Our Team

Tula and I arrived early to the party

Dignity and Entrepreneurship: My lessons from a Dar es Salaam Kitchen Party

Tula and I arrived early to the party

As a Canadian, I had always known December to the month of coldness and white. It is not so in Dar es Salaam.  The streets are as vibrant as ever; the heat embraces you at every turn.  It was on one of these beautiful December days that I was invited to a kitchen party with my dear friend Tula.  The kitchen party, in Tanzanian society, is akin to the North American “bridal shower,” but it is infused with much more cultural meaning and purpose.  The party itself is an elaborate ceremony that lasts several hours, every detail carefully considered, every movement meticulously planned.

Waiting for Patricia...

We arrived with the other guests two hours before the bride-to-be made her entrance.  When she did, I was struck by not only how beautiful she was, but also by the grace and dignity with which she carried herself. Although she was hailed by a shower of camera flashes, her smile never faltered.

The kitchen party, from this point onwards, consisted of formal presentations, pictures, and dancing.  Through it all, Patricia was shown the warmth, love, and support of this body of women.  Many times, she slowly danced over to her mother to greet her.  With each new stage of the party she would go to her, before being released to continue the next part of the ceremony.  Each embrace symbolized what was necessary for the next stage of her journey: the connectedness of women and family, and the independence and strength that this bestows.  The power of this connectedness even overflowed in my direction.  Illustrating this is the fact that, even though the whole ceremony was spoken in Kiswahili, the parts which Tula could not translate did not feel unknown to me.

After nearly two hours of anticipation, the bride arrives!

The passing on of wisdom from the older to younger generations was perhaps the most striking aspect of the party. At one point, Patrica sat down on the stage at a beautiful table while five different women discussed the essential aspects of being a married woman in Tanzanian society.  The first talked about cleanliness and beauty; the second, the art of discipline in a marriage.  The third mentor declared the importance of discipline vis-à-vis work, while the fourth espoused the virtues of being a powerful, praying wife and mother.  Although each of these topics was moving in its own right, it was the fifth that reminded me of why I am in Dar es Salaam, and why I am proud to be part of the Acumen Fund team.  While being a supportive wife was essential, the fifth teacher explained, a woman must take up entrepreneurship in order to never lose her dignity and independence.

Historically, women living in Tanzania relied upon the informal education passed down between women at gatherings such as these.  They understood that, in order to create opportunities for themselves, they needed to engage in entrepreneurship to make their lives better.  Before I came to Dar es Salaam, I had assumed capitalism and entrepreneurship were foreign impositions: systems that were neither accepted nor wanted.  Yet I realised that entrepreneurship was not only accepted among the Tanzanian women, but indeed, was viewed as the vehicle by which a woman can maintain her independene and self-respect.  I realized that although the approach to fighting poverty is multifaceted, it is necessary for each strategy to resonate with cultural values.  That way, we build partnerships, not paternalism, and foster dignity, rather than dependence.

Comments

ANDREA SOROS COLOMBEL RETURNS TO ACUMEN’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS

We are thrilled to announce Andrea Soros Colombel’s return to Acumen’s Board of Directors. Andrea played an integral role in the development of Acumen as a Founding Partner in 2001, then deepening her commitment by serving on the Board from 2005 to 2014. During that time, she helped shepherd a number of major projects at Acumen, including the inception of our portfolio of off-grid energy companies. Andrea has returned to the Board after three years and we welcome her thoughtful leadership and generous support. [Read More]

Models of High-Level Partnerships with Social Enterprises: Venture Partnerships

How can corporations and social enterprises partner to create a world that works for everyone? On April 4, 2017, Acumen hosted a workshop on high-impact partnerships for leading social enterprises, global corporations, and the organizations that work to link them as a part of the Skoll World Forum Ecosystem Events, to explore this question. Supported by EY, Sainsbury’s, Pfizer and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the session explored three different kinds of partnerships: Skills, Channel and Venture. [Read More]

A Cleaner Path: Solar Energy’s Impact on Health

Imagine for a moment that the light used in your home was a poison. One that could damage your lungs, irritate your eyes, even impact the health of your unborn child. You’d think twice about flicking on that switch. Kerosene lamps—used by an estimated 290 million people across Africa—contribute to household air pollution. Such pollution is responsible for more deaths a year than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV combined. [Read More]

Acumen Hosts Workshop on Building High-Impact Partnerships at Skoll World Forum

Acumen, with support from EY, Sainsbury’s, Pfizer, and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, is hosting their second Beyond Dialogue workshop today as a part of the Skoll World Forum. The event, Beyond Dialogue: Three Models for High Impact Collaboration, will bring together leading global corporations, innovative social enterprises, experts and intermediaries to work together to uncover new knowledge and opportunities to partner. [Read More]

Day 2 Recap: AcumenGG17

As morning broke on Day Two, the grounds of the Great Rift Valley Lodge & Resort were dotted with Good Society groups. Cohorts joined together, bringing a diversity of perspectives, for revelatory, at times tough, but ultimately enriching discussions built around Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Yunus Emre’s “The Drop That Became the Sea.” [Read More]

Day 1 Recap: AcumenGG17

It only seemed fitting that the Global Gathering kicked off with the vibrant colors and electric rhythms of East Africa. Adorned in Maasai cloths, the East Africa Fellows—with some help from the Global Fellows—set the tone for a day of nonstop energy and inspiring conversation. [Read More]

What Women Can Do

In these uncertain times, when progress towards a more just world sometimes seems to be slowing, or even reversing its course, I often ask myself the question, what can I do? It’s easy to feel small or isolated in the face of so many challenges, many of which seem to have escalated over the past few months. [Read More]