The “Queen” of Koto Soap Achieves Her Business Dreams in Benin

Determined to support her family, Dossi Degui turned to TechnoServe for better business skills. Now she sells her artisanal soap around the country--and can't keep up with demand.

Dossi Degui’s soap sales doubled after working with TechnoServe

Unlike many of her fellow youth in Benin, Dossi Degui, 32, did not seek a better job in a big city.

Instead, she remained in Azovè, a small town near the border of Togo. She was determined to start her own successful business and support her four young children.

So, four years ago, Dossi began producing black and white “koto” soap – a traditional African product that she makes from cocoa pod ash. Each month, she would make 20 baskets of soap and pull in roughly $500 in sales. It was the best she thought her business could do. 

But she still couldn’t shake a gnawing feeling of worry. “I was afraid that everything would go wrong one day and I wouldn’t sell anymore,” she admits.

Training Thousands of Small Business Owners to Reach Their Potential

Micro, small and medium businesses (MSMEs) account for roughly half of Benin’s GDP, and the vast majority of its jobs. But many entrepreneurs like Dossi lack the business skills to achieve their enterprises’ full potential. 

Helping micro and small business owners grow their business not only improves income for them and their family – but spurs local employment and economic growth.

TechnoServe is taking on this challenge in Benin by training 4,500 rural youth in skills for growing their own business. (The program is BeniBiz, a partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development, and the Swiss Development Cooperation and the BOP Innovation Center.)

When Dossi joined the training, she was startled to find that some of her practices were hurting her business. 

“I was running my business unorganized,” she says. “I didn’t know that there were important calculations to do; I didn’t know that I had to keep track of all my expenses. All my expenses were out of order.”

And – like many women micro and small business owners around the world – she realized that gender norms were holding her back. She was not used to approaching people to pitch them on her products, and worried they would ignore or belittle her.

“I was afraid of people’s reaction,” she says. “And so I stayed in my corner.”

How Dossi’s Sales Began to Skyrocket

Through training and mentoring from the TechnoServe team, Dossi soon learned key business skills: bookkeeping; inventory; marketing; sales.

And each day, she devoted herself to her soap, the prized product made by generations before her in West Africa. Soon, she was making 80 baskets of soap per month – four times as much as before. Her business association even named her the best soap producer.

I have a lot more income than before…There is more peace at home.

Dossi Degui

And slowly, with TechnoServe’s support, she began to emerge from her “corner”. 

“Since I started the training, we have been taught…that even if some people ignore us, we have to keep looking,” she says. “I thought [clients] would call me when they needed me. But now I call them myself to offer them my products. My way of talking to them, of welcoming them has changed.”

In this way, Dossi expanded her customer base – not just in Azovè, but in cities across Benin. Soon, she had more than doubled her sales, and was pulling in over $1,000 in revenue each month. 

She is also able to hire local people to help with the business when needed – spreading her economic success to the community around her.

Building a “Future Full of Hope”

Dossi still faces challenges. Since cultivating so much demand for her soap, she needs more financing to increase production. And like many around the world, she’s facing shortages of raw material.

But unlike in previous years, Dossi now feels secure about the future. “I have a lot more income than before; I can satisfy my needs and those of my family,” she says. “There is more peace at home.”

She has now set her sights on helping her family own their own home instead of renting – and on giving her children something she never had: a good education. “Right now, going to school is the most important thing,” she says.

But she also hopes that her influence will extend beyond her own family. She thinks back to how reluctant she once was to seek out customers on her own, to feel confident in her own abilities. And she realizes how far she has come since then.

It’s a transformation she wants to inspire for other young women in her community. She hopes, she says, “They will be able to project themselves, and make choices that would promote their financial and social empowerment – in order to build a future full of hope.”

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