Collectible dolls

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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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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Zambezi doll company home

Piece #4  A Place of Our Own

The doll makers have been working in the hydrotherapy room at the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home, a facility that was financed by an Irish organization called Touch Ireland. It was built five years ago and, along with the physiotherapy room, has been used hardly at all due to Zambian bureaucratic regulations and lack of maintenance.

The Mama Bakhita has supported our efforts to create a doll business for these women, some of whom have or had disabled children at the the school here. Sr. Agnes supervised them in the first years after I designed the simple dolls and began training the women to make them. It was her idea that the women share the different tasks in making a doll, with each woman doing the part she was best suited for and all sharing equally in the profits. This has worked well over the years since 2010, when we began, causing the women to form a tightly knit group that supports each other.

I come every winter to work on the quality of the dolls to improve their marketability. For many years, I have been the main customer, buying a large quantity of dolls, at least 100, twice a year. This gave them a surge of cash twice a year but not the consistent income they need to support their minimal requirements. Often this means that I send money to sustain them, because I want them to keep at it. I have always had faith that one day our project would be a success. And, surprisingly to me, they continue to believe this too.

Although the hydrotherapy room leaves much to be desired as a workspace, the rent is free, so we have been very grateful for that. In return, the women volunteer to cook lunch for the school children three days a week.

In the back of my mind has been the desire to rent a small house that will serve as a workspace where they can work comfortably, safely store their valuable doll supplies and cook their lunch inside instead of outside on a brazier.

One day Sydney and I ran into A friend in the street in town. “Proby is in real estate now” Sydney mentioned to me as we approached and I asked if he knew of any houses to rent in our neighborhood. Well, yes, there was a house around the corner from the Mama Bakhita.

We walked through the gates of the property, shaded by mango trees, and into a very substantial cement house built in the Indian style, very large central space with two open areas and two long galleries on each side for the five bedrooms and four bathrooms and a kitchen. There was a pantry for storage, closets in every room and the rent was a very reasonable $300 a month.

The doll makers were overjoyed. This was clearly a sign that things were starting to happen. On Friday we signed a lease. On Saturday we all cleaned the house. Not having furniture was a problem, but Sydney and Chembo found a few tables and chairs and so the doll makers went to their new workshop on Monday. That same morning that I left for the States.

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