Jam Session in Zanzibar

Photo: archive of Jam Session

Daniela Mauleon Davidova is one of the many Czech entrepreneurs who have decided to set up a business far from home. Her start-up, making fair trade jams in Tanzania, is not merely a business venture; it aims to improve the life of the local community by giving people a job and skills that they can make good use of in the future. Her project has received support from the Czech Development Agency. I met up with Daniela shortly before her departure for Zanzibar and began by asking why she chose for make fair trade jams.

Photo: archive of Jam Session

“It was actually a complete coincidence. I happened to come to Tanzania with a completely different project, with another company and it had nothing to do with this. But it was the first time in my life that I saw a place where there are so many things that can be done and should be done that I just couldn’t let it be and I decided on the spot almost immediately that I would like to start something there.”

And why was it jams?

“Well, at first it was not jams. The first big issue that I saw there was rubbish, lots of plastic everywhere and rubbish that is not being processed or recycled, at least not much, not visibly. But that would require a much bigger project for which I do not have time at the moment. So the next idea that occurred to me was producing jams. Why jams? It’s simple, there is fruit available, a local labour force available, there are so many people that have nothing to do, who just spend their time walking around the beach all day. So I thought why don’t you teach them something, why not start doing something useful in a way that will help them and is not like charity. I don’t think that charity is an option, a solution or a way which a healthy economy should take. I think that starting a small business makes the most sense.”

So there was a lot of fruit there not being processed and going to waste. What kind of fruit are we talking about?

Daniela Mauleon,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
“All kinds. Zanzibar and in general East Africa is very fertile, there are pineapples growing, there are mangoes growing, coconuts, papayas, all kinds of fruits many of which I don’t even know the names of.”

So you are using all those?

“Yes, we pooled ideas, tried some combinations. It was a combination of creative thinking, internet resources and traditional Czech know-how, because I come from a family where all my grandmothers, all my aunts, my mother and me were involved in this. It was the most natural thing in the world that in the summer we would make jams and in order to make them a bit special we would add extra spices and other ingredients.”

Are you going to be working with women from a selected village?

“We are cooperating with the local community and we are not saying that we want only women or only men, because in Zanzibar women traditionally do not work, they are supposed to stay at home and take care of the kids. So most of the time you meet men who work, you meet male tailors, male cooks. But of course we want to work with the local women as well. In a way we do not have a choice but to use both men and women, because for food safety reasons we need skilled cooks and the probability of getting a skilled man is much higher than getting a skilled woman. Of course I would also like to change that.

There is a very nice project in Zanzibar where there is a local branch of Barefoot College, it’s a huge NGO active around the world. And what they do is they come to an underdeveloped country and set up a workshop or several workshops, they teach people to make something and they teach them to market it.”

So you want to give people skills as well, and future employment…

Photo: archive of Jam Session
“Yes, I want to do something similar, but I do not really think that working as an NGO has a future. Because the economy needs the drive, you need a financial interest to keep people going.”

Who will you be selling your jams to?

“We are planning to sell to tourist resorts, cafes, expat mini-markets and gradually, in time, we would also like to export our jams. Given that the purchasing power of the local community is so low it is not really a product that can be sold locally. Actually, I am trying to teach the locals that they should eat raw fruit because there are so many basic things that they do not know or are unaware of.”

And what was the interest like on the part of the locals?

“Per se they are always interested and thrilled but they also know that 90 percent of these ideas do not come true so they are rather sceptical. And that is why it is important to go back several times. You can’t just come and say - I am setting up a business. Nobody believes you.”

What is it like setting up a business in Tanzania?

“It is very similar to setting up a business in the Czech Republic or anywhere else in the world. There are, of course, some differences but the process is more or less the same. There are many steps, many forms to be filled in, many charges and fees, but just like anywhere else in the world nothing is impossible.”

What are you aiming for? Do you want to expand in Tanzania or take it even further?

Daniela Mauleon,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
“We will see. Of course I would like to grow and I would like to expand. I am far from being a big dreamer, but unless we have the ambition to grow we will not succeed. So we are going to start with two cooks and the plan is that by the end of the year we will have four cooks. Zanzibar is relatively small, it’s a small island so the absorption capacity of the market is limited by the number of tourists. So we would like to expand to the mainland and potentially to the neighbouring countries.”

I suppose it means being there, living there and supervising it on a daily basis?

“Not really. I have a family here in the Czech Republic, I have small kids. It is impossible to transfer the whole family there, that’s not what I want to do. We are going to go there -together with my business partner – on a bi-monthly basis, but we have local people who will be in charge. We are also cooperating with ISEC, the students exchange organization, who send their students to help the entrepreneurs so that they learn and the entrepreneurs get European skilled supervision on the spot. So today thanks to advanced communications technology this is possible.”

I understand you are also involved in clothes as well – is that right?

“Yes, in order to diversify our portfolio I identified another thing that was missing when I was there. The local cloths are beautiful, colourful and of good quality. But when you make a dress out of them by European standards its impossible to put it on and wear it in the street.”

Is it too simple?

“No, it is too colorful, too bright and too aggressive for the European mentality and the reaction is like – Oh no, that’s just too much. So I tried to design a collection of business wear suitable for wearing to the office in Europe or the US with just a touch of Africa. I brought some for you to see.”

This enterprise – making fair trade jams –is not just about making money and being successful, there’s an added dimension which has won you support from the Czech Development Agency. Can you tell me what else is involved?

Zanzibar,  photo: 3282700,  Pixabay / CC0
“The thing is that I am an educator, I’m a teacher and a chronic improver. I want to make things work and I want to make them work well. You mentioned the Czech Development Agency, it was one of my biggest motivators and one of my first proofreaders, who I discussed the project with. When I heard that the Czech Development Agency liked the project it was a big motivation and I would like to thank them for that. The Czech Development Agency selects projects it wants to support. You do not get any money in advance, but they covered some of our expenses retrospectively as we drafted the business plan last year. So thanks to their help I did not feel like I was bleeding out of all my savings and family money and I went there with the feeling that if the Czech Development Agency believes that this might happen, then it will happen.”

So you will try to improve the living standard on a small scale, in a small place….

“Exactly. I firmly believe that if you want to do something big, you have to start by doing something small. So even if our manufacture will be really small at the beginning, I hope it will grow. And it is setting an example. Those who work for us, can work somewhere else later and people in the neighborhood can see that they can do things, which I think is very, very necessary there.”