The entrepreneurs that apply for loan money in Tanzania face all the typical challenges of a small business in the United States or Europe – recruiting and training staff, marketing their business to new and existing customers and finding suppliers with good prices – but they also have to contend with another set of challenges associated with operating in a country that doesn’t have a reliable infrastructure. Their unpredictable working environment became crystal clear to me on Saturday as I spent the day idle without power or water in my home in the Sinza neighborhood of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have to admit I was slightly frustrated that the absence of utilities resulted in a day filled with inefficiency. I had started the day with a list of items I was hoping to accomplish and now was only able to get a few things done.
But throughout the day I was also thinking about Sauda Kivike, a salon owner that I had met the week before. Saturday’s were her busiest days – she had twice the clientele as during the week – and for a growing salon a missed Saturday could mean the difference between profit and loss for the month. As a business owner she counted on 24 days in the month to make money and if one or two of those days are lost to infrastructure problems, it could dramatically change her financial outlook for the month. Even if Sauda and other business owners in Tanzania did all the work necessary to have staff and supplies ready and customers interested in their services, at the end of the day they weren’t guaranteed to make money if there was no power or water that day. Imagine the frustration!
But I also remembered that Sauda was able to operate her salon that day because she had already invested in the infrastructure necessary to overcome these additional obstacles. She used the Kiva loan money she received five months prior to purchase a generator to power her hair driers and buckets to hold spare water. So with or without running water and electricity, Sauda was able to make money on a busy Saturday. In the future when I read through the business descriptions of Kiva entrepreneurs who need funds for their business, I now have a stronger appreciation for the impact that a generator can have on a business that operates in countries like Tanzania.