In the Field: Saba Saba International Trade Fair

This post is part of a series by dMBA students as part of their Social Venture summer course. For context and introduction, click here.By Eric Persha

During our visit to Tanzania, we were lucky to be in the field while the Saba Saba festival was occurring in Dar es Salaam. Saba Saba (“seven seven” in Swahili) is the July 7th Tanzanian national holiday, celebrating the 1954 founding of the Tanzanian political party, the Tanganyika African National Union. Saba Saba also refers to the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair, which is held every year at the Saba Saba grounds near Kurasini.

The Saba Saba International Trade Fair has established itself as the shopping window for a plethora of products from Tanzania, India, Australia and a long list of other international countries. It was a great opportunity for the research team to explore the sales, marketing and communication tactics for other products and services. Beyond the vast range of products on display, it gave us direct access to a large swath of companies selling products or services that attempt to solve issues related to rural electrification.

We started our morning by visiting the Tanesco (Tanzanian Electric Supply Company) booth in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals building. The current electrical grid connects most major cities across Tanzania and runs primarily on hydro-power (55%) and additionally on thermal (mostly natural gas collected from Songa Songa island) sources. We were also surprised by the number of grid extension and upgrade projects that were planned for future development, but could not get a clear understanding of when the proposed plans would be started, or most importantly, completed.

While our visit to the Tanesco booth showed forward planning and potential progress, we knew that only 10% (2008 World Bank figure) of Tanzanians were connected to the grid. Our conversations with a number of people painted a picture of rolling brownouts and serious grid capacity problems. We learned that those with a grid connection lost electricity at unscheduled periods of time on a daily basis, sometimes lasting ten or more hours. As we heard from an expatriate friend, this made keeping milk for a morning cup of coffee nearly impossible. We were surprised to understand that the consistent electricity we experienced at restaurants in town, or at the apartment we were staying in, was only possible by compensating for inconsistent electricity with back-up, fuel-powered generators.

We were starting to understand that the ubiquitous electrical system we took for granted in the United States was an issue for people of all economic spectrums in Tanzania. While some of the grid connected few could afford to supplement the unreliable Tanesco grid with back-up power, many grid connected Tanzanians simply dealt with the unreliable system as best as they could.

We also discovered that while the Tanesco grid was fairly expansive in and around Dar es Salaam, connecting a home or business to the grid was prohibitively expensive for many Tanzanians. Getting electricity requires not only paying for the connection from the electrical line, but also paying the significant price tag for the metering systems, which makes the pre-pay “Luku” model possible.

Our visit to Saba Saba was an eye opening experience for many reasons. This first dip into the reality of the current energy situation showed us that energy and lighting was not just a problem of bottom of the pyramid, it was an issue for all Tanzanians of varying economic situations and living conditions.

The “Social Ventures – Energy in Africa” series follows three MBA in Design Strategy students in their Social Venture summer course. Starting with research and fieldwork conducted in and around Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Anna Acquistapace, Olivia Nava and Eric Persha explore how business can be used to create positive social impact. California College of the Art’s MBA in Design Strategy is a groundbreaking program preparing the next generation of innovation leaders through a curriculum that unites design methodologies, business fundamentals, leadership and systems thinking. You can follow along with the series here.

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