"It was a privilege mentoring young women in Tanzania"

As volunteer business mentor at Twende Innovation Centre in Tanzania, Liz Reece worked closely with local staff to help young women create sustainable businesses. Here is Liz's story.

After a few months in Arusha, Tanzania, I became more aware of gender inequality. I saw that a girl growing up in my neighbourhood has certain expectations put upon her; women work hard from an early age carrying water, clothing or vegetables; and young women have a strong sense of responsibility to home duties that come before their own advancement.

Twende Innovation Centre struggles to get girls equally represented in its programs, despite efforts to market courses, provide transport and make the location a place where women feel welcome. The young women who do take part in Twende programs are passionate, but accept they must leave work punctually to get home to do chores.

Reda with her successful beetroot crop
Twende intern Reda with her successful beetroot crop. Photo: Liz Reece
Reda using her new excel skills at Twende Innovation Centre
Reda uses her new Excel skills at Twende Innovation Centre in Tanzania. Supplied: Liz Reece

Early in my assignment I was given the opportunity to mentor a young woman called Glory, who had studied agro-economics at university. Successfully completing a work placement at Twende was a prerequisite to obtaining her degree. Glory was tasked with testing and marketing an irrigation drip kit designed by the Twende founder.

She studied the competition and created a marketing proposal and flier, in Swahili and English. Together we tested the quality of our kit. Glory made a comprehensive list of improvement suggestions and gave a presentation to management about her findings.

We worked with a complex Excel spreadsheet with formulas that were new to Glory, but it was her excellent mental arithmetic that alerted us to some mistakes and made a second costing proposal to management successful.

Glory’s work ethic grew from a strong base. She was determined to learn from me and paced herself to make the most of her internship. 

“A once in a lifetime opportunity”

I learnt that Glory’s heart was in jewellery and fashion. She had been running an online business, selling local Maasai jewellery through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had built a strong following. 

I introduced her to the website of a local colleague who ran a beading business. Glory was immediately interested, and instantly had a role model. Her timidness was overshadowed by her determination and she agreed to write a letter and complete her CV to send to my colleague. 

Glory modelling jewellery she designs and sells
Twende intern, Glory models the jewellery she designs and sells. Supplied: Liz Reece

Glory learnt so much and grew in confidence during her time at Twende. She keeps in touch and attends my weekly business drop-in classes when she can — in-between the work my colleague gives her and managing her own business.  According to Glory, her internship at Twende was “a golden, once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Rising to every challenge

The second young woman I mentored was Reda, the eldest of six children. She grew up in a village in the far north west corner of Tanzania. She went to school in other towns but was familiar with being abruptly taken out of school for missing fee payments. Reda last attended school in 2015 but didn’t graduate. 

Reda met one of Twende’s Innovators, Frank, in a pub in Arusha. She impressed Frank be speaking with him in English. Reda became fluent in English by watching films, listening to foreigners and practicing with English speakers whenever she could. 

As a Twende intern, Reda is now looking ahead, energised and on a new journey. Introducing her to a computer and a laptop keyboard was exciting for both of us. We set her up with an email account and now she checks her account daily and has professional email communication in English. She has discovered the power of the internet to enhance her knowledge.

Together we have developed a test garden plot, where the beetroot, chives, onions and strawberries are living because of Reda’s green thumb (and sometimes her mother’s advice). She impresses visitors when explaining her drip irrigation kit trial vegetable plot work. 

Reda is learning about all areas of business and training by helping to prepare our weekly drop-in classes. She translates business course materials and translates during classes to assist participants’ understanding.

Helping Reda to reach her potential is one of the great privileges of my volunteer assignment. 

Liz Reece was volunteer Business Mentor at Twende Innovation Centre in Arusha, Tanzania from 2016 to 2017. Twende is a not-for-profit organisation aiming to empower Tanzanians to design and develop life-improving technology solutions for the challenges they and their communities face.