Within our pillar of women’s empowerment, it is D2D’s aim to provide vulnerable women with the support they need to improve their social and economic condition. For the past couple years, D2D has supported four women-run businesses in the local region with trainings, management skills guidance, financial literacy workshops and raw equipment that they need to successfully maintain Income Generating Activities (IGA’s).
This year, Jill & Michael Back offered to support Determined to Develop through small, women-run businesses. Owners of the beautiful Backsburg Wine Estate, in South Africa, Jill and Mike stumbled on our project in 2010 while driving through Africa on holiday. Even before our partner, Maji Zuwa, opened its doors, they were the very first customers and camped with us for several days. With an extensive philanthropic history in South Africa, seven year later Jill and Mike again opened their hearts to Malawi.
One of the most successful IGA businesses supported by D2D is the “Nase Baking Club.” This bakery business is run by ten rural women and the group meets weekly to prepare large amounts of freshly baked bread to be sold in the local community. Although their business was succeeding, there were still some challenges holding the group back from generating as much profit as possible, including scaling the business. The main challenge was their oven. Built in 2015, the pilot oven was a one-barrel oil drum with a fire underneath. It had a small capacity, an impractical door, poor ventilation, and inefficient wood burning system. The women had to prop a large log as a lever to keep the door closed to allow baking and had to turn the buns every few minutes because of the inconsistency in burn.
In order to address some of these issues identified by the group, D2D welcomed the help of Mechanical Engineering student and ETHOS volunteer, Noelle Jacobs, from The University of Dayton. Working with D2D’s Women’s Empowerment Project Field Officer, Melness Kayuni, the pair discussed ideas for new designs, identified current challenges and planned a new and efficient oven to upscale the business.
The team considered differing design options, taking into consideration local materials and knowledge whilst drawing on ideas from popular western designs. Using the scaled up idea of the American back yard pizza oven which uses an oil drum, brick, and clay, a design began to take shape. The team took this idea and ran. While the old design and the American fad both feature one oil drum (allowing for only two pans at a time), the new design features five oil drums allowing ten pans in the oven at a time.
The construction of this huge new structure began in phases, with the women’s group assisting Noelle each step of the way. A foundation was poured, bricks were laid, the new oil drums were prepared and clay was applied. The pyramid-like design allows for ample heat transfer in and around the drums and the clay insulates the heat. Counters and shelves are incorporated to provide the women a place to prepare and rise dough and cool off freshly baked products. Closing doors on the fire chamber means heat escape is kept to a minimum and the front steps mean all members of the group can reach the top barrels.
After a test bake, the group reported that the five barrel oven heats up in almost the same time as the old one barrel. The oven uses less wood per barrel to bake five times the amount of bread, and cooks five times the amount of break in the same time, with the added capacity. This oven will enable the women’s group to grow their business, providing five times the amount of freshly baked goods, making five times as much profit!
Nase Baking Club invited D2D and other community members to an unveiling event. They spoke of their appreciation for the support, celebrated Noelle and Melness for their hard work and explained their future plans for the business. Local chiefs commended the development efforts and D2D staff were able to give words of encouragement and praise the groups continuing commitment to the business. Dancing ensued, and delicious freshly baked bread was offered to everyone in attendance. The group are well set to sky rocket their profits, financially empowering the women and their families.
Thank you to Jill & Mike Back and to the ETHOS program for its support of women’s run businesses!