Ashley, Alex and I were standing on the street corner of a dusty road in Iganga Town anxious to find our team. We had just left the Najja with our driver to find someone with a working phone and found our way to a MTN phone booth. The driver put down the phone and told us that our team had come back from the shop.
After our long journey we had finally arrived. Seeing Maggie, Joel, and John again was refreshing and frustrating. There was so much that they already knew so getting the big picture out of them was very difficult. It’s very hard to articulate just how in the dark I felt at that point in time. There was so much I wanted to do but I had little sense of where to go. Disoriented is a good word for it and I hated it.
I came in at the end of the planning period for the project and given last semester’s work load I had always stayed at the periphery. I had a sort of willful ignorance on the project but only because I figured I would find out what I needed to know in due time. That afternoon I volunteered to go to a meeting with a local microfinance organization called the Hunger Project and talked with Jon and Maggie for the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out what had happened since May 10th.
That evening was a crash course on the project and by the end of the night my head was throbbing. The production facility was set up during the first two weeks and we just finished training group of three Ugandan workmen to do the day to day welding and cement molding. On the marketing end, we were currently in talks with a number of community based organizations to help publicize the machine. Groups include NAADS, a governmental organization promoting agricultural modernization, WAACHA, an orphans and woman’s organization that connects with dozens of co-ops through its AIDS outreach programs as well as a number of microfinance providers. While initial talks felt promising, we still had sold only 1 machine. The demand seemed to be there, we just had to close deals. We talked for hours, going over all of the details of the project. The clouds of ignorance had parted and after the Sunday night meeting I felt invigorated, excited and truly thankful that I had the opportunity to help out this project.
The next day Jon, Fletcher, Alex and I set out to talk to NAADS about their previous commitment to purchase 6 machines. They had called informing us that they would be late (Welcome to Africa – WTA) so we walked around Iganga central market for an hour. Just to give you a sense of what Central Market is like, imagine Goodwill, on a dusty road, where food is sold by the bulk and where you have to avoid things like cars, bikes and roaming cattle. You truly could buy almost anything in Central Market from cell phones, to shoes, street meat to solar panels. It’s really quite impressive (there is even a survey agency but it seems that they had recently closed up shop :-(). The reference to Goodwill is not made in jest. It turns out that much of what the developing world wears comes from donated western clothes that are sold to merchants. It is this vast proliferation of cheap and durable clothing that has lead to the collapse of the garment industry in Africa.
Just on the outskirts of Central market is the NAADS office. We didn’t know quite what to expect from them. Since they are a government funded program they have a strong network of offices & contacts by default. To back it up they also talked very big. When we met Peter and Immaculate, the Director & secretary of Iganga District, they expressed an interested in purchasing 6 machines now, and 14 machines next week with the prospect of purchasing over 3000 for the Iganga district alone. Needless to say the broke down sign outside of their headquarters made me take this with a grain of salt.
With camera in tow (thanks Alex Copp) we packed into the NAADS truck and headed down to the production facility housed on the south end of a maize processing factory.
Immaculate was impressed with the facility. We talked for twenty minutes and she reaffirmed her plan on purchasing machines (at some point in time). After she left Jon and I crunched some numbers and soon realized the magnitude of what NAADS deal would be. Connecting into the entire NAADS network would require us to produce over 20,000 machines. At 4 machines a day we barely could keep up with current commitments. We would need more moulds, more welders, more workers. We would need more space. The wheels of capitalism were turning in my mind and I could help thinking about how we could blow this thing out of the water. We did a video shoot for Alex describing the deal and afterwards I started to realize, from the outside looking in, how much fun I was having. I’ve always wanted to run a business and work the ins and outs of strategy and deal making. This project feels so tangible to me, so salient. Its just like running a Nourish venture on a larger scale. I can devote all my time to it and know that everyone around me is doing the same. Challenges lie ahead but that’s part of the fun. I’m not on vacation, I’m at work and I’m having the time of my life.