Cooking up business success in Tanzania

Ruth Mushemakweli checks the kitchen of the hospital canteen in Dar es Salaam swissinfo.ch

Ruth Mushemakweli runs a successful hospital canteen in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, preparing meals for over 100 customers a day.

This content was published on May 23, 2007 - 12:37

She is one of more than 3,000 beneficiaries of a leasing project, championed by the World Bank and co-funded by Switzerland, helping women to set up or expand their small businesses in the eastern African country.

"What I have achieved would not be possible without SeroLease," says 48-year-old Mushemakweli.

The financial agency, founded by a Tanzanian widow ten years ago, provided the collateral for the former bank employee to lease equipment until she has fully paid for it.

Ruth's restaurant and catering service is fairly busy when swissinfo visits on a Friday morning in May. Customers sit at white or blue plastic tables in the shade, while the kitchen staff serve late breakfasts and prepare for lunch.

The speciality of the house - Chinese rice with fish - costs 1,500 Tanzanian shillings (SFr1.5), a price set by the management of the nearby Ocean Road Cancer Institute.

Ruth Mushemakweli opened her business in a shady corner of the hospital compound more than two years ago. She employs seven people and a number of extra hands, as a look around the premises reveals.

Hard work

She says she first heard about the scheme a few years ago. After applying and receiving some training, her first attempt with a secretarial business was disappointing, so she later switched to catering.

Mushemakweli makes a fair profit – an estimated 25,000 Tanzanian shillings a day - despite the fixed prices for her canteen, which not only attracts hospital staff but also other clients.

"It's four times more than I earned as a secretary. But I work harder and I enjoy it. And it allows me to send my children to school; one even goes to university," she says.

Thanks to SeroLease, Mushemakweli was able to lease a freezer, a fridge, equipment to fry chips and bananas as well as tables, chairs and crockery.

"I started off with a lease worth four million [shillings] and I have to pay interest of 20 per cent," she says. What seems like a high rate compares with 32 per cent for bank loans, but female-owned businesses are not considered commercially creditworthy.

Underprivileged

For Emmanuel Maliti, advisor to the Swiss Corporation Private Sector programme, leasing is a relatively new, but crucial financial instrument to promote business and contribute to Tanzania's development.

"The lack of finance for smaller-scale businesses is not only one of the main impediments to their business growth, it also threatens their survival," he said.

"It is interesting for the Swiss Corporation, as it is a micro-leasing initiative that gives support to underprivileged people," he adds.

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which has co-funded SeroLease since 2005, is pleased to see the initiative spreading to other Tanzanian regions. It is confident that more micro-leasing companies will be set up once the country's parliament has amended regulations.

As for Ruth, she says her ambition is to become the number-one catering business in Dar es Salaam. But for this she needs more spoons, plates and forks.

What is the secret of her success? She smiles politely when someone says she is an excellent cook.

"It's the help of God and hard work," she says.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser in Dar es Salaam

In brief

Switzerland has contributed SFr1.2 million to leasing projects over the past three years in an effort to boost the private sector in Tanzania.

In 2006 Switzerland provided Tanzania with funds for development aid and technical assistance amounting to SFr29.3 million.

Apart from programmes and projects, Switzerland will contribute SFr19 million to the budget of the Tanzanian government – part of the General Budget Support - over the next three years.

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SeroLease

SeroLease is a non-banking micro-leasing business which allows women to acquire equipment on a leasing basis, and to start or expand a business.

The organisation was set up by Tanzanian veterinarian Victoria Kisyombe ten years ago and now has more than 3,000 female clients.

The average loan is around TS500,000 (SFr486) with a payback rate of 99%, according to the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC).

SeroLease is named after the cow Sero, which Kisyombe's late husband left for his wife when he died. In Maasai tradition husbands usually leave nothing to their widows.

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