Go on an “investour” and help fight poverty in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Nicole Lulham is one of our current CIDA IYIP interns based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Her work focuses on local tourism initiatives.
Dar es Salaam, located on the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, is a gem of culture and diversity for any traveler who is looking for a trek off the beaten path.
One of Dar’s must-see cultural hubs is the Mwenge Woodcarver’s Market, the biggest outlet of Makonde carvings in Tanzania. Here traditional Makonde woodcarvers from throughout the region have migrated in search of a better life. Their carvings are a physical symbol of their rich cultural history, but limited resources force many of them into poverty.
An innovative approach to international development has recently sprouted roots in Dar, combining cultural tourism with microfinance opportunities for local entrepreneurs working in the Mwenge Woodcarver’s Market.
Investours, a non-profit organization founded by a group of Harvard students in 2008, offers visitors to Dar a unique cultural experience – one which serves to make a difference in the lives of the local people.
The business model is simple and effective. One hundred per cent of the tour fees paid by visitors are pooled and then given to a local entrepreneur of their choice as a zero-interest microloan, with a typical repayment period of three months.
Investours got its feet off the ground with the help of pilot funding from the Sustainable Cities International Network – Africa Program (SCINAP) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). They have since partnered with a local organization called Maisha Finance, who assists with identifying suitable loan candidates and processing loan repayments. Maisha Finance also provides some training in accounting to the selected entrepreneurs and gets them set up with a savings program.
The rewards from this initiative are fruitful and have the potential to be life-changing. Loan recipients are provided with the business skills and fiscal means to build and expand their business, as well as increase their revenue. Visitors are given a taste of the local culture and leave with a better understanding of the hardships that many people in Dar face from day to day.
I decided to go on a tour to see for myself how this model works.
A typical tour starts with a short ride in a bajaj or tuktuk (a three-wheeled auto rickshaw) from your hotel to the Investours office in Mwenge, where the friendly staff give you an overview of how their organization works and how microfinance is being used as a tool to help improve the quality of life for local people.
We were introduced to our translator for the day, Kevin, who is a truly remarkable young man. Kevin is a high school student with an ambition to work in the local tourism industry. In addition to his full-time studies and his part-time work with Investours, Kevin also teaches fives nights per week at an English class that is offered to the woodcarvers of Mwenge to help them better interact with tourists.
Our first stop was a visit to Tony’s shop, a father of three and a very skilled woodcarver who learned his trade from his grandfather many years ago. Tony creates beautifully intricate tables and maasai statues using black ebony wood. He was Investours’ first loan recipient and has long since repaid what he has borrowed. The loan money was used to purchase a bulk amount of the expensive wood that he uses for his carvings, which he buys from a village about five hours away. Tony proudly showed us the fruit of his labours (each table takes about 20 days to produce) and was happy to answer our questions about his trade and his family.
We then went to have lunch at Judy’s place, where we were greeted with a warm smile and were each served a healthy and delicious portion of ndizi pilau, a local dish made with rice, beef, and stewed bananas. Judy works with her sister and her niece to prepare food for about 70 of the local woodcarvers each day. They look forward to the Investours visits and enjoy talking with the tourists who come to eat at their table.
With full bellies, we made our way over to meet with Lucy and her daughter. Lucy is a very entrepreneurial woman, operating a small shop on the outskirts of the Mwenge Woodcarver’s Market where she sells goods such as juices, breads, and small household items. She also sells peanuts in small packets at night, accompanied by her young daughter, along the side of the major road near her shop. Lucy plans to use her loan to purchase a license which will allow her to sell goods that bring in more revenue, such as sugar and flour.
Our last visit of the day was with Ruth and Anna, two women who sell charcoal to people in the community. Ruth is a mother of three and has also already benefitted from Investours, where she used her loan to purchase coal in bulk just prior to the start of the rainy season when the prices are lower. As a result, she was able to double her revenue from each of bag of coal that she sold. Ruth had no problems repaying her first loan and is hoping to secure to a second one in the near future.
Every person who participated in the tour left with a smile on their face and a better appreciation for the conditions under which the people of the Mwenge Woodcarver’s Market live. Overall, this was a very humbling and eye-opening experience, but the kind that leaves you with a warm feeling inside.
The next time you find yourself in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, do consider going on an Investour. You are guaranteed to meet some truly wonderful people who are working hard to make a living and best of all, you will have an opportunity to make a small difference in their lives too.
Investours Inc. is a start-up non-profit organization that combines microfinance with the powers of tourism to fight poverty by providing interest-free microloans to the poorest of the poor. It was founded by a group of Harvard Law students in Boston, Massachusetts in 2008 and is funded in Dar es Salaam by the Sustainable Cities International Network – Africa Program (SCINAP) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Please visit www.investours.org for more information about Investours or to book a tour on your next visit to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania or Oaxaca, Mexico.