Thursday, May 17, 2018

From ‘mitumba’ trader to wealthy businesswoman

Ms Lucy Kiongosi, a 35-year-old single mother

Ms Lucy Kiongosi, a 35-year-old single mother of three in Dodoma 

By The Citizen Reporter @TheCitizenTZ

Dodoma. Tanzania has been the sleeping economic giant of Africa for ages.

For decades, it has performed below the expectations of many Tanzanians.

Though steeped in the history of Africa’s revolutionary past and the struggle against colonialism, economically this great nation lagged far behind the rest of the continent. But times have changed for the better. The sleeping giant has awoken.

The economy has revved up and thousands of jobs have been created. From Arusha to Dar es Salaam, Tanga to Mwanza, there are beautiful stories everywhere: stories of courage, stories of sacrifice and stories of hope. Many Tanzanians, in their own small ways, work round the clock to build their country.

One shining star is Ms Lucy Kiongosi, a 35-year-old single mother of three in Dodoma who – in just four years – has moved from a struggling mitumba trade to a multi-million shilling business that directly and indirectly supports dozens of people.

Ms Kiongosi is a true reflection of the determination of the Tanzanian people; the urge to drive their nation forward in line with President John Magufuli’s vision of pushing Tanzania into the league of Middle Income Countries by 2025.

Ms Kiongosi was recently declared the 2017 Tanzania Woman Microentrepreneur of the Year by the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards. The award came with a $2,000 cheque.

The awards were jointly organised by Citi Bank and the Tanzania Association of Microfinance Institutions (TAMFI) and their objective is to illustrate and promote the effective role that microfinance plays in poverty alleviation. Ms Kiongosi runs a small business which receives regular financial support from BRAC Tanzania Finance Limited – a non-governmental organisation that creates opportunities for women, young people and children living in poverty.

A high-flying scrap metal dealer in Dodoma, Ms Kiongosi also supplies animal bones to a poultry farm in Dar es Salaam for processing of poultry feeds. As is often the case with most Third World countries, Ms Kiongosi overcame huge odds to attain financial freedom.

Pushed by family problems, she began as a mitumba dealer in 2012. Though her exertions put food on the table, the income was insufficient and irregular.

One morning as she went about her business in Dar es Salaam, she happened to walk by a thriving scrap yard – at least from an outsider’s perspective. There was a mile-long queue of excited drivers waiting to offload their truckloads of scrap. Curiously, she engaged the proprietor for business tips. After a little chat, Ms Kiongosi decided to give it a shot.

“I was encouraged by the long queue of suppliers I saw. It either meant there was good money in it or the prospects were good. I spoke to some of the drivers and the proprietor. Luckily, they embraced me despite the fact that they were all men. They all encouraged me to try out my luck,” Ms Kiongosi recalled.

“In about a month, I had supplied a truckload (about 10 tonnes) of scrap metal to a dealer in Dodoma. At the time I did not have the means to transport it to Dar. I was so excited when I got the first cheque that I doubled my efforts. With time, the volumes and frequencies increased.”

By the following month, she had raised enough to deliver the scrap in Dar es Salaam herself, where it fetched a better price.

That, as it turned out, was the beginning of her business journey. Dar es Salaam is a fast-growing metropolis with a booming economy that controls about 17 per cent of the country’s GDP and 70 per cent of taxes.

“From my first delivery of 10 tonnes, I now take 40 tonnes of scrap to Dar every month. I was lucky because the scrap dealers were readily available. All they needed was cash on delivery.”

Three months later, as Ms Kiongosi’s business grew, she visited a poultry farm at Mwenge in Mwenge that processed chicken feeds from ground animal bones. The farm had one challenge: the bone supply was low. When Ms Kiongosi got wind of it, she took up the challenge and added animal bones to her menu.

“Bones sell even better than scrap. When I approached the poultry farm manager, he gave me an order. In less than a month, I had sold two tonnes of bones. I simply instructed my scrap collectors to get me the bones. From the two tonnes I started with, I now stand at 40 tonnes of bones to Dar every month,” Ms Kiongosi, now an employer, reflected with pride.

As her business grew, she opened five field collection centres around Dodoma. With a staff of seven, two in her main shop and five in the field centres, she spends about Sh2 million on salaries.

On average, she supplies 45 tonnes of scrap (three truckloads) and 40 tonnes of bones (four truckloads) to Dar es Salaam monthly. She makes about Sh6 million (about $3,000) from the bones and a little more than Sh12 million (about $6,000) from the scrap. For each trip, she parts with a transport license fee of Sh30,000 (about US$15).

With Sh300,000 (about $150) going to the Tanzania Revenue Authority for the annual business permit, she makes a monthly profit of a cool Sh18 million (about $10,000). In a country with a per capita income of $879, she’s clearly flying in her own league.

In an industry largely dominated by men and often portrayed as a Kingdom of the underworld, this brave woman has taken men head-on for a slice of the pie. With loans and financial training from BRAC Tanzania, Ms Kiongosi has built a booming business that’s the envy of many a man.

She has so far had six loans with BRAC Tanzania Finance Limited worth Sh53 million (about $26,500).

“I took my first loan of Sh6 million in 2013, which I settled in six months. I then took other loans of Sh8 million, Sh10 million, Sh10 million, Sh10 million and Sh10 million. I normally clear each loan in six months. Good planning has got me this far,” Ms Kiongosi said.

“The loan amount has been increasing and the repayment is excellent, said Assan Golowa, the Country Representative, BRAC Tanzania.

This shows her high level of discipline in finance. She is a brilliant woman who is not only improving her welfare but transforming the society by providing employment to the youth and other women. We are proud to be associated with her success,” said Assan Golowa, the Country Representative, BRAC Tanzania.

Marching forward to the future with confidence, Ms Kiongosi has an ambitious plan to start her own iron processing and melting factory on three acres she recently acquired in Dodoma for Sh8 million (about $4,000).

Her goal is to become the biggest player in the iron-steel industry in the region. This is in line with Tanzania’s target of becoming an industrialised nation in seven years.

“I am planning to set up my own iron processing and melting factory in Dodoma. I have already submitted my plans to the authorities. The paperwork is awaiting approval from the municipal government.”

Ms Kiongosi also aims to be the single largest supplier of poultry feed in Tanzania. “If all goes well, I’ll set up poultry feed processing plant in Dar es Salaam. My goal is to supply poultry feeds across Tanzania and East Africa. Tanzania has access to both the wider east African and the southern African market, and that’s big for business.”

A primary school dropout but blessed with entrepreneurial brains, Ms Kiongosi paid school fees for her younger sister, Angela Michael, and took her to college so she would eventually help with management of the business.

Now in her third year, Angela is pursuing a degree in Business Administration at the College of Business Education in Dodoma. She would lead her sister’s business expansion efforts upon graduation.

“I took my sister to college so she can manage our business in future. I did not have a chance to go to college, but my sister has. She will lead our future business plans.”

Ms Kiongosi now boasts a Sh70 million (about $35,000) five-bedroom family home in Dodoma, a Sh12 million (about $6,000) car and two plots of land in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma. She also owns a rental block valued at Sh100 million (about $50,000) in Dodoma, which supplements her income.

When she separated from her husband due to irreconcilable differences in 2012, the responsibility of their three children – Sarafina (now 17), Michael (13) and Noadia (9) – lay in her hands. At the time, they led a pauper’s life. But that miserable environment only inspired her to go the extra mile.