Switching careers is not as easy as it is generally perceived. You must be able, ready and willing to accept changes along the way, especially if it means supporting others attain their goals and develop their businesses, says Latifa Mohammed, founder of ‘Wezesha Binti na Mama Mjasiriamali’ (WBM), a non-profit institution that empowers women to achieve financial freedom.
A successful entrepreneur, Latifa inspires many young girls and women alike. Today, scores of aspiring entrepreneurs and those already in the game consult her on how to succeed in business.
The first runner-up in the Miss Tanzania 2013 competition, says that during her university days at the Institute of Tax Administration (ITA), she always wanted to be self-employed - and still be of assistance to society at large.
“While fellow students dreamt of working with well-paying organisations, I always dreamt of doing what I am doing today,” says the Custom and Tax Management graduate.
After participating in the Miss Tanzania contest, Latifa and her friend, Josephine started a modelling agency, namely Jordan Modelling Agency. Latifa’s aim was to nurture her talent and use the experience from the beauty pageant.
However, she found it hard managing studies and the agency, especially given that her partner had taken up a job with some non-governmental organisation in Kigoma.
“It was difficult because I had to be in class and at the same time look for organisations to work with on multiple projects for the agency. It was overwhelming. I advised my partner that we pause on the agency for a while,” shares Latifa.
However, Latifa knew she had to do something productive that would not limit her time for studies. She started selling underwear at the campus, a business that did not consume much of her time as did the agency.
Upon starting the small business, the majority of her customers were surprised that her ‘beauty queen’ status did not hold her back from engaging in what they perceived to be ‘a very normal business’. They also praised her for the way she interacted with them.
The positive response Latifa got inspired her to start another business. She started selling popcorns outside the university premises and around students’ residences. Latifa then thought of establishing her own brand to uphold her popcorn business even after university.
Her brother came up with the idea of making stickers with her face and nickname ‘Queen Tipha’ printed on them.
“What made me happy is the fact that I would find the stickers around the campus, which was a sign that my business was growing,” says Latifa.
After a while, she started supplying popcorns to different social events, supermarkets and shops as her brand kept growing.
After a year, Latifa opened a clothing store at Mwenge in Dar es Salaam, where she sold underwear, first grade thrift clothes and couture apparel.
Latifa says she never took notice of the people she had inspired over the years by being an entrepreneur. She didn’t know that there were people who admired what she was doing and wanted to be just like her.
“In 2017, I was nominated and won the Malkia wa Nguvu award, which led people, especially women to start reaching out for advice through her Instagram page.
“They would ask me how I won the award in the first place. Women started confiding in me about their desires, dreams and failures that restricted them from reaching their goals.”
The Malkia wa Nguvu Awards celebrate Tanzanian women achievers who are influencing, inspiring and uplifting others in their communities. Latifa won in the Retail category.
After noticing the needs of women expressed through her Instagram page, she decided to use Whatsapp as a platform to advise them on different matters related to entrepreneurship.
“I set aside two hours a day, three days a week, where we would discuss the problems they were going through and the solutions. I would communicate with about 30 women in a week.”
Later, she had to hold sessions with women for two more days since three were not enough.
After over a year and a half of consultations, Latifa came up with Wezesha Binti na Mama Mjasiriamali (WBM) in July 2019. The target was to empower women economically. Through the organisation, she conducts one-on-one as well as online training for women who face difficulties that hinder the growth of their businesses.
The training ranges from three days to ten days, after which the trainees are routinely followed-up to check their progress.
“The number of women entrepreneurs is appealing but most of them forget to think that even when you are self-employed, you eventually need to grow your business.”
She says most women build their businesses around survival circles, believing they can sustain a business for years without developing it.
Since its establishment, WBM has reached about 700 low income women, some who had no businesses at all.
Nasra Msope, a Dar es Salaam-based entrepreneur dealing in fortified food products, is one of WBM beneficiaries. She says before undergoing WBM training, her business was unstable. She too never thought of ways to grow it.
“I have so far attended two online training sessions where I learnt how to save money and how to grow my business as well as retain a brand in any business. I now sell my products online as well as supply them across the country,” says Nasra.
“Before I did not know where to sell my products given that very few people know the products. Today, I have more customers due to the marketing strategies I have been employing,” she says.
Another beneficiary, Hellen Manyama, who participated in the WBM training in 2018, says she knew she had to participate the moment she saw the training advert on Instagram. At the time, she was selling women’s shoes at the Institute of Social Work where she was studying.
“I did not have many customers but through WBM, I learnt how to find markets for my business. I learnt how to find places with high demand for my products such as workplaces,” she shares.
Rahma Juma, who makes liquid soap, says business was bad before she found out about WBM. She had learnt how to make soap - but she needed value addition skills. She also needed knowledge on how to create social media presence for her business.
“I have now secured customers all over Tanzania, which was hard initially, since there are many people today with the same soap making skills. WBM training helped me find a competitive edge to differentiate my business from other people’s,” she explains.