‘LIKIE’ ladies taking charge of their own lives

With the 2SCALE conference ‘Food for Thought: Made in Africa, for Africa’ only a few days away, we interviewed two micro-entrepreneurs who work for the Ethiopian food processor GUTS Agro. GUTS is of one our partners in the 2SCALE program and their CEO, Engidu Legesse, will be present at the 2SCALE conference on the 27th October.

We talked with Kidist and Yewegnesh, two of the so called ‘LIKIE Sales Ladies’ within GUTS Agro. LIKIE refers to a new innovative distribution model for nutritious food, developed by GUTS and 2SCALE. The LIKIE distribution model shortens the supply chain and will improve the traceability of products. Young women on tricycles sell GUTS Agro products door-to-door by, bringing the products directly from the factory to the consumer. This eliminates mark-ups by middlemen, reduces costs for the consumer, and substantially reduces the risk of deterioration of products  in transit. It also increases nutrition awareness among poor women, because the sales ladies are trained to offer nutrition education. The distribution model creates employment and provides the sales ladies with an income in their new role as small entrepreneurs.

“Our customers keep asking when we’ll start selling other products”

Kidist is a mother of four who lost her husband a couple of years ago and was forced to give up two of her children for adoption. Currently, she lives with her 10-year-old boy and 5-year-old daughter. As she cannot afford to rent a house on her own, she is sharing a shelter with her mother.

Kidist went to school up to 8th grade. However, she struggled to send her children to school. Despite education being free, she still needs to cover uniform and materials expense. But this year, with her daughter getting full support from an NGO, she divides most school materials between her son and daughter enabling them to attend 3rd and 1st grade respectively.  

For 5 years Kidist worked in the Hawassa University student cafeteria as a cook. It was a physically demanding task and has led to health problems which eventually made her quit the job. She used to earn $30 per month for that job. When she heard about the Likie opportunity, she had been jobless for over a month. Tired of sitting at home and not being able to support her family, she decided to join the Likie group and earn an income. For the past four months Kidist worked hard to make it in this micro-franchise distribution business. At the moment she feels her life is slightly better off than before even with the small profits she makes daily. This has enabled her to contribute to feeding and providing basic things for the family. “I am very happy with what I’m doing now. My proudest moment was on New Year’s Day, when I was able to buy clothes and shoes for my children, making them equals with their peers. This is something I wanted to do for a long time.”

Although Kidist had no training to start this door-to-door distribution work, her previous experience as a small entrepreneur helped her a lot. A long time ago she used to sell second hand clothes on the local market. She also tried baking and selling a local bread called ‘Anbasha’ at some point. “Since I joined LIKIE I’ve gained so much confidence, and I learned that you don’t only wait for people to come and buy from you. Despite the difficulty of getting acceptance at first, you need to be patient until they understand this way of business. Now I know that you can go out, knocking at people’s doors to make a sale instead of waiting for them to come to you. I didn’t think it was possible to sell products this way and it’s a big lesson for me” says Kidist.

She also acknowledges another benefit of doing this work as she is able to meet and network with different retailers and households, which she believes is very advantageous in the long run. Kidist adds: “…when we are out for sales on our tricycles, we clearly notice the appreciation from customers and prospects we talk to. Even passersby call us over out of curiosity – which gives us an opportunity to promote our brand and the products which mostly lead to additional sales”. With a little support on finance, improved sales materials and training on business and sales management, Kidist feels she and her friends can take the distribution business one step further.

Kidist herself is a frequent user of GUTS Agro products, she is happy with the products – as are most of her customers. Moreover, she strongly points out the importance of enriching her product portfolio with other products. “Every time we make sales visits, our customers keep asking when we’ll start selling other products, such as lembo snack, biscuits, ‘berbere’, ‘ye atmit ehil’ and ‘mitmita’ and we are really looking forward to getting these additional products from GUTS to please our customers and also improve our revenue”. Kidist is optimistic about her future in this business, provided that such improvements will be made and that she’ll keep working hard to that end.

In the future, Kidist wishes to have a hub or storage closer to the factory to pick up goods from, as currently the transport costs are taking away a good part of their profits. Last but not least, she aspires to get a loan to maintain and grow her micro-franchise distribution business.

“I now have time to do my sales, go home to be with my children and take care of them”

Yewegnesh came to Hawassa only two years ago with her husband and two children; a 9 year old girl and a 6 year old boy. Yewegnesh didn’t grow up with her family, she had to depend on families she worked for as a maid. As a result of this upbringing she didn’t get far in terms of education. She went to school only up to 4th grade and now she wants to continue her education. Her street business of selling hot beverages was particularly very tough for her children who spent the days out on the streets with her. The harsh conditions her children kept facing on the streets pushed her to stop this business and stay home to take care of them while her husband kept struggling to provide for them all. After 6 months without a job she heard about the opportunity to work with LIKIE. Realizing that this is a better balance for her to take care of her children and contribute to the family, she joined LIKIE with an initial capital of ETB 300 ($14) on June 2015.

For Yewegnesh the major change since her new job, is the time and freedom she gained to take care of her children. “I now have time to do my sales, go home to be with my children and take care of them. I am also very happy that I don’t have to sit at home and wait for my husband to give me money. It provided me financial independence no matter how small it is. I now earn between 40 to 100 ETB ($2 to $5) on average per day depending on how much I can buy from GUTS and I even support my husband on days that he’s unable to work”.

The training provided by GUTS was very helpful says Yewegnesh: “Even though I had prior business experience, I participated in two trainings. These helped me a lot, particularly the training on bookkeeping and customer handling. Before, I had trouble with bookkeeping, but now I understand my income and expenses clearly and the training has helped me to shape my behavior towards customers”. She recalls her initial field experience of how negative people were when she first approached them, knocking their doors. Once she was able to overcome this challenge and created awareness about the nature of her business, the LIKIE model gained a positive outlook with increased acceptance from customers.

Based on the repeated feedback from her customers, Yewegnesh feels it is important to improve the product range. “I can make more sales if GUTS provides Lembo snack and ‘berbere’, especially ‘berbere’ is what my household customers ask me to bring all the time”. Overall, Yewegnesh is happy working in the LIKIE model. Her wish is to work hard to grow their business and open new distribution hubs.

  1. Berbere is a spicy hot powder made of red pepper mixed with various spices
  2. Shiro is a spicy powder made from chickpea or peas mixed with various spices, made as a stew and consumed with injera almost daily by BoP families
  3. Ye Atmit Ehil is a powder used for preparing gruel for infants and mothers, it’s made from mixture of various cereals and grains

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