The Primacy of Trust in the Livelihoods and Social Networks of Women Agro-entrepreneurs in Northern Tanzania
Khanjan Mehta, Audrey Maretzki, and Laudislaus Semali
African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development
Mehta, K., Maretzki, A., Semali, L., African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, Vol. 11, No. 6″ The Primacy of Trust in the Livelihoods and Social Networks of Women Agro-entrepreneurs in Northern Tanzania”, 2011
This paper describes the primacy of trust in the social networks and livelihoods of rural Tanzanian women engaged in agro-entrepreneurial activity. The importance of trust emerged from a study of the “who you know” social and economic network knowledge systems of these enterprising women in Moshi, Tanzania and the role cell phones play within their networks. The nature of the women’s agricultural businesses and their perceptions of the characteristics of women business leaders and cooperative group members were also studied. The objective of the study was to identify opportunities for developing innovative cellphone-based applications that link small-scale farmers and other entrepreneurs to markets, thus enabling these entrepreneurs to utilize, strengthen and expand their social and economic networks. A complementary goal was to identify the characteristics of women who are likely to successfully champion new entrepreneurial ventures. Three data collection techniques were employed: (1) a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) survey, (2) structured interviews; and (3) focus group interviews. There were 26 women participants in this network study- all living in multi-ethnic areas in, or near, the town of Moshi. Each participant was the proprietor of a stall selling agricultural products in one of the three town markets. A total of 92 relationships were described by these 26 women. The majority of the women primarily used cell phones in their business communication and considered cell phones crucial to their businesses. The women valued long-term relationships with over 70% of the business relationships described by the women having lasted for more than one year. The study revealed that these relationships were based very strongly on trust and respect. This primacy of trust in these networks was further validated by the individual interviews and focus group discussions. Loyalty and the maintenance of inter-personal relationships are more important than price in these women’s business-related decision-making. The findings suggest the importance of building trust while expanding “who you know” networks to create social and economic capital in rural African communities. The pervasiveness and importance of cell phones in these communities raises the possibility of employing this technology to create value by harnessing social capital and expanding social networks. An entrepreneurial venture called WishVast emerged from this study and is described in this paper. WishVast is a cellphone-based system that allows individuals to interact with in an expanded, geographically dispersed social network – and as a result, it enables traditionally isolated individuals to connect, communicate and coordinate with a large number of potential clients.