Ross Student Develops Training Program to Help Tanzanian Women Kickstart Entrepreneurship

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This post originally appeared on the Next Billion blog, an initiative of the University of Michigan’s William Davidson Institute. Read the original post by Amy Gillett.

From a spinning scarecrow that sends animal intruders scurrying off the crops to an eco-friendly shelter that helps grow spores into mushrooms, there is no shortage of innovation in Tanzania’s agricultural sector. But what has traditionally been lacking is the business knowledge to nurture these creative products and help them blossom into sustainable businesses.

This is where the Innovations in Gender Equality to Promote Household Food Security (IGE) program comes in. A joint venture between USAID and Land O’Lakes International Development launched in 2012, IGE’s mission is to identify, test and then scale innovations that enable female farmers to more efficiently produce agricultural products and bring them to market. Over half of the agricultural workers in Tanzania are women. Not only do women carry out some of the most labor-intensive work, but they also have insufficient access to financial credit and face discrimination in land ownership. The IGE project seeks to address these hurdles and help women spend less time in the field and more time in higher-value added activities.

Thousands of miles from Dar es Salaam, IGE project headquarters, Diana Callaghan, an MBA student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, was in the market for a summer internship. Deeply interested in the potential business has for making change in the world, Callaghan did not want a traditional MBA internship experience – she was seeking an innovative alternative. When she heard about the IGE project in early 2015, she thought it would be an ideal opportunity to apply her studies in entrepreneurship and social impact as well as her previous work experience in consulting. The William Davidson Institute (WDI), the center at the University of Michigan focused on business in emerging markets, was sponsoring the internship.

Callaghan’s work focused on equipping both male and female entrepreneurs in agriculture with the business skills needed to professionalize and scale their businesses. IGE has an effective process for finding the entrepreneurs with the highest potential to participate in the program. They organize business expos during which the entrepreneurs showcase their products. Selected entrepreneurs then advance to the next phase and pitch their ideas before a panel of judges that includes seasoned entrepreneurs and investors. The top performers in each pitch competition are then eligible for an IGE grant and training program.

Callaghan got to know the participants and their business challenges. She traveled to their places of business with IGE staff to familiarize herself with their operations and challenges firsthand. She was impressed by the great ideas and innovations, but quickly realized the need for cultural understanding in designing a locally viable business model.

A mushroom-growing shelter facility.

She met Judith Muro, a member of the Dar es Salaam Mushroom Growers Association (DMGA), who designed innovative mushroom-growing technologies utilizing years of academic and professional experience she accrued traveling the globe and learning about mushroom cultivation. As part of her business, Muro created and built her own structures for growing mushrooms from spores. The eco-friendly shelters struck Callaghan as a real innovation, but rather than selling them, Muro taught others how to construct the structures. The mushroom seller told Callaghan that there was no point in trying to sell them, as others would just steal the design of her product. Intellectual property is not easily secured in Tanzania.

Through her visits with other entrepreneurs, Callaghan was able to identify gaps in their business knowledge. For example, some of the entrepreneurs had no accounting systems and little understanding about their cost structures. As a result, they had set their prices much too low to run a sustainable business. Callaghan also noticed that while many of the entrepreneurs had innovative technologies, their revenue models prevented them from scaling successfully. For example, certain entrepreneurs were marketing high-cost innovations to customers who could not afford them. Callaghan suggested alternative revenue approaches such as subscription-based, rental and community shared models that could allow customers easier access.

To further assess the skills the entrepreneurs were lacking, Callaghan created a needs assessment. Entrepreneurs answered such questions as: What need does your innovation address? What is your profit per unit? What problems are you facing in your business? It also asked the entrepreneurs to rate their knowledge across the various business functions.

How did Callaghan know how to create this comprehensive assessment? At the Ross School of Business, she also is the director of investments for the Social Venture Fund, the first student-led impact investing fund. An aspiring entrepreneur herself, Callaghan had also been through the Zell Lurie Institute’s (ZLI) Dare to Dream entrepreneurship competition and has been actively involved with the institute. ZLI is part of the Ross School and focuses on entrepreneurship, offering business plan competitions for students. She borrowed questions from the program’s educational materials and expanded on them based on her field research.

Spending a summer traveling across Tanzania and working with entrepreneurs on the development of impactful technologies was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

- Diana Callaghan, MBA '16

Now familiar with the business culture and needs of the entrepreneurs, Callaghan turned to designing the entrepreneurship training workshop. The project included a program designed by a WDI intern from the previous year. Callaghan used that as a starting point, applied what she learned from her travels and the needs assessment, and took input from the IGE staff to redesign it. The staff gave her many insights, including a suggestion to include more visual components so that the training could be understood by illiterate students and those with limited knowledge of English. Callaghan added graphics as well as a set of engaging videos on business model development from YouTube. Callaghan combed through the training material she had received as a participant in the Dare to Dream competition and added some of that content to her curriculum. It included introduction to the business model canvas, a strategic tool that enables the description and design of a business model. She also provided training to local staff on how to deliver the workshops.

Callaghan is currently back in Ann Arbor as a second-year MBA, student but the training workshops she designed are still being delivered.

“Spending a summer traveling across Tanzania and working with entrepreneurs on the development of impactful technologies was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share insight from my professional experience and my academic experiences at Ross with many of these great entrepreneurs. I hope that the business trainings and workshops will continue to support entrepreneurs as they develop sustainable, impactful innovations that improve the lives of women,” she told me.

“I loved working with a wide variety of change agents in such a creative role,” she added.

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