Overcoming gender barriers and supporting female farmers in Tanzania
OBRI Tanzania works with women smallholder farmers to produce sunflower cooking oil. This not only helps women increase their income, but also provides low-income consumers with an affordable alternative to re-using cooking oil.
What challenges did you face in obtaining funding for OBRI Tanzania and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was finance and accounting knowledge. Every funding decision I came across involved numbers, so I relied on my finance manager for most of my financial presentations. I had to take extra financial classes online, and I am still learning about some of the key accounting and financial management aspects. What I have learned is that my numbers count!
Do you feel that being a woman made a difference in trying to obtain funding? If yes, can you describe how?
Yes! Some funders are specifically looking for entrepreneurs that can spend 100 per cent of their time on their companies. Once, I was in a presentation with a potential angel investor. When I mentioned that I was a mother of one and expecting another baby, his company preferred to invest in a man-led company. They said it was more likely to generate a quick return on investment because the founder had more time to work on his company.
How does the regulatory framework in Tanzania encourage women’s entrepreneurship?
The regulatory framework in Tanzania is very supportive of women entrepreneurs, from tax issues to company registration and working premises, especially in the agri-food industry. For example, there are special premises where entrepreneurs in the food processing space can rent at lower prices and receive regular trainings and mentorship support under the Small Industries Development Organisation (SIDO), a government initiative. Women are highly encouraged to use these premises as they start their small businesses.
Still, there are a few areas in which more could be done, especially regarding targeted funding opportunities for women-led companies at an early growth stage. Most enablers do not consider women as a special target group. For example, they require collateral to access loans, which most women do not have. Even financial institutions that do offer special SME windows or specific savings products for women often require assets as collateral. Therefore, some of the traditional values and customary laws have to be revisited to enable women to own land and other assets.
In your Impact Story, you mention that women have to work extra hard to balance entrepreneurship and family life. How do you deal with this challenge?
I personally have to work extra hard every day for a good balance between work and family. Being a mother of two young babies, I had to learn how to delegate some of my work. I set up a support system both at work and at home, built on a culture of trust. Recently, I have learned to say NO to tasks that are not beneficial. I have also learned to set my day-to-day priorities, stick to the plan, and spend the remaining hours with my family.
What role, in your opinion, do men and the community play in supporting women in entrepreneurship?
Men, and the community in general, play a huge role in supporting women entrepreneurs. They should provide direct support to women in their daily household as well as work activities. They need to understand that their support will make women more productive and give them extra time to participate in activities outside their work and family chores.
What kind of distinct barriers do women smallholders face in managing farming as a business? How does OBRI help women overcome these barriers?
Their biggest challenge is market access. Most smallholder farmers do not have any marketing skills and depend on middlemen to sell their produce. As a result, they earn little and end up farming for subsistence. They hardly grow. OBRI provides direct market access to women smallholder farmers, cuts out the middlemen and ensures that farmers are fairly paid.
What recommendations can you give to other entrepreneurs?
- Believe in yourself: Don’t let the imposter syndrome stop you – the second-guessing, the fear of failure, and the feeling of wanting everything to be perfect before you start. Start where you are, with what you have, and work on improving your idea every day. Don’t be afraid to take BIG risks!
- Fail fast and often: Don’t be afraid of failure. Failing fast and often will make you stronger, and that’s how you will grow. Always take failure as your most valuable lesson and keep improving every day.
- Ask for regular feedback: Yes, you are the one who knows your business best. But to improve and to avoid unnecessary mistakes, ask for regular feedback from your team, your friends, and the people you trust. Choose carefully whom you ask for feedback, though. The people who are supportive and really want you to grow will be more willing to listen and give you a realistic opinion.