Sharing skills, building futures: The Cookes

Looking for an opportunity to give back, Joan and David Cooke found themselves in Tanzania, helping business owners modernize and crack global markets.  

The British Columbia couple spent more than two years volunteering with Cuso International’s Tanzania Local Enterprise Development (T-LED) program; Joan as a finance management advisor and David as a business management advisor.  

David and Joan Cooke

“Our mandate was to teach businesses and farmers new business techniques,” Joan says. “We would have guided talks with the owners. They start with an elevator pitch of their business. We ask them what they are proud of. Then we ask them the money question: ‘What three issues keep you up at night?”’

The Cookes, both in their 60s, were key instruments in the success and growth of T-LED, which focused on business owners and entrepreneurs working in the areas of agriculture, tailoring and clothing, poultry farmers, and coconut and sunflower oil producers.  

“Through networking, the businesses were able to help each other out,” Joan says. “Networking helps these business owners keep the momentum going.” 

Tanzania’s economy has seen steady growth over the last decade. While there is more demand for local suppliers and farmers, many small and medium business owners have been unable to fully capitalize on the opportunity. With a focus on supporting small and medium enterprises run by women, Cuso International’s T-LED project supports these entrepreneurs by working with them to gain the tools, training and expertise they need to succeed and grow.

Zamda Shaaban, owner of Tausi Coffee, knew she had a product people wanted but didn’t know how to take her company to the next level. T-LED helped her learn the skills she needed to ramp up her sales and pocket more of her hard-earned money.

“I have learned how to find a new market and develop my product for that market. I learned how to make a business plan,” she says. “I have also learned the importance of keeping financial records.”

Zamda says the assistance provided through T-LED is priceless, particularly for young women entrepreneurs. In less than a year, she has increased her coffee production by 200 kilos a day and expanded her sales to seven regions in Tanzania and across the border into Uganda. Her success continues to have positive ripple effects on her employees, their families and communities.

“We have gained a lot of knowledge,” she explains. “I advise all young entrepreneurs to join T-LED because they are good, and they make us great.”