As a Global Shaper---an initiative of the World Economic Forum -- in Dar es Salaam, I am privileged to be a part of a team of motivated peers who are youth leaders in industry, civil society, innovation, academia, among others. Together, we leverage our collective resources and talents to better effect positive change in our city, Dar es Salaam. In our work, we can engage with among the many partners the Forum collaborates with, including Coca-Cola. This past Tuesday, July 29th, along with fellow Shaper (and Curator of our Dar es Salaam Hub), Nancy Sumari, I was invited to engage with Coca-Cola in its 5by20 initiative that seeks to empower women from all over the world to “help women entrepreneurs throughout the Coca-Cola value chain -- from fruit farmers to artisans.” The initiative seeks to remove those barriers that many women across different contexts face when trying to do business. They provide “business skills training courses, financial services and connections with peers or mentors -- along with the confidence that comes with building a successful business.” Along with Coca-Cola’s Director for Corporate External Affairs, April Jordin, and local Coca-Cola personnel, we visited one of 5by20’s success stories in Dar es Salaam.

I was excited to engage with Coca-Cola on this and had agreed earlier that week, but did not factor in the possibility that I may be spending my Eid al-Fitr with Coca-Cola rather than enjoying a much needed break from work. As soon as I met the beneficiary of 5by20 in Dar es Salaam, Lilian, I knew that the day would be well spent. Lilian’s story is atypical, not only because she is a young woman, in a culture where both being young and female are handicaps relative to being old and male, but also because she has succeeded in business against all odds. Hers is a story of success and failure, and success once again.

“Lilian has grown from being an MDC to a KDC despite all the odds,” the Coca-Cola personnel recounted emphatically. Now, beyond all the acronyms (MDC and KDC, I later learnt meant Micro Distribution Center and Key Distribution Center, respectively, with the latter being larger than the former), Lilian’s story is very remarkable because she persevered where many would have given up, including yours truly.

She began her business using cash she received from selling a portion of land she was bequeathed by her father as a wedding present. Her capacity and sales were modest at first. Her deliveries were made using a simple push-cart and as such she was limited to a smaller geographical range of customers.  Eyeing for greater growth, she proceeded to secure a bank loan of around $5,000 to increase her storage capacity and hence improve her business’ ability to sell to more customers.

Around this same time, however, her marital situation worsened. In addition, Lilian was occupied with not only her business but raising her four-year old daughter, Angel. She found herself in a situation that many women in this country often find themselves Lilian decided to leave her husband and she returned to her parents’ home, with her daughter in tow.

Her husband, in the wake of Lilian’s departure, refused to help with any support in raising Angel. Worse still, Lilian’s husband proceeded to steal all of Lilian’s stock, cash and everything he could carry in a truck. With monthly loan payments, but no stock, Lilian’s business was finished, beyond rescue. Lilian, however, did not despair. She did pursue legal action but the police simply referred the matter back to the two respective families to solve. The two families (her family’s and her husband’s ) mutually agreed that Lilian’s husband be required to return all that he stole---cash, stock, and so forth. He never did.

Lilian, however, rather than give up, contacted Coca-Cola and explained her situation and asked for their assistance. Coca-Cola obliged and proceeded to help her with lending her stock, but only during the day. The Coca-Cola trucks would offload the cases of bottles at Lilian’s business; she would then sell those bottled drinks, and would then return the empty cases that same day, by close of business. “This took a lot of faith on our part. But we trusted her. And of course, she was consistently trustworthy and committed to continuing with the business even without any physical stock that her business owned,” explains one of Coca-Cola’s personnel, Tumaini.

Later, 5by20 provided Lilian with business skills that proved invaluable in understanding how she may grow her business, particularly in understanding the best ways to manage staff. Being a woman, in a patriarchal society, means being tough, to which Lilian is nothing but. When asked about how she manages her staff and whether she has ever fired someone, Lilian has a pragmatic approach. “If there is a problem with a staff member, I will first talk to him and try to understand the source of the problem.

Often, simply reminding them of their duty is enough. But sometimes, I have had to fire people. If someone is lazy; not doing their job, then I fire them. Eventually, you will get to a point where you get the best workers,” Lilian says, chuckling. On the day we visited her business, it was clear her staff, along with Coca-Cola’s staff from those offloading the trucks, to senior management, respect Lilian and her management of the business.

Today, business is good. Lilian has a newly renovated store that can house 8,000 cases, but because of credit constraints, she can only afford to buy 4,000 cases. She hopes to secure another loan, to buy more tuk tuks, a second truck, which will allow her to deliver more cases, so that she can buy enough cases to reach full capacity. There is room to grow. Her business covers the Kinondoni neighborhood in Dar es Salaam, which straddles residential as well as a vibrant commercial area, in what is Dar es Salaam’s largest district, also by the same name, Kinondoni. She has dreams for her business.

Her daughter is now preparing to sit her end-of-primary school exams, and you can sense Lilian’s anxiety for her daughter. She jokes with April that her English is not as good as she would want it to be. She hopes Angel will not have to struggle as she has, and that is why she is paying for Angel to go to an expensive private school where English is the medium of instruction. Lilian wants Angel to be the best in whatever she chooses, and although Lilian tells us that she would be okay with whatever Angel choses to do with her life, there is a slight sense that perhaps the prestigious professions like law, medicine, and the like would be even better.


Dar Es Salaam Global Shapers Constantine Manda and Nancy Sumari

I drive by Lilian’s business everyday as I move from home to work and back and I am still amazed at how casual Lilian is about her success. I know plenty of thirty-four year olds with much less to be proud of, despite having relatively more privilege than Lilian. It made me deeply connect with Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness marketing campaign as it was clear that in Lilian’s case, among countless others am sure, Coca-Cola truly has opened happiness in their lives. And it has made me enjoy drinking Sprite ever more slightly than before I met Lilian.

Note: This is a condensed version of the original post published here.