafi Day!

One of Magufuli’s main campaign promises – and one that he, two months into his presidency, seems to be taking very seriously – was to improve the economy and help small businesses by reducing the barriers to entering into the formal marketplace. In a country with 80% of its population living in rural areas, most peoples’ small businesses are, in fact, their farms. And at the heart of this massive and vital agricultural economy is none other than the Kariakoo Market, where we are based.

Kariakoo Market is a government-owned entity and let’s just say it has seen better days. Revenues are down, the facilities are far from state-of-the-art and the relationship between management and the traders who sell here is tenuous at best. It seems that Magufuli and his staff both recognize these issues and understand the importance of addressing them. On National Usafi Day, a top official from his cabinet came and addressed a crowd at the market, called out Kariakoo management and vowed to make major improvements. Then, last week, he appointed a new chairman of the Board of Directors (the prior existence of which is unclear to us) who came to meet with Kariakoo management, including one of our partners, Omary. The chairman said that Kariakoo needs to do a better job serving the people producing the goods that are sold here by utilizing technology to connect them directly to the market.

Sound familiar?

That is, in a nutshell, the goal of the Masoko Project. While most of the managers in the room nodded in passive agreement, Omary stood up and proudly explained that this is exactly what we are – and have been for years – working to achieve. According to him, the chairman was thrilled.

This is a huge victory for us. One of our biggest challenges, for years, has been getting the full support of the Kariakoo management, outside of our partners and a few forward-thinking individuals. Getting the opportunity to share our vision with someone in a position of great authority and have him support it so thoroughly should go a long way towards getting the kind of buy-in that will be necessary to make this project thrive after our departure.

It’s too soon to know what exactly will come of this, but this is undoubtedly a huge leap forward for the Masoko Project!

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Masoko Project Updates through November

It’s been about three months since we first arrived at the Masoko Project and we wanted to give our readers some quick updates on our work. If you read this blog and end up drooling over the magnificent content, check out our mid-year investor report, which explains the ins and outs of the project in greater depth.

Kariakoo Market Solution

In our Kariakoo-based work we have focused on three main areas: improving our data collection service, collecting staple crops, and negotiating a contract with Vodacom.

Improving data collection: Upon arrival in September, we spent the month auditing the price collection system. This helped us acclimate to the Kariakoo Market and add a fresh pair of eyes to see what was working and what was not working. For four weeks we walked around collecting prices with the Kariakoo employees, asking questions, and taking notes.

Then, based on this information, we developed a report, which culminated in recommendations to improve the price collection system. In particular, we identified a need to:

  • Collect prices earlier in the morning to ensure greater accuracy,
  • Add at least one new price collector to the team,
  • Improve the reliability of the WIFI in the market so that prices could be uploaded daily, and
  • Improve the consistency of the work so that we are collecting and uploading on time every day

Since then we have worked to implement these solutions. We have developed a schedule with our partners and a 10 am deadline each day. We have added Anderson Defaya, an educated and hard-working guy, to our price collection team. We have successfully negotiated with the management of the market to buy an internet bundle with greater bandwidth. And we have implemented a schedule and a measurement system to measure our work.

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Anderson Defaya looking sharp with Jeremy

November was the first month that we measured our work, and based on our data, there is still a long way to go. We found that out of 30 days, the prices were uploaded on time 12 days, were uploaded late seven days, and were not uploaded 11 days.

Our game plan is to eliminate these 11 days in the month of December, nine of which fall on the weekends, when our Partners are not scheduled to work. We are currently in the bureaucratic process of asking for compensation for a price collector for weekends and holidays. We are hopeful that this will fill that gap.

Collecting staple crops: In addition to our work in Kariakoo, we have established working relationships with two major grain markets in Dar in order to increase our service to include prices of maize, beans and rice. These additions make our service significantly more valuable to farmers across the country, almost all of whom grow staple crops.

We have focused our work on two markets: Tandika and Tandale. Tandika specializes in beans and rice, while Tandale specializes in maize. At the moment, the relationship with the Tandika Market is bearing fruit. We are receiving weekly prices for beans and rice. The relationship with Tandale has proved trickier. Due to a number of factors, we have not yet been able to receive accurate and consistent prices from them.

Negotiating an agreement with Vodacom: At the same time that we have been navigating the challenging environment of Kariakoo, Tandika and Tandale Market to establish a price collection system, we have been negotiating with Vodacom, one of the primary telecom providers in Tanzania, to receive compensation for this service. Currently, Vodacom uses Masoko Project data as part of a trial of its Kilimo Klub service. They have hundreds of thousands of mobile subscribers who receive the Masoko Project data daily.

Yet in order for the project to be sustaining within the Kariakoo Market and for Vodacom, the service must be market-ready. We are negotiating a contract that would have the Vodacom Kilimo Klub charge farmers’ fractions of a dollar from their mobile money, and then the Kariakoo Market would receive a portion of this money to cover the costs of our service.

This process has consisted of many internal meetings with our lawyers and Partners over several drafts of an agreement that has gone back and forth from our offices to theirs. Hopefully, the draft that we sent back to them this week will be the last iteration, and in December we will be ready to sign the agreement.

2Seeds Network Sales in Dar     

Another aspect of our project is connecting 2Seeds village-based projects to markets in Dar es Salaam. Identifying and linking our Partners to markets is a crucial part of self-sustainability. Our goal is to increase sales in Dar from 1.2 million TZS to 1.5 million TZS per month by March, 2016. This was calculated based as a subset of the amount of income required to bring our partners above the $1.25/day poverty line.

In the past three months, we have not had tremendous success numerically. We have posted sales of 1.22 million TZS, 1.29 million TZS, and 1.07 million TZS in August – October. This lack of success is largely due to a decrease in productivity for one of our most popular Dar products, Kwakiliga eggs. The Kwakiliga Project has been transitioning to a much larger flock size and will go from producing 30-40 trays to 60-75 each week. But that currently means that their hens are just babies, and will not be producing until the New Year.

In the meantime we have been canvassing Dar to research demand and find potential buyers. We have been exploring some of the ways to cut costs of transportation and storage as well, but have not come to any concrete decisions. This work is ongoing and will likely not come to fruition until February, 2016, when we will begin to have the volume of products to sell in bulk and reach our 1.5 million TZS goal.

Creative Collaboration

The final area of our project is hosting meet-ups that bring together like-minded organizations in discussion and exchange to improve our collective work. We have so far hosted one of these events at the Southern Sun Hotel in Dar. The event was a great success—we had over 50 guests representing 36 unique organizations and companies. We are hoping to build on the success of this event by developing a work product that will foster collaboration among these actors as well as to hold another event in February, 2016.

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Participants at the first 2Seeds meet-up of the year discuss best practices for collaboration in social impact

 

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Thanksgiving in Tanzania

I am a firm believer that one of the keys to good and effective teamwork is strong mutual trust and interdependence. And strong mutual trust and interdependence do not just come from work relationships that end when everyone goes home, but from social relationships. And these relationships are built over time through the sharing of time, space, and culture.

I get great pleasure from sharing in Tanzanian cultural traditions. I enjoy spending holidays with friends, learning how to eat and cook new foods, and listening to traditional or pop culture music. But yesterday I got a special opportunity on Thanksgiving, to return the favor and share with my Tanzanian friends a cultural tradition of great importance to me.

Starting on Tuesday I planned out recipes and ingredients and invited all of our Project Partners from Kariakoo to join me at my apartment to celebrate Thanksgiving. I shopped early on Thursday morning, and spent the entire day frantically trying to finish a full meal of garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, butternut squash, stuffing, grilled chicken and apple crumbles. Blood and sweat were shed and I quickly moved the first aid kit into the kitchen after several incidents with a peeler.

The whole time as I cooked and shopped and planned, I was worried that it something would go wrong—I wouldn’t cook enough, I would ruin the food, nobody would have fun—I worried all the worries that a host has when planning any kind of event, increased by the fact that I had such high expectations for the event. And then at the last minute, when I was most vulnerable, crafty Mr. Veda, Henry and Mama Lukanga (three of our Kariakoo partners) messaged me saying they couldn’t come! I was down for about three minutes, until a heard a knock at the door and they were standing there laughing.

At that point, everything went smoothly. We ate upstairs on the roof of our building. I had the opportunity to talk about the history of Thanksgiving, and its meaning to me. Everyone chimed in with their gratitude, and we ate the delicious food until we couldn’t anymore. Even our upstairs neighbors joined in.

Looking back, the best part of the day was mixing Thanksgiving traditions, and Tanzanian traditions. We ate traditional Thanksgiving food, but we did so sitting on an Islamic-style mat. We gave our thanks, which I normally do agnostically, but everyone else gave their thanks to God. Some of my guests ate with their hands, as is traditional in Tanzania. And I washed everyone’s hands prior to the meal, as is also traditional. Prior to today, I’ve never actually danced on Thanksgiving. Perhaps my favorite was the traditional tribal appreciation songs that my friends sang for me before leaving. It was truly a mix and a sharing of cultural traditions, and something that I will not soon forget.

It is these kind of occasions to share time, space and culture that strengthen our relationships and empower our work. And on this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the opportunity I have every day to share these small exchanges with the wonderful people at Kariakoo. Here are some pictures:

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Mid-Year Investor Report

To Investors and Stakeholders in the Masoko Project,

Since arrival in August, David and Jeremy, as well as Project Partners have been working ceaselessly across the network to go full steam ahead towards Maisha Bora, the good life. There are not enough words to express our gratitude for your support along this journey.

David and Jeremy have prepared a Mid-Year Investor Report to capture the progress made so far in the first half of their time working on the Masoko Project this year. The report includes highlights, challenges, status updates towards project goals, and a financial report. We hope that this report will provide good insight into the work here on the ground, and show you what we have been able to accomplish thanks to your support.

Masoko Project 2015-2016 Mid-Year Investor Report

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the Project Coordinators also filmed a video focusing on what they are most grateful for in their daily life and work here with 2Seeds.

Please support us in our ongoing journey to Maisha Bora by donating to the 2Seeds Network!

Asanteni sana from the 2Seeds Ground Team,

Ana, Jen, and Hailey

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Building Creative Collaboration for Social Impact

A perhaps lesser-known role of the Masoko Project teams since 2011 has been to host what we call “Smallholder Meet-Ups” – events that bring together stakeholders from a wide variety of organizations, businesses and programs that have a shared vision of improving their communities here in Tanzania. The goal of the events is to create a space in which participants can exchange ideas, successes, and failures.

The 2015-2016 Masoko Project team hosted their first Smallholder Meet-Up on Tuesday, exploring a theme of Creative Collaboration for Social Impact. This idea came from a genuine need that we have recognized in the development sphere in our time here. Tanzania, like many other developing nations, is inundated with non-profits and NGOs. Some of them are extremely successful in the work they do. Others, not so much.

Some of the most successful organizations I’ve encountered in my time here seem to have a few common things that they do particularly well. One of them, and perhaps the most significant in my opinion, is collaborating. Our country director, Ana Le Rocha, often says, “Stick to what you do best”. Poverty is an incredibly complex issue. Addressing any one of its many causes or treating any one of its many manifestations will not get you very far. Nor, however, will trying to create a single intervention or project that seeks to tackle them all.

The better approach is to create a network of focused and effective organizations and projects that can collaborate, build off of each other’s successes and fill in the gaps between our areas of focus. In essence, utilize a coordinated effort of people “sticking to what they do best” to deepen our collective impact and expand our reach.

An excellent example of this comes from one of our guest speakers, Drew Johnson, representing TechnoServe Tanzania. One of the projects he is working on pairs Vodaphone, a major telecom company with Pathfinder, a sexual and reproductive health organization. Vodaphone has trained Community Health Workers from Pathfinder to use and enroll people in their m-Powa service, a mobile-based banking platform that gives people access to savings, interest generation and loans, all through their cell phones. Pathfinder utilizes the mobile banking platform to set up savings plans for expecting mothers. Vodaphone benefits by relying on the personal networks that Pathfinder has spent years building to extend the reach of their service.

This is obviously extremely challenging to do and it’s naïve to think that the only the things missing are a willingness to work together and the humility that is required to do so. There are issues of funding, of privacy, of intellectual property and of philosophy standing in the way, and these are all significant. Not all organizations are going to be able to get along, despite the best efforts and intentions of their leadership. Many can though, and as we saw at our event, many are. When asked what the biggest hurdle to beginning these relationships was, everyone gave the same answer: finding the right contact.

Beyond discussing the theme of collaboration and the importance of prioritizing it in development work, the bigger goal of the event on Tuesday was to create an avenue to navigate that huge first roadblock to building a collaborative relationship. We ran what was essentially a single’s meet-up for NGOs. Everyone there came with the expectation that they could come away from the evening with a potential match for collaboration. In one of the activities, guests made posters that looked a lot like hard-copy online dating profiles. They wrote which organization they were from, what field they work in, the kinds of people they work with, and what outcomes they might be looking to get out of a collaborative relationship.

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The guests then had time to walk around the room to look at all the posters and stick their business cards or contact info onto any “profile” that interested them. We followed this up with a happy hour, where people could follow up directly with anyone who peaked their interest.

It was fun, a little goofy and highly effective. Every single attendee that I spoke to said they had found at least one person or organization that they were going to follow up with outside of the event. We can’t yet know what will come of the connections made at the event, but we do know that about fifty people representing roughly three dozen organizations of all shapes and sizes came away with from the evening with that elusive first contact and are a step closer to having a dramatically deeper impact in the communities they serve.

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And the Results are in!!!

You may have read my earlier post about the 2015 election season in Tanzania. In short, Tanzania had a historic election on October 25. Well, the ballots have been counted and the dust has settled. The winner is (cue drumroll)………

John Pombe Magufuli!!!!

Magufuli is the ruling party (CCM) candidate, who won with a 59% of the electorate. His challenger Edward Lowassa, who represented the opposition UKAWA coalition (led by the largest opposition party, Chadema), received 39% of the vote.

Was it a Fair and Transparent Election?

The elections themselves were always set to be a litmus test of democracy in Tanzania. Tanzania has been democratically ruled since independence from Britain in 1961, but under the same CCM party, which has been known for blurring the lines between democratic and authoritarian rule.

The European Union third-party commission on the elections concluded in a press conference that the elections were not “credible.” Prior to the actual voting, the commission concluded that the ruling CCM had used “the power of the incumbency to obliterate the opposition.”

“In the undertaking of the different stages of the electoral process, the NEC and ZEC (the electoral bodies) did not provide for full transparency regarding their decision making processes and stakeholders access to scrutinize the commission’s activities was not always granted.”

CCM also used national television stations, public spaces and other state-controlled entities during campaigns. The inauguration of major public works projects in the final several weeks of the campaign also gave the party an advantage over the opposition.

The European Commission did not comment on the transparency and legality of the voting process itself. Social media in the country has blown up with stories of stolen voter boxes and votes exceeding the number of registered voters in particular areas, but these concerns have not been recognized by any credible third parties.

What about in Zanzibar?

One of the bigger stories out of the election was the annulment of election results in Zanzibar. In short, the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) decided that the results of the election were not credible, and would not count. Among the issues at hand, the number of votes in the final tally surpassed the number of registered voters—a clear sign of foul play. Additionally, some leaders arbitrarily declared themselves winners before final votes were counted.

Whether this announcement was a protection of democratic transparency or the opposite, is still foggy. Many critics argue that the head of the ZEC actually made the decision himself, while other members of the commission found the elections to be free and transparent. The obvious implication is that nullification of the vote is a protection from the actual results of the votes, which may have demonstrated a major overhaul in the island’s balance of power. The new elections will be held several months from now.

So what now?

Tanzania is a historically peaceful country. And yet, this election season was the most competitive in history. A traditionally apolitical group of people became captivated with politics, and particularly in the opposition party, Chadema. No other time in Tanzanian history has there been this much political awareness. And the results demonstrated this increase in activity. In the 2005 elections, for example, the CCM candidate won by 80% of the vote. In 2010, he won again by 62% to 27%. Now, in 2015, the opposition party earned nearly 40% of the vote, with CCM earning 59%. Not to mention, opposition parties gained a number of congressional seats.

The results and increased political fervor represent a growing youth population (half of registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 35) that is increasingly politically active and determined to have a voice. The challenge that they face now is maintaining this voice in non-electoral periods.

Among many opposition supporters, the win for CCM has been a major blow to what were likely unrealistic expectations about the results (there are still more CCM supporters in the country than opposition supporters). And many people feel resigned and defeated. Yet, a 54-year reign of power is not overthrown in a day without sustained political activism from its citizens. The coming years will tell whether the Chadema fervor in the 2015 elections was a passing fad, or the spark of an increasingly engaged and active citizenry that will inevitably cause political change.

And Magufuli?

While the opposition did not win in 2015, there is also reason to be optimistic about the new president Magufuli. A former minister of construction with a clean and effective political record, Magufuli campaigned against corruption and latency in his own party.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli

Tanzanian President John Magufuli

Since taking office last Friday, he has made several moves to make good on his campaign promises. For one, he got rid of the budget for foreign trips among government officials. Magufuli’s predecessor, Jakaya Kikwete, was notorious for traveling abroad. In his 10 years in office, he made 300 trips abroad—the equivalent to traveling once every 2 weeks. For a country with such a low national budget, traveling ministers (often to fancy second homes on different continents) on the government dime is questionable at the least. And Magufuli’s move has been met with appreciation from Tanzanians on all party lines.

In addition, Magufuli has been making surprise visits to government institutions around Dar es Salaam. A video went viral from his first day in office when he visited the National Budget office to find a room full of empty desks in the middle of the workday. In front of the cameras, he asked a cowering employee the names of each of these workers, and was told meekly by the poor man who was working that they had all gone for tea. Two days ago, he visited the national hospital and fired a major official with a poor work record.

His surprise visits to institutions to deal personally with stagnancy in government is certainly more symbolic than effective. Time will only tell whether these tactics will have lasting change on corrupt and dormant political institutions. In the meantime at the government-run Kariakoo Market, the place is looking a little cleaner, and we are all diligently going about our work…lest we get a visit from the president.

 

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