We are living in sub-Saharan Africa in a tiny cottage without running water and power. It’s a bit different from what we’re used to, but we do have cement floors and walls and even glass windows.
Although our living conditions are modest by any standard, the difference between how we live and our partners live is significant. One of the farmers we partner with lives across the nearest foot path “next door” in a one-room mud structure.
Although we don’t have detailed information on the overall income of our partners, we have a general understanding of their poverty level. They are not the poorest of the poor, meaning they aren’t in severe consistent discomfort, facing a high risk of an early death from malnutrition, disease or other ailments. However, they do have difficulty satisfying some or many of a human beings’ basic requirements like permanent shelter and rudimentary medical care, and they have little to no hope of improving their situation.
The poor can be “trapped” in poverty for a variety of reasons. Generally, regardless of where they live, in Tanzania or another low income country, they often make money through creating and running several different small businesses. In the Bungu project, one of our partners, for example, farms and has a cow whose milk she sells. Another farms and sells fish on the side.
Although the poor are entrepreneurial by necessity, they face serious obstacles to growing their businesses on their own: They have the same businesses as everyone else – farming and fish sales are both common activities – so there is too much supply driving down prices, cutting profits; they have difficulty specializing in their business because they are doing so many things at once; there’s also significant evidence that the stress the poor are under inhibits strategic thinking: It’s tough to think business strategy when you’re consumed with ensuring your kids have enough food for the day.
Through our work at 2Seeds, we’re creating a business that corrects some of these issues. We allow our partners to pool together and develop their farming knowledge and business acumen to “specialize in the business”. We also are working to sell in markets with a little less competition to get better prices and out compete other businesses. We’re helping our partners make more money so that they can purchase their own cement floors and glass windows. It’s difficult, and we’re constantly thinking about better ways to help them and others escape from poverty, but the goal is incredibly important.