Africa Review

From vending used clothes, she now handles big government contracts

Ms Maida Waziri receives an award from Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete after her company was voted the best female owned/managed construction firm. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN

Education is the key to success, so they say. However, there are extraordinary cases where people excel in whatever they do and become successful without a distinguished background in education.

Maida Waziri, 42, the managing director of Ibra Building Contractors and General Supplies in Tanzania, is among these self-made few.

The successful entrepreneur has never seen the inside of a university lecture room. However, the secondary school leaver is doing very well in the male-dominated construction business, as well as other ventures she has interests in.

Ms Waziri decided to follow her heart and involve herself in business after completing her O-Level studies in 1991. Her parents could have managed to send her to high school, but that was not where her heart was. Her passion was in business.

“I dreamt of living a good life. I dreamt of employing others so they could earn a living through me. Am glad this has happened already,” says a proud Maida who runs several businesses.

“My parents could have managed to send me to high school, but I decided to go for business. My mind was much more into business than in studies. I had this feeling of doing better in business than studying,” says the mother of three.

Humble beginnings

Maida had many business ideas that she wished to give a try. She saw her life in business. But it was hard to convince her parents that this was her choice. The fact that she wanted to engage in business immediately after she completed her ordinary secondary education made matters worse.

It took Maida a lot of effort to convince her parents to let her follow her dream. In 1992, she started a clothes vending business with $12 (at current exchange rate) capital. She would buy clothes and walk in the streets to find customers.

Maida would sell clothes by the roadside from her bag without knowing who would buy them and which street she should go to. “I used to walk with an open mind hoping that people would love the clothes and buy them,” says Maida.
Since hawking is mainly done by men, people would be surprised to see a young girl walking around the streets selling clothes. Today we have more women street vendors.

Apart from having to walk long distances to find customers, business was not always rosy. There are days when she would sell nothing at all. But this did not deter the determined girl. This is the path she had chosen and so she was ready to face the challenges.

“I raised enough money in one year and enrolled for a tailoring course in 1993. After training for one year, I opened a tailoring mart in Buguruni (Dar es Salaam). Business was good but no matter how much money I earned, my parents were still unhappy with the decision I made.”

Because her tailoring job involved working late at times, Maida had to shift her office from Buguruni to her parents’ home in Tandika (a Dar es Salaam suburb) where she also set up her used clothes shop.

Tracking every cent

They had been complaining about her getting home late. That was way back in 1994. She worked from home until she got married two years later.

“Being successful in business goes with risk taking and being confident in decisions that you make. I trusted people but they took advantage and ruined my business.

I had to make tough decisions. I closed the business,” she says. According to her, being an employer is very challenging. Employees are first clients, since they can contribute a lot to the business success or failure.

She says one has to treat their workers with respect and create a conducive working environment.

Another challenge in business management is the fact that it is not easy to track every single cent. But Maida says it is important to maintain people in the company to avoid introducing new people who might be hard to manage.

Talking about maintaining employees, Maida says the employer has to motivate and promote the employees to make them feel valued and accepted. Giving them salaries on time is the most important thing to consider if one needs to maintain their employees.

Since her new home had bigger space, Maida decided to venture into dairy farming. Both the milk cattle and ventures were easy to manage as they were in the same place.
“I had enough time to supervise both businesses. I even got a new idea to start making seat covers for government and private vehicles in 1997. I also made uniforms for drivers for different offices,” says Maida.

She would visit different offices to look for customers. Maida proves that hard work pays for she managed to get orders from different clients. She made sure she delivered on time.

In the same year, Maida started selling fish from Dar es Salaam to Mafia Island. She used to hire a boat to transport the fish from Dar es Salaam the island.

The business was paying but it was not easy to track every movement. She was unable to travel with the boat all the time due to family responsibilities and this forced her to quite the business.

Having learnt about the four P’s in business, which are price, promotion, place and production, Maida was also looking for new opportunities as she supplied seat covers in different offices.


She learnt that most offices lacked stationery and in 1998, she started a general supplies company called Ibra Enterprises.

The company supplied stationeries, office furniture, carpeting services, seat covers etc. As part of Ibra Enterprises, Maida also owned a furniture workshop.

“I would see open opportunities everyday. As I went about my work, I would see many old buildings that needed renovation. This is when I thought of starting a construction company.

In 2000, I learned the ABCs of the business and what it takes to start a construction company. I opened one and managed to keep it up and running,” she says.

Her company was inspected by Tanzania’s contractors regulatory agency and was given a go ahead after meeting all the requirements.

Maida proudly mentions some of the buildings built by her company as including the People’s Bank of Zanzibar, National Microfinance Bank, and the Sinza District Court.

In 2011, Ibra Building Contractors and General Supplies was named as the best Female Owned/Managed Construction Firm. This was during the opening ceremony of the country’s annual gathering for engineers and contractors.

When you ask Maida the secret behind her success, she tells you it’s hard work. According to her, one could have the capital to start a business, but if one does not put a lot of effort in it, the business would fail.

Go the extra mile

“Many people believe money is everything when starting a business. Well, one has to have money yes, but to become a successful entrepreneur, one needs to go an extra mile. You really have to be talented in business,” she says.

Being as successful as she is, one would think Maida is satisfied and would just be sitting back to enjoy the fruits of her labour. But as it seems, to her only the sky is the limit. She has a lot of plans for the future.

Her priority at the moment is completing her own building to be known as Ibra House; Maida also plans to build a three star hotel.

Commenting on how some women lack the confidence to hold managerial positions, she says women go through a lot of challenges that cannot be easily told.

To help women on this, the multi-tasking woman plans to start an initiative that will bring women together to share the challenges and hardships they go through.

This will help them release the burden from their hearts. She believes by sharing, “we might come up with solutions to our problems.”