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Inclusive Impact at MDF

A series of interviews and stories featured in MDF?s Annual Report 2019

|FIJI| Inclusion Interview

Empowering Vulnerable Farmers
in Fiji with Quality Inputs

MDF: Bula Vinaka Shobna. Can you tell us about Greymouse and your role in the company?

Shobna Dutt (SD): Greymouse was established in 2015 to create jobs for young professionals in the Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing industry. I am the Sales and Marketing Manager and I’m tasked with finding new clients. Part of my job is to attend internationalexpos where I meet future clients and other businesses in our industry. After I sign a client, I also become the account manager, so I set them up with the company’s services and ensure they get exactly what they want.

" Through this experience, I learned the ins and outs of how things work at Greymouse. I was given the offer to go to the Philippines and although I was unsure at first, things just changed for me, I became more confident, I took on the challenge and even learned the [Tagalog] language. "

MDF: You recently returned to Fiji after working in the Philippines for three and a half years. Was your job there similar?

SD: It was slightly different there. I was managing the office, doing interviews and at times training andcounselling staff – I was involved with Human Resources as well. My job involved motivating people, where in turn, I was being motivated to grow in the company. I currently manage the tech team in the Philippines remotely.

MDF: How did you get the opportunity to work in the Greymouse office in the Philippines?

SD: I was a very shy person when I started at Greymouse. I loved coming in, doing what I had to do, but I was very shy. I think Marissa (Greymouse founder), saw potential in me and gave me the opportunity to grow. I started as a PA, taking calls and learning a bit of sales. Marissa started to train me, I learned how to sell our products and before I knew it, I was taking on a sales role. She then started to pass on more responsibilities, such as client management and this just continued.

MDF: How did this affect you?

SD: Seeing that I was able to help others at work really motivated me to step up. The company has always been there for me – guiding and not micromanaging. I’ve been able to study coding and now I’m a salesperson. It’s a great thing in Fiji for women to also have the opportunity to grow here, learn different skillsets and be able to share that knowledge. It sets a great example.
MDF: How does this position the Fiji market compared with the other OS locations?

SD: We compete with countries like the Philippines and India where people do their calls from home at $4 or $5 an hour. Comparatively, our prices are higher because of our economy and the cost of living. A lot of clients move to the Philippines and India because of their competitive rates. I believe however, that our point of differentiation is our service, our culture, our neutral accents and convenient time zone. Another great advantage is we have an inhouse IT team who are always on hand to provide our clients backup. There are a lot of expectations and we work hard to meet service demands. Our reputation and standards are very important in our business. Some of our clients have had negative experiences in other countries but when they come to us, we deliver on our promises. MDF: Are other women also supported into management positions at Greymouse? SD: Yes. I am a good example of how it works. I started as a Personal Assistant and was given an opportunity to grow and learn. I’m not alone though – Ashnita was a bookkeeper and then she became the Human Resources Manager. Alisi started as a Greymouse Investments Virtual Assistant and is now a Team Leader.

MDF: Should more women consider joining the OS industry?

SD: Absolutely. Fiji is changing and this industry can help people build for the future. Also, our team leaders are trained to boost staff morale. In the Philippines, I learned how to build relationships with employees so if they have a problem in their personal lives, they can talk to me and get time off if needed. In Fiji, we tend to not talk about our issues and it takes time to build trust. Our company trains team leaders to be able to better bond with staff and if someone is down, we can help them up. We are like one big family.

MDF: Does Greymouse employ persons with disabilities?

SD: Yes. One staff member in the Philippines office has a disability and we welcome people of all varying abilities to join our company – we do not discriminate. The only important thing is that they can deliver the service

" I believe that as women, whenever we are given an opportunity, we grasp it with both hands and run. Greymouse creates an enabling environment for us to grow our creativity, expand our mindset and upskill ourselves. I am happy to see other women from our office grow into leaders. "

|FIJI| Pro-poor growth story

Empowering Vulnerable Farmers
in Fiji with Quality Inputs

Since most farmers in Fiji rely on farming as their only income source, they are particularly vulnerable to external shocks, such as cyclones and droughts. This is especially true for farmers with disabilities. Harindra Deo, a blind 54-year-old sugarcane farmer from Lautoka shared his story with MDF’s high value agriculture (HVA) team.

Portrait

Harindra Deo has been producing sugarcane and cash crops for 35 years at Drasa Seaside, a large farming area near Nadi International Airport. An unfortunate farming accident four years ago left him partially blind. Corrective laser treatment further worsened his vision, resulting in permanent blindness in both eyes.

Sugarcane is his family’s main source of income. Harindra plants a few vegetable crops, mostly for personal consumption. When he has a surplus harvest, he shares the vegetables with his extended family members or sells them at the local market. Being blind has taken its toll on Harindra and his ability to work full time on his farm. His son and grandson help by leading him to rows that need planting where he uses his sense of touch to check the soil, pull weeds, plant seeds and prepare fertiliser to be sprayed on the crops. He uses his experience in farming to help with the harvest. Despite continuously working on his farm, soil acidity was affecting Harindra’s yield. Having access to high quality inputs had a significant effect on production. In 2019, the difference was more apparent as his farm produced 150 tonnes of sugarcane from what would otherwise yield 135 tonnes, generating an additional USD581 (FJD1,275) for the household.

" I first started using Aglime in 2017 on three acres of replanted sugarcane. Within the first year, I was able to harvest 120 tonnes, where usually I would only get 100 tonnes. "

Despite the challenges of doing agricultural work while blind, Harindra is very passionate about farming. He continues to play an important role in the business with the assistance of his son and grandson. By working three hours each morning and four every afternoon, he maintains his involvement in most farming activities for up to seven hours a day. He can attest to the positive impact high value agricultural products, such as Aglime, have on his farm.

|PNG| Inclusion Interview

PNG?s Coffee Pioneers

Colleen Peni is a field extension officer in Goraka, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea. She facilitates men and women farmer trainings for MDF partner Sustainable Management Services (SMS).

In a conversation with MDF, Colleen opened up about her journey in coffee farming, opportunities for women in the industry and challenges she faces as a field extension officer.

MDF: What is your opinion on women in coffee farming in Papua New Guinea?

Colleen Peni (CP): In PNG, female participation in the workforce is high but they usually work on an informal basis. In rural areas, women make significant contributions to the coffee industry. Although they are involved every step of the way, from farm up-keep, to harvest and processing,women’s work toward the development and management of coffee farms is not recognised. In the society of the highlands, men are inherited landowners and thus remain dominant income holders.

MDF: What does your work as a field extension officer entail?

CP: I conduct trainings on agronomy, farm health and safety, budgets, best practices on coffee piking, pruning and shade management. I also lead customised trainings on personal viability, gender equity and social issues, such as family business management. Female farmers easily connect with me. As part of my work routine, I inspect farms to monitor safety checks, sometimes spend weeks in network areas and give on-farm demonstrations.

MDF: What challenges do you face as a female extension officer?

CP: I was one of the three first female field extension officers recruited by SMS. When I first started, I had trouble getting male farmers to take my advice and accept my inspections. There’s a patriarchal mindset in the rural regions. It was a struggle and took time to earn their respect and change their attitude. Fortunately, the female farmers were comfortable with me immediately

MDF: What inspires you to do what you do?

CP: I’ve been doing this job for two years now and I’ve seen coffee farmers happily adapt to modern practices and willing to learn from my expertise. This inspires me. I am proud of myself and I feel a sense of satisfaction when farmers adopt the best practices and see improvements in their farm yields. MDF PNG is working with private sector partners to create innovative business models, which are inclusive and benefit women.

Inclusive Growth Video: Colleen Peni

Get a glimpse of Colleen’s story and the PNG coffee industry in this video.

 

MDF: What challenges do women face in coffee farming?

CP: Oneoftheobstacleswomenfaceisaccesstoinformation on modern farming and best practices. Many of the women involved in coffee farming do not have a formal education or they cannot read and that’s why they struggle to access information on the latest farming techniques or understand new market requirements.

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|PNG| Pro-poor growth story

The long road to sustainable coffee in PNG

There is only one way that I can get money to look after our family, and that is coffee. Due to the condition of the roads, coffee prices remain low and there are not enough buyers.

? Tokam

Tokam portrait

In the highlands of Papua New Guinea, life can be unpredictable. Even something as simple as everyday chores can be completely disrupted by weather and road conditions. Coffee is the main source of income for most farmers in the region, and the process of coffee farming is labour intensive. Once harvested, the cherries are pulped, fermented, washed and dried. The drying process alone can take up to ten days and even then, only if the weather is warm and sunny. During the rainy season, this process takes even longer, which can slow down income generation.

Moreover, the highland terrain poses a serious challenge because paths are made from a combination of wet mud and clay, which can make travel impossible when wet. This results in the isolation of households and even whole communities, not only from the roadside markets but from each other as well. This seclusion inhibits mobility so much that clans separated by only 5km may speak different languages.

Tokam is from the Yasubi district of the Eastern Highlands. Like most farmers, Tokam walks one to two hours or more to harvest and sell coffee. The heavy coffee bags make walking in the hills on muddy roads difficult. On such days, Tokam and his family have no other option but to wait for the roads to dry, which means foregoing his daily income

In order to sell and market coffee regularly, value addition is imperative. If the process of production is efficient and meets standards of excellence, it will result in quality coffee and can be sold at a higher rate.

Enter Sustainable Management Services (SMS), an MDF partner that works with a worldwide network of one million farmers with an aim to improve their economic, social, environmental and health conditions. It does this by building and managing transparent supply chains to improve yields and quality, building income for farmers. Roots No. 1 is one of the six supply chains of SMS.

" SMS has also trained women farmers. My wife was lucky to be part of those trainings. So now my wife goes to the coffee fields with me and helps me in every step of the process. We are now producing twice as much parchment coffee as before. "

In partnership with MDF, SMS organises training sessions to smallholder famers, which empowers them to not only increase their revenue by improving production but also to capture a global market for sustainably produced, certified, specialty coffee such as Starbucks, Nestle and Kraft. Tokam explains the results of the sessions.

|PK| Inclusion Interview

Empowering Vulnerable Farmers
in Fiji with Quality Inputs

Shabana Kamar is a leading silage entrepreneur and headmistress at a school in Khanewal, Punjab, Pakistan. In 2017, she started selling silage in her village. As her understanding of the material and strong ties with the community have grown, so has her business. This season, she has expanded her venture to produce fodder on 20 acres of land.

 

MDF Business Advisor Izza Sabahat sat down with Shabana to find out more about her journey as an entrepreneur and opportunities for women in agriculture.

MDF: What are the opportunities and challenges for women in the dairy business in Pakistan?

Shabana Kamar (SK): Although women play a significant role in small-scale dairy farming, their contributions are often ignored or widely underestimated. I think there are a lot of opportunities to enter this domain and come into the mainstream. Unfortunately, the social and cultural context of Pakistani society, especially in rural areas, is predominantly patriarchal. Rural women in particular have a low percentage of participation in the world outside their home and are limited by domestic boundaries. I would encourage them to step out of their households and become leaders.

MDF: What motivated you to enter the silage business?

SK: Since I was a child, I have been taking care of our animals, so I was very interested to know more about animal health. I started to feed them silage when I first heard about

it from Pioneer Seeds. It worked wonders! My animals increased their milk production. It requires less effort and saves time. I wanted other women to benefit from it too but unfortunately, we had no common point where women could get information on silage or purchase bags. I decided to make use of my family’s inherited land and experiment by growing silage and selling it in my village. Harvesting it on my own land also reduced my production costs and resulted in healthier animals.

” I belong to an agriculture family; to date all men in the family have led businesses. I am proud to say that I am the first woman in my family to enter this domain. “

-Shabana Kamar

MDF: What challenges did you face?

SK: Almost all livestock farmers are seriously concerned about the availability of quality nutritional products for their animals. This is especially a problem for small farmers who are located in villages far from market towns, where you just don’t have access to these inputs. I was forced to relyon green fodder, which alone was not sufficiently nutritious. Being a farmer in Khanewal, I faced similar issues until I was introduced to silage.

When I later started my silage business, it was not very profitable because it took some time to spread the word among the other female farmers. The idea of getting out of the home and purchasing a fodder alternative was a very new concept to women in my village. In the first season, only two or three women came to get silage bags and I ended up feeding the remaining silage to my own animals. Businesses come with risks and challenges, but a true entrepreneur eventually manages to overcome those issues.

MDF: What are some of the key lessons from being an entrepreneur?

SK: At times, entrepreneurs are so confident about their research and investment and step into the businesses thinking it will be an automatic success. That’s not always the case! I had great interest and energy to enter this space, but I lacked experience. I will be honest: I was strugglingbecause of these reasons.

I got lucky when MDF introduced me to one of their entrepreneur partners who also works in silage in my region. I got a chance to visit his farm occasionally and witness on- farm activities. I learned the tricks of the trade in this field. It clarified all my queries, such as which machinery to buy,how much silage to produce to ensure it’s baled in time, how and when to sell it and how to conduct awareness sessions. My son expressed his interest in silage and I sent him to this experienced entrepreneur’s farm for one-on-one training sessions.

MDF: What is the most important part of your work?

SK: The most important part of my work is sharing what I?ve learned with other women working in agriculture. I build awareness in the community by offering female farmer days and training sessions for extension workers. We started off with a group of about 10 women and now we conduct farmer days with 25 female farmers in attendance. The trained extension workers go door-to-door, meet with female farmers and invite them to the awareness sessions. So far, I have done 15 farmer days in Khanewal and the outskirts and I want to expand these to district-level sessions.

MDF: How have women in the community reacted so far?

SK: Initially, the number of buyers was low but once the word of mouth spread in the community, more women started to come to my farm to buy silage bags. They now also consult me on best dairy practices and animal nutrition. I am happy to guide and advise them. I want more women leaders to emerge from our community.

? Women of my community see me?as a role model and want to learn the tips and tricks of silage making and interestingly, entrepreneurship as well. ?

-Shabana Kamar

MDF: What does the future hold for women-led businesses?

SK: Women can break barriers and enter into the businesses in which they aspire. It is unfortunate that in our culture, women often do not have the support of their family to work outside of the home. At times, women are more skilled in certain tasks, but their talent stays hidden.

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|PK| Pro-poor growth story

A Tale of Two Heroines

Some communities in remote areas of Pakistan struggle to access banking services, which makes it difficult to start and grow small businesses.

 

MDF partner Khushhali Microfinance Bank Limited (KMBL), whose mobile banking van “Branch on Wheels,” provides financial services to villages in remote areas. The van’s staff conduct awareness sessions on livestock and agricultural loans, and offer credit to people with limited access to banking. So far, they have organised over 3,802 livestock and agriculture loans.

MDF Pakistan spoke with two entrepreneurs to find out their experience with the Branch on Wheels.

kausar parveen portrait

As the only source of income in her household, Kausar Parveen from Jhang, Punjab, found it difficult to make ends meet. Her work as a tailor was not enough to meet household expenses, so when she heard about livestock loans from her friends, she was keen to buy a dairy animal and try starting her own business.

In Jhang, women tend to be the primary caretakers of their family’s livestock. However, because local culture doesn’t allow women to engage in economic activity outside their homes, men tend to lead all business transactions.

As an unmarried woman, Kausar was also excluded from family decision-making and participating in any external endeavours, but microfinancing gave her a new opportunity. “My life changed when the mobile bank facility of Khushhali Microfinance Bank Limited (KMBL) came to my village,” Kausar said. “I was able to get a loan of USD290 (PKR45,000), which allowed me to set up my dairy business.”

Since investing in a cow, Kausar now sells seven litres of milk to her neighbours every day at a price of USD0.55 (PKR80) per litre. By generating new cashflow for her family, she says her position in the household has improved. Her dairy business gives her financial freedom and her involvement in family decisions makes her feel strong: “I am now asked to participate in all family discussions and decisions.”

" I am now asked to participate in all family discussions and decisions. " -Kausar Parveen

This additional household income has improved the lives of other family members. Kausar’s mother suffered from an illness for several years and with a limited income, she had not been able to go to the hospital for treatment. Thanks to the revenue from the dairy business, Kausar takes her mother for weekly check-ups and buys medicine from a local herbalist.

Another of KMBL’s valued customers is Zahida Parveen, a single woman living with her family in a rural area of Jhang. Here, as in many other areas of the country, patriarchal values dominate social norms and women are often excluded from economic participation. However, after her fatherwas injured, the responsibility for household expenses fell on Zahida. She took advantage of microfinancing loans to change her family’s economic situation.

With her first loan of USD194 (PKR30,000) along with some personal savings earned from her work in a nearby factory, she was able to expand her milk-selling business. She used the income to buy livestock and now produces butter to sell in her village. “My father is crippled, and my brother is very young. I feel proud of myself that I take care of my household expenses and ensure a comfortable living for my family all by myself,” Zahida added. Thanks to her thriving business, she has invested in her father’s healthcare and her family is financially stable.

Now well-versed in the loan process, Zahida utilised her second loan for USD485.54 (PKR75,000) to purchase a meat animal which she raised and sold during the Eid holiday festival for approximately USD1,942 (PKR300,000).

With the help of local responsible microfinancing loans, Zahida and Kausar have become examples of successful change agents in a location where many are convinced that progress is either slow or impossible. Their achievements have inspired other women in their village to establish their own businesses and move into leadership roles.

" My father is crippled, and my brother is very young. I feel proud of myself that I take care of my household expenses and ensure a comfortable living for my family all by myself " -Zahida Parveen

|SL| Inclusion Interview

Crab Processing Brings Financial Independence
in Sri Lanka’s North

MDF Sri Lanka works with the blue swimmer crab market in Northern Sri Lanka, an industry that provides financial independence to their employees and offers opportunities to advance Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE). MDF Sri Lanka Country Team Coordinator Hashim Nazahim, Business Adviser Dulanga Witharanage and Northern Province Field Officer Kanapathippilla Mugunthan travelled to the island of Kayts, in Jaffna, to meet women employed in the Coolman crab meat processing facility.

Vijaya and Santhini are both 20 years old and employed at the Thampaddy seafood processing facility. They explain to the MDF team what their work means to them and to the changing roles of women in the home and workspaces.

MDF: How long have you worked at the Coolman facility and what do you do there?

Vijaya (V): We both started working here in 2018. We collect the crab meat, check the shells to make sure we have not missed anything and load it into the designated packaging.

MDF: How did you find out about this job opportunity?

V: We completed our ?A? Levels1 in 2018 but we did not have sufficient results to go to university. Our aunts work at the Thampaddy factory and told us about the work opportunity. We joined soon after.

MDF: Do you work with other girls from your village?

Santhini (S): There are 120 women from our village and the neighbouring village who work at the factory.

MDF: Do you look to any of your co-workers as role models?

S: Yes. The facility appointed two women from our village as supervisors. They have worked in processing for some time with other companies as well and they have a lot of experience.

MDF: Since you started working at the factory, have your spending patterns changed? If so, how?

S: Yes, they have. I can buy whatever I want. I also save some money and I can contribute to expenses at home. I can also use this money to settle any loans we have.

V: I was able to buy a motorcycle. I mostly spend what I earn on food, the monthly lease for my bike, household expenses like groceries and I also buy things for my siblings.

MDF: Would you say that there have been any significant changes in your life since you started working?

V: Yes. I think the biggest thing is that we now have the freedom to buy anything we want.

MDF: What has been the biggest advantage of working for you?

V: We used to depend on our families a lot before for everything! But now we can contribute to the household and support our families.

S: We can also buy whatever we want for ourselves, which we couldn’t do before.

MDF: What do you think about women working in a place like this? Should more women do it?

V: Yes, more women should do it.

MDF: Is there a difference in the way the members of your household view you since you started working?

” I think so. Since I started contributing to household expenses, they ask me for my opinion on what to buy for the house and how the money should be spent. “

-Vijaya

S: Yes [laughs] – my younger siblings keep asking me for pocket money! I suppose I am now seen as one of the sources of income in my family.

MDF: Do other people in your community view you differently since you started working?

V: Most of them are already working in the village, so no.

MDF: Since the Coolman facility started hiring women, have you noticed any changes in how the community perceives women?

” I think people are more accepting of women working outside of the home which has not been the norm in this area. Things are changing. “

-Vijaya

MDF: What has been the biggest advantage of working for you?

V: We used to depend on our families a lot before for everything! But now we can contribute to the household and support our families.

S: We can also buy whatever we want for ourselves, which we couldn’t do before.

MDF: What do you think about women working in a place like this? Should more women do it?

V: Yes, more women should do it.

|SL| Pro-poor growth story

Superfood to the Rescue!

Moringa’s transformative impact on smallholder farmers

Farming in the Sri Lankan dry zone can be challenging. The land can only support the most resilient crops, which tend to be sold ad-hoc at nearby markets or to middlemen at low prices.

 

But now, the local agricultural industry has found an easy solution to this difficult problem – in the form of moringa. This nutrient-dense vegetable, locally known as ‘drumsticks’, is packed with antioxidants and sits high on the list of globally coveted superfoods. It can be found in a wide range of products, from medicinal tea to cosmetics and smoothie bowls.

 

MDF partner Pasanka, a manufacturing and export company located in Ambalanthota, southern Sri Lanka, has drastically increased its moringa purchases from local smallholder farmers to supply growing global demand.

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Kankanange Sammy and his wife used to grow a range of crop vegetables for sale at local markets. Since he began working with Pasanka, Sammy has concentrated the bulk of his harvest on moringa. Now he sells more produce than before and at a higher price. Moringa can be harvested nearly every two and a half months, which means the family produces about 200kg annually.

Having a guaranteed buyer for his product offers Sammy stability. But farming moringa also comes with other benefits: human-elephant conflict is increasing in Sri Lanka, where farmers like Sammy stand to lose everything when elephants forage.

However, they are less attracted to moringa than other crops, which helps to keep them at bay.

“Elephants frequently visit our land, so we can’t grow anything other than moringa. That is our only source of income. Pasanka is the only business in the area that requires moringa,” Sammy commented.

" It is because of Mr. Saman [Pasanka proprietor] that we have an income throughout the year. He buys our moringa leaves and sticks for a consistent price. If I take it to the market, I won’t be able to sell at this quantity and I’ll get a low price anyway. " -Kankanange Sammy

Another former mix-cropper, A.A. Ariyadasa, has converted his entire landholding to moringa since connecting with Pasanka’s regional trader. This relationship represents vital market access for the elderly farmer and his wife. Moringa has also changed their fortune and helped them support their son and his family. A crucial aspect of Ariyadasa’s business relationship is the extension advice he receives.

?Mr. Rishitha (the Extension Officer) gives us a lot of advice on growing matters, especially on natural pest-control methods such as using coconut husks and natural fertiliser options?Moringa is our main source of income.?

One of MDF?s first activities to support Pasanka was to recruit a capable Extension Officer (EO). The EO visits Pasanka?s farmer network, to advise on everything from good growing practices to how to use easily found natural material as organic fertiliser. The business gains prompted the EO to share information with Pasanka?s vast collector and trader network which is then passed on to small farmers like Ariyadasa who don?t communicate with the EO directly.

The global moringa market was valued USD8.2 billion in 2018, with most demand stemming from Europe and the US. MDF?s intervention has successfully linked an entrepreneurial business and rural farmers to a massive market that is only going to get bigger. For the Sammy and Ariyadasa families, this has been a transformative step.

moringa

|TL| Inclusion Interview

Manufacturing Hope

In Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital, women often struggle to find stable work. Traditional gender norms dictate that women are expected to prioritise their domestic chores above entering the job market. Access to education is rare, making it even more difficult to secure a position within an already limited market.

Enter the Lay family, long-time Dili residents, who built a factory in Bidau with the specific intention of starting a garment factory. They recognised two gaps in the country’s manufacturing: the underutilisation of the female labour force and a disparity in apparel supply and demand. Most clothing in Timor-Leste is imported from Indonesia, but there isn’t enough to satisfy domestic needs.

MDF spoke with Mel Lay of Mahanaim Garment, who shared her family’s experience of establishing the country’s first clothing production line and providing reliable, sustainable employment for women.

MDF: How did the vision for Mahanaim Garment come to life?

Mel Lay (ML): My parents are both business owners and I have been working in the family business since I was 14. After coming to the end of a stint working in advertising in Australia, I returned to Timor-Leste permanently and was rapidly pulled into discussions about the factory. My mum has always been passionate about creating jobs for women and has led by example locally in terms of what women can achieve.

We discovered that most clothing was imported and we saw an opportunity to make local products with the added benefit of creating employment opportunities for women. With that, we decided to establish Mahanaim Garment.

MDF: How has MDF supported Mahanaim Garment?

ML: Despite having a strong concept and vision, finding skilled workers and employees with the right expertise to get the venture up and running was challenging. This is where MDF provided crucial help: they helped us recruit a product development specialist/designer to conceptualise and develop product lines and a pattern maker to produce garments of various sizes. They also supported us with training local staff in production techniques and gave our staff the confidence to ask questions. Traditionally, women remain quiet and subservient in discussions and it is unusualfor them to speak out, so encouraging active participation can be trying. The progression that our female staff have made since we set up the factory has been incredible.

" There were moments during the training where it was pure silence and no one said a word. But after a month of learning, someone asked a question and I literally started to cry. We had created a safe environment for women to know that it was okay to be wrong. At that moment, I knew that no matter how much money we sink into this, it will be worth it. "

- Mel Lay, General Manager

MDF: How did the vision for Mahanaim Garment come to life?

Mel Lay (ML): My parents are both business owners and I have been working in the family business since I was 14. After coming to the end of a stint working in advertising in Australia, I returned to Timor-Leste permanently and was rapidly pulled into discussions about the factory. My mum has always been passionate about creating jobs for women and has led by example locally in terms of what women can achieve.

We discovered that most clothing was imported and we saw an opportunity to make local products with the added benefit of creating employment opportunities for women. With that, we decided to establish Mahanaim Garment.

MDF: Did you face any initial obstacles?

ML: Absolutely! This wasn’t my field of experience, so I had to teach myself everything – and fast – to get a direction and a plan in place for execution. We needed both local staff with the right skill level and an expert to run the production side of things. It was a huge challenge to find the right people.

MDF: With all the constraints in the manufacturing sector, how did you decide on a concept?

ML: We knew that we couldn’t solely rely on one income stream, so the goal was to touch different markets with different product offerings to generate multiple revenue streams. Initially, the concept was to produce uniforms for institutional clients but as the idea evolved, along came the concept of ITA NIA, an emerging ethical, high-end women’s clothing range. We decided that this would be our focus and from that, Mahanaim Garment and the brand ITA NIA were born.

MDF: How have women benefitted as a result of the new job opportunities available?

ML: It usually takes about four months to train new employees, so progress can seem slow initially, but the resulting benefits to both the employee and the enterprise are worth the wait. Since the factory has opened, we have created 13 jobs, employing 11 women and two men. This has had a hugely positive impact on women?s employment opportunities. The skill development that they receive will enable them to have a regular income and higher wages in the future.

MDF: Have there been any individual success stories as a result of MDF support?

ML: So many! The women are fabulous. Natalia da Silva started working for Mahanaim Garment factory as a cleaner. With a passion for sewing by hand, and a real talent for embroidery, she was keen to know more about using a sewing machine. Through MDF?s support, Natalia has been receiving basic sewing training from a professional designer.

" I started working as a cleaner, but I have always loved to sew by hand. From the training that I have received, I can now use the sewing machine and I help the team with technical hand sewing. "
- Natalia da Silva, Cleaner

Another seamstress that has not only gained new skills but is also sharing them with the rest of the team is Regina Alfriana. Regina is an expert at the overlocking machine and is the go-to person to provide training to the other women on using that piece of equipment.

" I really enjoyed the training as I learned new things. Now that I have experience using the overlock machine, I can teach other people how to use it. I enjoy teaching them because I can see the good result of their work at the end. "
- Regina Alfriana, Seamstress

MDF: What does the future hold for this partnership?

ML: We are building strengths upon our strengths. We have a local label that we are launching soon that will be sold in our new store Mana Maria, in Dili. We are launching our second collection for ITA NIA and we recently wrapped up our first government uniform job ? which was a huge success!

The manufacturing sector in Timor-Leste is small. There are various challenges that limit the growth of local manufacturing, including economies of scale, skill shortages, access to finance and access to markets. MDF aims to support the growth of the manufacturing sector in Timor-Leste. MDF supports enterprises, such as Mahanaim Garment, to establish new business ideas, expand operations as well as encourage new start-ups.

|TL| Pro-poor growth story

Beefing up Sales of Local Meat in Timor-Leste

In March 2017, MDF signed an intervention with a Dili-based butcher, Central Moris (CM), to help the company expand its processing facility. Over the last two years, this intervention has not only succeeded in this original goal but has made systemic changes to the local beef industry.

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Livestock is the second most important source of income, after crop agriculture, for many rural households in Timor-Leste. Although scale and size vary across districts, 87 per cent of households engage in some form of poultry, cattle, pig and goat rearing.1 The cattle industry is the most established as a partially commercial enterprise as it is the preferred meat for cultural ceremonies and is a means of household savings. Despite the reliance on cattle as a source of income, most households do not invest in nutritious fodder or veterinary services which affects meat quality.

Domestically, about 5,000 cattle are slaughtered annually for sale in local markets. Although consumers tend to prefer regionally sourced fresh meat over comparably priced imported frozen meat, in 2017, around 300 tonnes of beef was imported and sold in supermarkets. MDF and Central Moris identified a gap between the supply and demand and resolved to fill it by increasing the partner’s processing capacity.

Before CM opened their butcher shop in Dili, fresh meat was only available for purchase in local markets. There were several quality issues for consumers, such as unhygienic facilities, outdated slaughtering systems, improper handling during transportation and inconsistent weighing mechanisms. CM quickly gained a reputation for supplying a high quality, local alternative to imported frozen options. The business saw fresh beef profits improve after they received external technical support on slaughtering skills such as cutting, hygiene and abattoir assessment.

Although CM proved the quality of their product, they could not keep up with quantity demands. Timorese customers, expatriates and supermarkets would like to purchase 100 cattle per month, but CM only had the capacity to process around 50.

Through this partnership, MDF co-financed a bandsaw and mincer to increase the variety of meat cuttings and produce higher volumes. Central Moris added a new cool room to their facility, doubling the available storage space and a generator to be used in the event of a blackout. MDF also helped CM purchase a vacuum pack machine to increase product quality, shelf-life and ensure products were packaged in a retail-readymanner. MDF also provided business advisory support on market intelligence and day-to-day operations.

Once CM’s processing capacity expanded, the business hired four new full-time staff – three to operate the machinery and one customer service employee – all of whom received training to use the equipment safely and efficiently. As a result of the intervention, CM’s processing capacity has more than doubled. Central Moris co-owner Kunfi Sequeira said,

“ Increasing the capacity of our processing facility has made a positive difference to our business. Before, we were only able to process one cow a day and now, we have increased to four per day. This means that we have been able to triple our staff and in turn our income has increased. ”

This growth had positive consequences for cattle farmers. With an increased demand for meat, local cattle traders are motivated to source more livestock, in turn increasing the overall size of the domestic cattle market. CM?s market network expanded from 11 traders to 26, across all districts, and 670 additional farmers sold to CM and earned an additional total income of USD550,000 (after calculating rearing costs).

The most significant result in this intervention is the evidence of systemic change across the sector. In the past two years, four new butcher shops have opened in Dili. The new businesses were either opened by former CM employees or by local people who were inspired by CM?s businessmodel. The increased supply of high-quality, fresh beef, hygienically and ethically butchered to Dili?s consumers demonstrates the partnership?s success in carving out a lucrative space that others are keen to reproduce and reap further benefits.

Many supermarkets have limited or discontinued supplying imported frozen beef. Central Moris is currently supplying six supermarkets and the new butcher shops are supplying another three as well as selling in their own establishments. Consequently, frozen beef imports decreased from 330 tonnes in 2017 to 85 tonnes in 2018, highlighting the system-wide change that MDF helped facilitate.

From strengthening and job creation at the processing facility, to increasing incomes for rural households and facilitating a growing demand for local beef, the positive outcomes of this partnership are clear on all levels.

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