From entrepreneur to community leader

Christina Mombuli, from Meru District, Tanzania, overturned expectations of what a women’s role ‘should be’ to succeed not just as an entrepreneur but as a leader.  

Before joining Hand in Hand, Christina and her husband struggled to afford daily necessities – earning just below the international poverty line of USD 1.90 per day. Now, after taking part in business skills training and starting to manufacture and sell soap, toiletries and beaded jewelry, Christina has increased her family’s income twelvefold.  

However, for Christina, the biggest transformation of all is in her confidence and leadership skills. Gender discrimination is commonplace in the Meru district where Christina lives, and, traditionally, women don’t hold positions of power within the community. Thanks to leadership training from Hand in Hand, Christina is now a well-respected local leader. She serves on the Village Council, on the Meru District Council, as the chairperson of her local Mother’s Union Unit, and is the only female board member for a milk processing company.  

“I was a leader before I started the training,” Christina explains. “But I hardly knew any leadership techniques, so I was scared to dare and take risks. Hand in Hand gave me direction and now I recognize my duties and my responsibilities as a leader.” 

For Christina, leadership means helping women come together solve their problems as a group, and demand change. “Collective action helps us exercise voice and choice. It is a route to local problem-solving,” she adds. 

In areas where literacy levels are low, Hand in Hand trainers use storytelling and parables to help women memorize new techniques quickly. “Through the workshop I gained confidence which I was missing greatly, due to cultural norms of our community but also due to lower levels of education.”  

Now, Christina is using her position to advocate for the next generation. Many girls in the district miss out on an education if their parents can’t afford the school fees, or if they have to travel a long distance to the nearest school. As a District Councillor Christina is backing a scheme to build a new girls boarding school in the district. “This will be without much cost to their parents who have a lower level of income” Christina says.  

‘I want to be a real entrepreneur’: Anita

Take the road out of Arusha in the foothills of Mount Neru. Head south to Olkeriani and keep going until you hit the edge of town. Keep moving past the end of the tarmac, past the last of the cinderblock homes, and arrive at a building made from sticks and plastered with mud. Look for the woman with a lifetime in her eyes.

Anita Msele has been up since 5am, when she rose to make maize and chai tea for her sons. Aged 41, and with a full day’s labour ahead of her, she passed on the maize. “I think of the boys and I can’t eat,” she says. “I can’t let them go to school hungry.” It’s nearly midday.

Outside under a soil-thumping sun, young patches of maize, spinach and sugarcane struggle towards harvest, still months away. Inside, Anita’s young tailoring business also struggles to get off the ground. It was the same story last year when she tried selling socks at the market, and the year before that selling shoes, second-hand, door-to-door.

Anita feeds you tea with sugar, and when you ask her what worries her, leads you outside and pokes at her home’s foundations. A small piece comes crumbling to the ground. The home was built in 2005, she says, the same year her husband died. “At night in the wind and the rain the roof leaks and the house moves. We can’t sleep – it could fall down at any moment.”

Olkeriani, Tanzania

Gathering shadows

Anita outside the family home.

Anita is not hungry by choice. She is trying her hardest – and doing an incredible job – in a world that treats her as surplus and a climate that’s hostile to her survival. Like every one of us, she needs help.

Nine percent of households in and around Olkeriani earn their income solely from business – owning a shop, for example, or transporting people or goods on boda bodas (motorcycle taxis). Fifteen percent earn some of their income from business. The rest, 76 percent, rely entirely on farming to see them through, many at the subsistence level. And time’s not on their side.

Rainy and dry seasons cause boom-and-bust crop cycles: little followed by less followed by none. As the climate worsens, those cycles are becoming harder to predict and almost impossible to manage. For the 55 percent of Anita’s neighbours who live below the poverty line, the need to adopt climate-resilient farming practices and diversify sources of income is dire – and exactly where Hand in Hand aims to help.

A path to success

Anita sewing at home.

When Anita joined her Self-Help Group three months ago it wasn’t the lure of income that sold her but the promise of companionship. Still, as the training the progressed, she began to feel a glimmer of (was it?) hope.

“The training’s been mind-opening. I understand now about buying and selling. I understand about saving some of the money I earn,” says Anita.

“I want to get out of this situation where I have to beg for everything. I want the children to go to school so that they can achieve their goals. I want to be a real entrepreneur. So I will stick with Hand in Hand.”

With the dry season looming, she still has a long way to go. But for the first time in a long time – down the road from Arusha, at the edge of Olkeriani, past the end of the tarmac, near the cinderblock homes – the distance doesn’t seem too far.

By the numbers

Rural adult population living in poverty in Hand in Hand’s target areas: 293,110

Number of jobs we aim to create: 200,000

Percentage of target rural poor with improved incomes: 68 percent