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After eight years working on this project, the Zambezi doll makers of Livingstone, Zambia have established the Zambezi Doll Cooperative, their own independent, women-owned non profit designed to create income security for these women with disabled children. Please help us sustain our new business while we develop marketing strategies and build our clientele. Buy a doll or two, and send friends with children to this page or to the women’s website. 

http://zambezidolls.com.

Many thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Organizing Principle Falls into my Lap the Day Before I Leave for Zambia

Piece #1 The Book and Why Do We Exist?(As a Business)
After eight years of slowly developing a product and a way to market it, 2018 was the year the Zambezi Doll project found its true shape and came into focus.

It began when my friend Roberta gave me a book she had found useful in organizing her own business, called The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni with the very descriptive subtitle “Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else”. I read the first half on the long plane ride going over and was intrigued to find no facts about profit margins or anything else like that. Instead the author listed the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself : why you are doing this business and what are your core values?

As soon as I arrived Sydney Mwamba, the Zambian manager of the AACDP, and I brainstormed about the first three questions that would be the foundation of our new enterprise.

#1 Why do we exist?
Firstly, to create a stable income for the doll makers out of their own creativity.
Secondly, the world needs a friendly doll made of natural materials and a choice of skin tones from dark to light.

#2 What are our basic values.? Compassion, integrity and consistency.

#3 What do we do? We make handmade dolls.

#4 Who is the leadership team and what are the areas of expertise?

Here was our first hurdle. We were missing part of the leadership team.

There is Sydney  who monitors the programs, identifies needs, requests funding and is a liaison to the local people being served in philanthropic ways.

And there is me. I raise funds, buy crafts, doll supplies, develop the basic doll patterns and train the doll makers in best practices and quality control. Sydney and I share the social media and photography.

It was a glaringly obvious to us both that a business-savvy bookkeeper was needed to complete the team. We started out writing a job description:

Bookkeeper needed to make finance reports, set up systems for production and evaluation, monitor stock, order supplies, market products on internet, work with the doll makers smoothly and be committed to working for the poor, especially women.
Sydney said to me, “I know the perfect person.” So call her!
(To be continued)

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Chembo Muwaya Zambezi doll financial person

Piece #2 Chembo
Sydney’s long time friend, Chembo Muwaya had all of these skills and was already interested in the project. But she lived In Ndola, a six or seven hour busride away. I was surprised when she expressed serious interest and agreed to come to Livingstone to discuss things. I was even more surprised and delighted when she agreed to join us as the third team member.
From the moment we met it was chrystal clear that she was a perfect fit: smart, energetic, good humored and passionate about setting up a successful business for the women and for ourselves. Her description of how to organize the business end was clear and authoritative. She was sitting next to me on the couch in the living room of the guest house at the Mama Bakhita, which became our meeting room. I touched her hand and looked at her in wonder. “Are you real?”
She moved to Livingstone the next week and set up a three month business plan, three months being the minimum needed to reach the breakeven point. She took inventory, figured out what each doll cost in materials, how many dolls we needed to sell to break even (50 a week) and how many to make a profit (more). One big unknown was how many finished dolls the women could complete in a given time. We had been operating since 2010 in a piecemeal fashion, because I was selling the dolls myself at Christmas and summer sales and had to limit quantity. I could give them two big orders a year, paying them several thousand dollars each time, which was great but not consistent enough to sustain them year round. They have their small businesses to try and make ends meet, but often it is not enough.
We had no idea how much time they needed to produce one doll.

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Piece #3 The Doll ChallengeZambezi doll company

So we set them a challenge: Could they produce ten perfect dolls in one day?

The women were so up for it. They set to work immediately, Magdalene cutting out the body pattern, Mary sewing the body seams, Olipa stuffing, Nophreen embroidering the facial features, Charity and Exhilda fashioning wigs and hairstyles, Rosemary customizing clothes, Pauline making earrings and decoration. Annie and Ivy are chosen to cook both for the Mama Bakhita children’s lunch and for the women themselves.Originally it had been Nophreen, Rosemary and Charity who were scheduled to cook today, but when the challenge was issued, the women knew that they would be at a disadvantage without the skillful threesome. The group decided that Annie and Ivy, the least skilled among them, should cook so that the others could work at full speed. They seemed not to resent this.

Meanwhile, Sydney, Chembo and I spent many hours at a bank located in a grocery store applying for a bank account for our half of the business called “Handmade in Zambia”, also a non profit. It had taken us a long time to realize that we needed a business to market the dolls. I had always assumed that we could set up a subsidiary of the AACDP in Livingstone with Sydney at its head, but when we went to PACRA, (which stands for Patents and Companies Registration Agency)
At the hydro pool/doll workshop* we set up a photo shoot studio. Sydney has been pouring over internet articles for advice and we are experimenting ways to take good photos of the dolls. It is not easy, but we are improving.

The unspoken piece is that our responsibility is to sell 200 dolls a month to actually reach that break-even point.

But I have faith in the sales team of Chembo, Victor, Susan and Sydney. We have discussed our markets:
-Families interested in un-sexy (friendly?) and beautifully hand crafted (anti-Barbie) dolls of color, each one unique and made of natural materials.
-Organizations such as schools, hospitals, museum gift shops and doctors who might be interested in having appealing dolls of color in their waiting.

At the close of the working day I remembered our challenge. The women had not forgotten, of course, and were looking very pleased with themselves, when Chembo announced that 17 perfect dolls had been produced in one day, albeit, a long day. This was very good news because it indicated that we could meet our break-even point of 200 dolls a month.

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