Caroline and Juliana: Empowered Women Entrepreneurs Paying It Forward

Many years ago, Juliana Mtenga worked as a simple tailor in Tanzania’s city of Dodoma. She earned a small income, which she didn’t mind because she considered her real full time job as that of taking care of her children and the house. As any caring mother, Juliana was concerned about her children’s nutrition – more so for her youngest who was a toddler in 2010.  It bothered her that quality baby formula was expensive and unavailable. At one point, like other women in her village, she resigned to this fate, until one day when she decided that she had had enough.

Juliana embarked on a very ambitious mission: that of making her own baby formula. She scored text books and magazines, reading about recipes and soon enough, she had a game plan. She began taking various dried grains such as millet and sorghum to local grinding mills. Afterwards, she would mix them into proportions that ensured nutritious meal for her child. As time passed, her neighbors noticed her product. Increased interest and demand convinced her to start stocking a few packets in her small tailoring shop.

A worker at Juliana Mtenga’s factory making a sale

By 2012, Juliana had increased her monthly production from 5kgs to 200kgs. And, it seemed that she had hit the ceiling, because up to this point, she had exhausted the market that was in close proximity to her. That, and the fact that she viewed the baby formula business as a side activity, not a main source of income. And then, Juliana met officials from Tanzania Women Chambers of Commerce (TWCC). TWCC was established in 2005 by groups of women with the aim of creating a platform for women entrepreneurs. In addition to advocacy on key policy issues affecting women entrepreneurs, TWCC also provides networking opportunities for its members with the aim of creating business linkages as well as capacity building of women entrepreneurs in Tanzania.

TMA’s project with TWCC strengthened the export capacity of targeted women-owned enterprises, such as Juliana’s, implemented action plans on export standards and compliance, influenced local government to enable 30% of all local government procurements to be obtained from women and youth, informed women cross-border traders about key trade and border procedures, and gave them market information.

On learning about TWCC and its checklist of opportunities, Juliana immediately signed up and attended several training sessions between 2016 and 2019. Interaction with other entrepreneurs broadened her ideas and vision for her business.

She recalls, “TWCC took us to Arusha where we met other women entrepreneurs, most of who were doing cross-border trade.  Their experiences opened my mind to new opportunities and inspired me to expand. I wondered, here they are, women like me, who have built successful businesses; I too can do it. I believed in my product, and so I wanted to take it to the world.”

Juliana quickly learned that expanding involved observing certain quality standards and regulations that she never had to worry about before. To address this obstacle, TWCC’s intervention had to play a very significant role.

She says, “I almost gave up when I thought about the laborious work I had to do to comply with standards.  But, gratefully, TMA through TWCC was always there to hold my hand throughout the process. As a result, I upgraded my production facilities and finally got the confidence to seek certification from the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority.”

“I finally succeeded.” 

An employee in Juliana’s company displays some of the products.

From this point, Juliana’s growth became exponential. In a span of 3 years from when she joined TWCC, her business had grown to producing up to 4,000 kilograms (4 tonnes) a month. She owes this to new knowledge and expert advise she received from TWCC. Her success meant the achieving the impact TMA and its partners desired, that of creating jobs. Juliana, moved from doing everything herself, to employing six people to help her run and manage her business.

How the right information and connections turned around Caroline’s fortunes
Caroline Kisinza, story is similar to that of Juliana. She also hails from Dodoma, and her fortunes also changed for the better after joining TWCC. Caroline, a humble, strong and self-driven entrepreneur is a successful farmer who finds joy in feeding her community and providing employment to people around her.

She ventured into livestock keeping in 1995, and this remained her main economic activity until 2009; when an unpredictable market and stiff competition forced her to rethink her business. Through her husband’s connections, she ventured into supplying concrete culverts to construction projects. Her company, Jakaska Investments was officially registered in 2012. The construction projects were usually short-lived and seasonal, and this impacted her household income.

When TWCC introduced workshops for female entrepreneurs in 2017, she attended. And when TWCC created linkages in China and organised for a trip, Carol self funded herself. In China, she learned about drip irrigation technology which could potentially turn her 4 acres of land into a successful farming enterprise.

In 2018, she harvested 22 tons of tomatoes and 4.2 tons of onions which were all sold to the local market, earning over TZS 30 million. She says “my farm has been so successful that it has convinced my children that agribusiness pays off.”

Paying it forward

For better or for worse, history has proven that empowering women; indeed powers whole communities. Juliana and Caroline are true evidence of this. Owing from her success, Caroline expanded her charity organisation, which she first established in 2008. It now hosts 25 orphans and children living with HIV. She has used the additional proceeds from her farm, to expand her center to give more room and privacy to the children. Juliana, on the other hand gives 10% of her monthly income to an orphanage center in Dodoma. She will soon roll out training sessions for other women, where they will learn how to produce quality flour for local and regional markets. A ripple effect is projected.

TMA’s women and trade programme

Tanzania Women Chamber of Commerce within which Caroline and Juliana have benefited is a partner of TMA’s regional women and trade programme which was launched in 2015. The women and trade programme received initial funding of USD4 million from government of Netherlands; and attracted more funding of USD 11Million from the government of Canada in March 2018. Additionally other development partners support various country specific women and trade initiatives, through TMA. For example government of Belgium which is supporting women traders in Burundi, Denmark in Kenya and Uganda, United Kingdom in Tanzania and Rwanda and United States in Rwanda. The current regional programme is projected to run until 2023 and aims to directly benefit 150, 000 women traders in the East Africa Community partner states and Democratic Republic of Congo; and indirectly impact approx. 300,000 women traders.