Piece #2 Chembo

Sydney’s long time friend, Chembo Muwaya had all of these skills and was already interested in the project. But she lived In Ndola, a six or seven hour busride away. I was surprised when she expressed serious interest and agreed to come to Livingstone to discuss things. I was even more surprised and delighted when she agreed to join us as the third team member.

From the moment we met it was chrystal clear that she was a perfect fit: smart, energetic, good humored and passionate about setting up a successful business for the women and for ourselves. Her description of how to organize the business end was clear and authoritative. She was sitting next to me on the couch in the living room of the guest house at the Mama Bakhita, which became our meeting room. I touched her hand and looked at her in wonder. “Are you real?”

She moved to Livingstone the next week and set up a three month business plan, three months being the minimum needed to reach the breakeven point. She took inventory, figured out what each doll cost in materials, how many dolls we needed to sell to break even (50 a week) and how many to make a profit (more). One big unknown was how many finished dolls the women could complete in a given time. We had been operating since 2010 in a piecemeal fashion, because I was selling the dolls myself at Christmas and summer sales and had to limit quantity. I could give them two big orders a year, paying them several thousand dollars each time, which was great but not consistent enough to sustain them year round. They have their small businesses to try and make ends meet, but often it is not enough.

We had no idea how much time they needed to produce one doll

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Updated: May 16, 2020

The Organizing Principle Falls into my Lap the Day Before I Leave for Zambia

Piece #1 The Book and Why Do We Exist? (As a Business)

After eight years of slowly developing a product and a way to market it, 2018 was the year the Zambezi Doll project found its true shape and came into focus.

It began when my friend Roberta gave me a book she had found useful in organizing her own business, called The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni with the very descriptive subtitle “Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else”. I read the first half on the long plane ride going over and was intrigued to find no facts about profit margins or anything else like that. Instead the author listed the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself : why you are doing this business and what are your core values?

As soon as I arrived Sydney Mwamba, the Zambian manager of the AACDP, and I brainstormed about the first three questions that would be the foundation of our new enterprise.

#1 Why do we exist?

Firstly, to create a stable income for the doll makers out of their own creativity. Secondly, the world needs a friendly doll made of natural materials and a choice of skin tones from dark to light.

#2 What are our basic values.? Compassion, integrity and consistency.

#3 What do we do? We make handmade dolls.

#4 Who is the leadership team and what are the areas of expertise?

Here was our first hurdle. We were missing part of the leadership team.

There is Sydney who monitors the programs, identifies needs, requests funding and is a liaison to the local people being served in philanthropic ways.

And there is me. I raise funds, buy crafts, doll supplies, develop the basic doll patterns and train the doll makers in best practices and quality control. Sydney and I share the social media and photography.

It was a glaringly obvious to us both that a business-savvy bookkeeper was needed to complete the team. We started out writing a job description:

Bookkeeper needed to make finance reports, set up systems for production and evaluation, monitor stock, order supplies, market products on internet, work with the doll makers smoothly and be committed to working for the poor, especially women. Sydney said to me, “I know the perfect person.” So call her!

Chembo Muwaya was indeed exactly the numbers lady with a big heart and limitless ideas to improve our business model that we needed.

At twenty-four years old, Zimeh Benjamin finds himself the head of his family, struggling to maintain and educate himself and his three siblings. They lost both parents, his mother only six months ago, when he had just completed the second of four years at the University for Development Studies in Navrongo, Ghana. The family had never had much money but got by on what could be earned fixing small appliances.

Somehow Zimeh found the AACDP and was able to show proof of his difficulty as well as evidence of impressive school results for himself, his 14 year-old sister, Emelia and 18 year-old brother, Evans. Bit by bit I received pictures of their living situation and descriptions of the complicated parceling out of the little money thay can scrape together from odd jobs and credit from a kind store owner. With support from the AACDP Zimeh has been able to stay in school. His brother Evans will wait until Zimeh graduates to start training as a teacher. Sixteen year-old Emmanuel prefers repairing appliances to studying in school, but Emilia is a brilliant student who deserves to continue her education.

Zimeh writes to me about his 16 year old sister:

“Emelia, she is very good and does not joke with her books. Everybody in her school is aware of her because of her performance. She has represented her school for a quiz competition on several occasions and has come out with either first or second in position. Sometimes I become very sad when she tells me she needs some books that I cannot afford.”

Their story continues.

Emelia Nupuo, straight A student

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