Running a small business is tough anywhere. It requires dedication, long hours, and multiple skill sets. For a couple in east Africa, it requires picking through garbage, washing filthy plastic bags with care, and using them as stuffing for hand-made dolls.
In this moving video, we watch Juma and Asia make and sell animal dolls to tourists in their Tanzanian village and online at their website, arushacleaner.com. We watch as they collect the plastic bag “waste” from their village and turn it into something that is not waste: stuffing for brightly-colored monkey or giraffe dolls. This is the best kind of small business: enterprising, self-supporting and giving back to the community.
The Mazingira Monkey Project is an example for budding entrepreneurs everywhere. All the precepts of a small business are here:
When choosing a business idea, follow your passion: Mazingira means environment in Swahili, and Juma explains that he chose the name because “I love the environment.”
Keep your operation lean: We follow Juma through Arusha village, where he collects the trash plastic and buys soap; to the river, where he hand carries water to the bank to wash the bags; to his two-room house where he and his wife make the dolls by hand; to the nearby town of Jambo, where he sells them.
Focus on your goals: Juma’s goals are simple. Selling the monkey dolls helps him to buy food, clothing and shoes for his family of six. Survival is a powerful incentive.
Contribute to the community: Some 20,000 ugly plastic bags are now inside children’s toys instead of “flying around the streets of Arusha town.”
Have a strategic plan: Juma is clear on his goal: to ramp up sales from 10 dolls to 100 per month, to allow capital investment and expansion. He would like to invest in a sewing machine and move the “office” out of his two-room home.
There are thousands of entrepreneurs all over the world, like Juma, who could take their business to a more comfortable and sustainable level with the tiniest of loans. This past week I attended the fourth birthday party of the wonderful organization Kiva, which provides a portal where members of the public, known as Kiva Lenders, can give micro-loans (as small as $25) to enterprising people–83% of them women–around the world who need a small hand to help them on the road to self-sufficient sustainability. Since its founding, Kiva Lenders have loaned over $100 million to a quarter of a million recipients in 49 countries.
Like Kiva’s microloans, which are 98% repaid so that the money can be lent out again, I wish Kiva, whose name is the Swahili word for unity, many happy returns. As we enter the giving season, Kiva is a great way to support hard-working people everywhere with a gift that gives back. And some of us may also want a more tangible gift; I’m signing off to go purchase a plastic-stuffed monkey doll.
Photo: Courtesy Kristian Ruggieri
Thanks to Kristian for making the video of the Mazingira Monkey Project.