Young women expand shoe business in Dodoma

Young women expand shoe business in Dodoma

Ester Ghula, slender and soft spoken, pounds her hammer against a metal-studded leather sandal with surprising strength. “This is to flatten the sole and make it stronger,” she says. Her dainty fingers are fast and confident.

Ester spends most of her day in a small workshop in Dodoma Town, Tanzania, which she co-rents with her fellow group members and business partners.

The collective, known as 4U Ukashu, consists of 115 young women and seven young men who enrolled in the leather project under the Opportunities for Youth Employment (OYE) project in 2016. The collective is at a very crucial stage in its development: “It’s time to expand, we just have to find a way to sell more and grow our business, no matter how difficult this may be,” says Ester.

The group is not alone, just a few minutes away is the shop of another female-led business group, Haki Leather Products. These two groups showcase OYE's results in engaging and empowering young women to become active job creators. A growing number of girls are completing the OYE course; from a target of 40%, the proportion of female youth in the programme has now reached 48%.

three people standing in front of the stand with shoes

Navigating the private sector

Although the OYE programme strives for equal opportunity, the girls of Haki and 4U Ukashu run their businesses in a market in which gender equality does not necessarily apply. In fact, some customers doubt their skills: “customers sometimes don’t believe we’re the ones making these sandals,” says Elizabeth, leader of Haki Leather Products.

But the collectives are using the knowledge and skills gained during the OYE training to navigate the private sector.

In order to reach a wider customer base, the 4U Ukashu group members are planning to diversify their product range and are now looking to expand their skill-set into closed shoe making. Elia Machaba, one of the male member of the group, says the wake-up call came when the business missed out on a major contract: “We were approached by a newly opened private school. They wanted us to supply shoes for 180 of their students, but we had to refer them to someone else.”

In Dodoma Town, there are several small leather manufacturing companies that offer short-term intensive training. 4U Leather Group and larger outlet Mpilika Leather Manufacturers regularly work with OYE youth, train them in closed shoe making and offer them opportunities to refine existing skills.

In addition, both groups are collaborating with smaller businesses who act as sales agents for their products. Elizabeth and her fellow group mate, Herieth Timothy, have four different small business outlets and vendors to whom they supply around 40 pairs of sandals on a monthly basis. The sandals are sold at 18,000 TZS – 20,000 TZS (8 USD – 9 USD), generating a revenue of at least 400,000 TZS (179 USD) per month.

Aside from working with other sellers, the group has a small shop where customers can place orders. The girls also use social media to advertise their products – see the Haki Leather Products Facebook page. And after encouragement from a visiting OYE agriculture project manager, they are going to add Instagram to their social media advertising efforts.

With growing confidence in their ability to be competitive players in this sector, the two female-led groups are successfully tackling the challenges arising from expanding their enterprises.

About OYE

With the OYE project, we aim to sustainably increase youth employment and incomes. Wo do so by:

  • Providing disadvantaged youth in rural areas with life skills and relevant technical training (push factor).

  • Linking youth to market opportunities for employment and enterprise development (match factor).

  • Selecting opportunities in growth sectors that have concrete potential for employment creation (pull factor).

We work with youth organisations, vocational training centers, local government, and business associations to identify young people who are out-of-school and unemployed and then coordinate with training providers to carefully screen and select disadvantaged young people to participate.

The OYE project is implemented by SNV in partnership with Mastercard Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.