Tea time in Malawi

Every now and then I like to step outside the ‘comfort zone of Western Europe’. I am then engaged in volunteer work. Usually this happens in cooperation with Exchange, a non-profit organization that supports private entrepreneurship in the South. The most recent project I ¬†participate in is in Malawi (“Lara, where is that?” 12,000 km down between Mozambique and Zambia). For the past three years, we have been setting up a growth program there for Satemwa, a sustainable tea producer who works through smallholders: tea farmers who own small plots of land and receive a fair price thanks to the cooperative.

It’s a good story in itself. However, Satemwa is very dependent on the international tea markets. Big players like Lipton, Pickwick and Twinings run with most of the profits. A few years ago it was therefore suggested to diversify more. By developing Speciality Teas, Satemwa could tap into wealthy foreign markets under its own name. An ambition that brought with it two major challenges, which we, together with Exchange, will help to meet: optimizing production in order to obtain the necessary quality certificate and developing a marketing strategy to market the new tea effectively.

Facilitating contacts with Flemish entrepreneurs

As a program coach it was my job to outline and guide the process for three years. That goes from mapping the situation to finding the right partners, adjusting where necessary and reporting on the results. In other words I did what I do every day, only in a completely different context. Something which inspires me enormously. As facilitator it is my goal to create (mental) space and give the group direction to find solutions for specific challenges. In this case there was a very human factor attached to this: succeeding in the set-up means that many farmers and their families can maintain and even improve their way of life.

Two Flemish organizations eventually joined the program. Marketing specialist Commabadvised Satemwa on brand identity, website and other marketing tools. Stop Spices showed its ‘practical’ expertise in certification and digitization. Also warious experts¬† contributed as well as students of KDG international entrepreneurship.


The results after three years: the website has been renewed, the auditors are coming soon and with confidence we are counting on achieving the intended certificate. The international market may be tempted by a cup of delicious Satemwa Tea.

Digital jamboard

What to do now? That’s the big question… Because although the first hurdles have been taken, there is still a lot of work to be done. A Bio certificate would be useful and validating the health benefits of Satemwa tea are just two examples. Education and training to meet them is another.

In the past 3 years we already worked several times with Whatsapp and Skype. The last one was not different but I facilitated that brainstorm by means of a digital jamboard. It was great to be able to use the advantages of ‘remote working’, in Malawi. The expectations for a new program are slowly taking shape. On to a new webcall and then we’ll see!