Theo Clarke is the Director of Conservative Friends of International Development and previously ran the Conservative Party’s social action project in Sierra Leone. She stood as a Conservative MP at the General Election in 2015. Theo volunteered for Restless Development in Tanzania to share her business skills and teach enterprise training in our Dar Es Salaam office. Here she shares her experiences working with our local team in East Africa.
Tanzania has a large and growing youth population, with 66% of the country under 25, which is why I decided to volunteer in Restless Development’s office in Dar Es Salaam. Their young people represent a huge untapped resource and, given the number of start-ups launching in East Africa, it was a great opportunity to share my experiences as an entrepreneur.
On the first day I turned up to their offices at a business park in Mikocheni to meet the local team and my students. There was a buzz and energy in the classroom that I don’t always find in the UK, everyone was keen to learn new skills and how to apply them directly to their own business. I delivered training on how to build their business online, market their products, develop their business plan for a bank loan, attract new clients and increase sales. It took a bit of time to have everything translated into Swahili but I had great support in Josephine, a local volunteer, and in Lawrence Ambokile, their dynamic Youth Entrepreneurship Programme Coordinator.
My students came from all across Tanzania with varying backgrounds and levels of education. I met Hatibu and his group of acrobatics who have done incredible shows and now perform at festivals and gigs across the capital. They were interested in how to use social media to get them new bookings and build their following on Facebook and Twitter. I met Kivu who is a talented young artist but has to rely on collecting scrap paper from discarded notepads and pencils thrown out each day in bins in front of conference centres and hotels. He wanted to become a logo designer for brands but had never used a computer before and had no access to the internet. After class he would stay behind to use my laptop for the first time as I helped him to mock up some of the basic logos, based on his designs, so he could see what they looked like.
One of my most diligent students, who always turned up early to class despite a long commute, was Amina. She had opened a small hairdressing salon and planned to expand and open a second site. She invited me later in the week to visit her salon and I met her small team and current customers. This meant that I was able to sit down with her one and one and advise her on how best to scale up. We talked about ways to advertise, to gain new clients and what new services she could offer. She decided to branch into weddings, for which she could charge higher fees, and produced an impressive folder with photographs of amazing hairdos she has done for other big events.
What struck me walking around the district to visit Amina and the other students was how Restless had made a significant difference to one neighbourhood by engaging with the young people living there. Previously almost everyone here was unemployed, living at home with their parents and there were huge problems with alcohol and drugs. The charity’s work here had given these young people not just a chance to earn a living and climb their way out of poverty, but also a chance to rebuild their community.
Lawrence took me to visit several small businesses that Restless had helped to start through their enterprise training programme, and it was clear that he and the charity had built up enormous rapport with and respect from all the young people they worked with over many months and sometimes years. Restless had proactively engaged with a community, identified people, especially from vulnerable backgrounds who were often excluded from enterprise development, and then developed relevant training for them.
There are currently 900,000 young people entering the job market in Tanzania every year, with only 4% successfully completing secondary level education. So the importance of helping young people to become self-employed is becoming even more vital to the country’s economic growth.
What I found most interesting about my short time in Tanzania was that the young people I met were not looking for money or a hand out. All they wanted was some help, through advice or training, as a hand up to lift themselves out of poverty. It was clear to me that British NGOs, like Restless who are part funded by British taxpayers, are playing a major role in helping Tanzanians to build their own country. Their enterprise programmes are aiding economic growth and helping the country to become less reliant on foreign aid by creating the jobs of the future.