On Friday, July 13, I visited the Tifaouine Women’s Cooperative in Amizmiz, Morocco with High Atlas Foundation (HAF) Coordinator Errachid Montassir and Land O’Lakes expert volunteer Lynda Drennan Swenson. The purpose of this visit was to provide a brief training seminar on marketing and financial management led by Ms. Drennan Swenson.
Mr. Montassir, the President of the cooperative, and Ms. Drennan Swenson, from left to right.
The Tifaouine Women’s Cooperative was independently launched 4 years ago and has partnered with HAF to receive training and capacity-building workshops. Though there are 20 official members of the cooperative, only 12 are currently and consistently active.
Ms. Drennan Swenson’s visit was part of a joint program between USAID, Land O’Lakes, Farmer-to-Farmer, and HAF. This program was started over a year ago when Land O’Lakes received USAID funding to send Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers to Morocco. HAF has been fortunate enough to host a number of these expert volunteers, who have assisted us in aiding our many cooperative partners.
When we arrived at the cooperative, the President greeted us warmly and served us traditional Moroccan mint tea. We exchanged introductions and Ms. Drennan Swenson gave the President some Lifesavers, a traditional American candy. Lifesavers are small, circular hard candies with a hole in the middle; for the purpose of this meeting they served both as a pleasantry gift and as a lesson. Ms. Drennan Swenson illustrated the importance of customer-centered product design by telling the story of why Lifesavers have a hole in the middle. Originally, they were solid candies, marketed towards young children. However, young children often choke on small, solid objects such as these candies. The Lifesaver company realized that by punching a hole in the middle of their product, which would allow children to breathe in case of choking, they could advertise their candy as a safer alternative to other similar products. This simple story essentially summarizes the point Ms. Drennan Swenson wanted to make through her training session: the cooperative needs to find a way to make their product stand out from other cooperatives’ products, and they need to do so in a way that emphasizes the customer’s experience.
Ms. Drennan Swenson, using Mr. Montassir as a translator, asked the President a series of questions about the cooperative’s expenses, sales, profits, and system of record-keeping. She found that the cooperative was keeping adequate financial records and was making a profit, albeit a small one.
She then asked the President what she thought they could do to increase the cooperative’s profit. The President replied that other than decreasing their rent costs, which is not currently a viable option, she was not sure. Ms. Drennan Swenson stated that the women need to increase the price they are charging for their products, which are primarily couscous, biscuits, and bread. She explained that in order to successfully increase these prices and continue selling at the same level, the cooperative would need to redesign some of its marketing and selling strategies.
Women of the Tifaouine Cooperative and Mr. Montassir.
This is where the training part of the session began. Six other women from the cooperative gathered to watch Ms. Drennan Swenson’s presentation, which included a video about Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, USA. In Pike’s Place Market, there are dozens of stands lined up next to each other selling the exact same fish; however, some stands are able to charge higher prices than others. The stands that charge higher prices are able to do so because they focus on the customer’s experience by entertaining them. The situation in Pike’s Place Market is highly similar to that of the cooperatives in Amizmiz: they are all selling couscous, biscuits, and bread just feet away from each other. To conclude her training, Ms. Drennan Swenson gave the women four principles to improve the customer experience: Play, Make their day, Be there, and Choose your attitude. The Tifaouine Women’s Cooperative can now confidently charge higher prices for their product and, as a result, will increase their profit margin.