Curiosity and small stories
I wanted to talk about the power of small stories, and curiosity. Earlier this year, I was travelling in eastern DRC as part of my work in evaluating a project there. Over time, I had gotten to know the people I was traveling with, as we spent quite a bit of time together.
One thing I had noticed was that when we ordered coffee, all of them would put 6 or 7 spoonfuls of milk powder into their coffee. As a result, the small metal bowls of milk powder that came with the coffee were emptied quickly. I was curious about this and one afternoon, I asked them about it.
They explained that a box of milk powder is so expensive that they only see milk powder when they are at a restaurant or travelling with someone like me. They would not buy milk powder for home, because they can buy enough bananas to feed their family for a week for the cost of one box of milk powder. So when they have a chance, they really enjoy the milk powder.
For me, this information opened up new possibilities. I imagined a dairy that would use milk from local cows to produce milk locally. I told them the story of the dairy in Mauritania which produces camel milk in UHT containers. A lady who lives there noticed that few people drank milk because it was so expensive (it was imported). Yet there were thousands of camels in the desert in Mauritania.
She found a way to organize the herders to bring their camels to be milked, and to produce that milk in UHT containers so it stays good for a long time. That dairy has been thriving for a time and even found a market in Europe for people who prefer camel milk over cow's milk.
In Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus and the Danone yogurt company created a low tech plant that makes yogurt using milk from local farmers. They had to overcome many technical challenges and completely redo how they designed plants. but the result is that local farmers have an income from their cows, local children have yogurt, and women have employment selling the pots of yogurt door to door. (Danone, in fact, has been using this model of employing women to sell small pots of yogurt in South Africa and Indonesia and elsewhere - they even help the women buy the carts to use for distribution.)
All of these amazing ideas began with a question by someone who was curious, which led people to share information, and led to new solutions that reflect how interconnected we are at a local level. So be curious! Ask questions about small things. Such questions can open up new possibilities!