Renee Dunn, CEO and Founder, Amazi Foods a mindful food company selling healthy, made-in-Uganda snacks.

Words of wisdom: Just stick with it. I think there are many ways to have a social impact.

Country: United States

Website: amazifoods.com/

Industry: Consumer Goods

Organization size: 3

 

Interview with Renee Dunn, Founder and CEO, Amäzi Foods; United States

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Interview highlights:

  • What are the benefits of producing products in developing countries and exporting to the West?
  • How many people does it take to create an international brand?
  • How can engaging youth transform a community?
  • How can you collaborate in a developing country to empower locals?
  • And near the end of the interview, Renee shares the best piece of advice she ever received. It is not what you would expect, but essential to consider if you’re an entrepreneur.

PROMOTIONAL VIDEO


Interview with Renee Dunn, Founder and CEO, Amäzi Foods; United States

While attending Wesleyan University, Renee Dunn, 28, studied abroad and continued to conduct her thesis research on the state of entrepreneurship in Uganda. After graduating, Renee interned at the Aspen Institute, where she focused on entrepreneurial ecosystem analysis. Combining her passion for healthy food, her development experience, and her entrepreneurial spirit, Renee founded Amazi in 2016. She is passionate about promoting connected, community-rooted supply chains, thereby encouraging localized job creation, business growth, and local value chains. Beyond Amazi, Renee is a yoga teacher and fitness coach at MADabolic, and spends much of her time indulging her passion for movement.

United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal(s) addressed:
#3. Good Health and Well-being, #8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

Social impact:
Amazi Foods is a mindful food company selling healthy, made-in-Uganda snacks. At Amazi, we're committed to going a step beyond ethical sourcing, and toward building more connected supply chains by keeping value-addition in-country. Every bite you take of our Plantain Chips or Jackfruit Chews directly supports their mission to support farming communities, job creation, and sustainable industry in Uganda - providing a true opportunity to Snack on Purpose.

Website: https://amazifoods.com/

Interview with Renee Dunn, Founder and CEO, Amäzi Foods; United States

Note: This interview is transcribed using AI software, which means, the transcription is not perfect. Watch the video or listen to the podcast to hear our guest’s wisdom in her own words. If you want to see more interviews like this, please comment below!

Welcome to our guests Renee Dunn CEO and founder of Amazi food from Washington DC. Amazi Amazi Foods is a mindful food company selling healthy, made-in-Uganda snacks. They are committed to going a step beyond ethical sourcing, and toward building more connected supply chains by keeping value-addition in-country. Every bite you take of our Plantain Chips or Jackfruit Chews directly supports their mission to support farming communities, job creation, and sustainable industry in Uganda – providing a true opportunity to Snack on Purpose.

Renee Dunn Combining her passion for healthy food, her development experience, and her entrepreneurial spirit, and founded Amazi in 2016. Renee is a woman that does it ‘her way’ aligning her values and vision.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

When you decided that you wanted to start a business what due diligence did you do prior to starting the business let’s start there.

Renee Dunn 

Yeah, I mean, I guess what you’re probably referring to is, I first sort of started thinking about this and got inspired to do it when I was in college. I spent a semester in Uganda studying abroad. I then returned with a grant to do my thesis research there, and there was a several year gap. Not several year couple year gap between that and when I actually started the business, and to get tactical and you know I know that’s the point of especially this channel about what sort of the steps were between those parts. It was a few things. One is personal alignment and interest. I think that in college, especially I went to a liberal arts college I went to Wesleyan University, I had a very interdisciplinary degree. When I was studying in Uganda, we were studying, again, a very broad topic of development, and I personally had a specific focus on local entrepreneurship and that’s actually what my thesis was on I was writing about the informal versus the formal sector, and how we can start to bring some people in the informal sector into the formal sector and start to grow that space, so that the informal sector isn’t so narrow and competitive and so that there’s more opportunity for business growth.  So that was sort of my area study. But I think as is common for many college grads. You have a phase where you’re not sure what to do with all that. And I definitely wasn’t even sure that I wanted to stay in the space of quote-unquote development. I think that personally, I didn’t feel a fit with a lot of existing nonprofit organizations in the way they were addressing micro-enterprise specifically. And I also had other interests, so I spent some time in the wellness field. actually, I manage a yoga studio. I also ran a wellness after school program for kids. I taught yoga I coached fitness classes and just being in that scene actually exposed me even more, to a market that I was already interested in which was that healthy snack and healthy food industry I got really into, you know, taking pictures of my food and making healthy recipes and thinking of new flavor combinations and, you know, that was all very stimulating, but my deep intellectual curiosity remains with, you know what I found in Uganda, and a long story short, I guess I was thinking, Well, I’m enjoying this world of innovative healthy stacks, and I saw such a gap in the path of opportunities for business growth for people in Uganda, and might there be a way for me to put the two together.  Next, I know that was kind of long-winded but practical steps from there. I remembered that I loved snacking on plantain chips when I was in Uganda. And I started to reach out to some of my contacts there. and eventually figured that none of this was going to get solved via email. So, I got on a plane to Uganda, and just kind of planned to be there for two to three months and to see what sort of facilities might be available to produce what the steps would be to start forming relationships with farmers. You know what certifications I’d have to go through in order to bring that into the states. And that’s sort of what got the ball rolling in 2016.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Okay, great, thanks for that. So, what I’m hearing is there seems to be a gap for you in regards to the not for profit sector and how they are addressing issues. So, you decided to make it a profitable business although still a social enterprise, but yet you do draw profit. Correct?

Renee Dunn  yes.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Okay. But that is your intention because a lot of social enterprises are not for profit and for profit. Personally, I’m a fan of the for-profit social enterprise, because there’s nothing wrong with money, as well as there’s nothing wrong with doing good with that money. So, I just wanted to make sure that’s the case now.

I know our listeners will want to know where the name of your company came from.

Renee Dunn 

Sure. Amazi is a Luganda word, which is one of the main languages they speak in Uganda, especially in the central region which is where I was mostly spending my time. And it means water, and it has a sort of symbolic meaning that you know water is the essence of growth, especially when it comes to our agricultural supply chains. Amazi is the heart of what we do.

And also just a funny side note, you know when naming any sort of business, especially for this for-profit and you have to attract people, we market-tested a bunch of different names and moved on and words and it was one of the only ones that Americans, what do you even tried to say, many of the other ones you know people wouldn’t. know how to pronounce it. We’d rather have a name that looks like amazing and associated with that, as opposed to some of the other interpretations.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

It’s such an important point because at the end of the day you can pay Ugandans homage too, but at the end of the day, you’re selling your product in the US correct?

Renee Dunn 

Yeah, we do intend to open up local markets. We’ve shifted our supply chain a little bit so we do intend to open up the local market, as well as international but our initial market was certainly US facing. And so that was very important to be able to consider the brand name, that the customers would see.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

So, who do you see as the beneficiary of Amazi?

Renee Dunn 

I see it on many levels. Obviously, we work directly with farmers so that’s a very clear cut relationship. We work via more or less direct trade standards, mostly with smallholder farming communities. We help them get organized if they are not yet organized. And we pay all of our farmers 33 to 67% above the market price, depending on season ending on the fruit that they’re growing. So that’s one. But beyond that, and this is the integral kind of key part to my mission and my solution is that we actually produce our product and move on. so we don’t just source, and kind of extract the resources and make products out of the country we keep all the value addition in-country so that we can create more job opportunities and expose more people to market preferences market tech tees, and just close that gap between the source and the consumer. And so we currently partner with a production facility in Uganda. The team is at when in production they have 30 people on staff, and we expect to grow up to 150, and these are mainly Ugandan youth, so people in their 20s. I’m met our production managers out there, they are a couple of years younger than I am. And they, it’s, it’s such an opportunity for people to work with agriculture and what they grow in a way that is more than just trading. So, you know, it’s at people see how and what they can do with their products they learn about the quality standards of other countries. We also mobilize the entire surrounding community so you know they have daily catering and lunches that local businesses make, you know, the construction of the facility involved the local communities. So, I think it has many spillover effects.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

This was one of the reasons I was very excited to interview you. So many people tend to harvest at the location and then bring the raw materials back to the West, where the real processing comes into place that’s where the money really is made. Companies are just taking the raw resources from organizations and or countries, and the local community is not actually benefiting. With my couple of years in Africa, I saw that happen all the time. Now, not everyone can manufacture locally because they may not have the facilities to do that so I recognize that as well. I’m really happy to hear that you’ve done that. Where’s the packaging process come into play?

Renee Dunn 

Can I just backtrack a little bit on what you were saying? That was the hardest part of getting started. I know that I want a product that’s made start to finish in Uganda, but that kind of ecosystem doesn’t really exist. You know there is some local value addition happening but it’s oftentimes either not at the quality that the US might need or, you know, maybe not capacity or what have you.  So, in the early years, it really did look like I’m partnering with existing companies that dried fruit, and I worked with them to kind of a trained on how to make the recipes of our products and kind of open up a new opportunity for them to learn how to make new products, but also just getting more farmers into their network and getting things up to US standards. But as we grew, we knew that we’d want to have a much more direct relationship throughout the supply chain and just be able to also observe quality at the level that we needed to so that’s what allowed us to eventually have enough demand to justify partnering to open another facility. And so that’s sort of the steps we took. Because, just as a tangent, in the food industry most people are very scrappy in the beginning, you hear stories about people who make cookies in their kitchen and they sell it to their friends and they take that money and they maybe go to a local commercial kitchen and make a little bit more and go to the farmers market and like slowly but slowly and then they have enough money to scale up production. But, as you can imagine, with a supply chain so far away and importing being so expensive for me to do a tiny production back and forth like that would actually not have been a wise business model. So, I had to, you know, find some sort of happy medium that will allow us to start to enter the market and understand how people were responding before being like, we’re going to open a manufacturing facility. It wasn’t until we opened our own facility that we started the packaging process in Uganda, so that was at the beginning of this year, we package on the Uganda side. And before then we would import in bulk, and I would pack it with a team here. So, we would hand pack and those were not the most fun part of the business but you know what you have to do.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Yeah, you got to get your hands dirty.

So, I’m clear, is that the manufacturing facility in Uganda, does it just manufactured your product, or does it manufacture other products as well?

Renee Dunn 

Yeah. So as of now, they just produce our product, they are welcome to do other products. We’ve opened some conversations with other buyers, and other types of processing that they could do but they are equipped, you know with dryers and ovens and such so that theoretically, they could also take on other business. I do not own the facility. I have a share, so our business has a share of it, but as the majority Ugandan owned. And our hope is that over the years we will move to a cooperative model, where actually our employees at the factory will buy out some of our shares. So, I expect our shares to go down and for it to be majority Ugandan run and own so that as people kind of get the swing of things as we keep up with demand as we grow. People are welcome to branch out and have that sort of intrapreneurship cycle, which would be really interesting too.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Have you thought of or have you considered, helping them if they need it, which they may not find other clients that they can manufacture or produce for? Not competitive products but something else complimentary perhaps?

Renee Dunn 

It’s actually funny I had a call last week with somebody who’s trying to do something with like an innovative cashew-based tech product. So, I was kind of pitching our facility to them and you know we’ve taken meetings with people who are looking for other kinds of dried fruit and stuff. I think at this point the facility is still so new that we’re really focused on our supply chain and, and my vision too is to add new products, so I mean if someone else doesn’t want the product I want. So, I think the hope is that it’ll be sort of a synergy where, as we expand, and our sales grow,and our reach grows and we have a sense for new product lines, they’re the ones that we go to. So, it really is a relationship is just set up in a way that if they grow, we grow; we grow, they grow, it’s not a competition. There’s nothing competitive about it, of course you know they’re not allowed to sell my recipes to other people without me knowing but, now that they make our recipes, I don’t mind that it’s sold to the west under my brand or if we just open up a new market or you know like that’s, that’s the best part about it is that, we can private label we can sell in bulk as long as the arrangement is there legally, if we get royalties or the recipes are recognized, what have you. I’m not there to control it. I’m just their main customer. So, my vision is that over the years my role will become less and less crucial, and they’ll be able to self-sustain and self-manage.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I call those symbiotic relationships where they’re really mutually beneficial and there’s got to be a real high trust in order for them to work, of course, there’s law and agreements and contracts, etc. But there’s got to be high trust there.

You mentioned that you employ youth. I’m glad you specified that they’re usually over 20 that are working at the manufacturing facility. Is there a reason that you focus on youth?

Renee Dunn 

Yes. So, my thesis just to get into the weeds a little bit more, it was an interesting approach to my research in that one of my primary sources of information was to go to the best entrepreneurship school in the country. I went to Macquarie business school, and I went to talk to graduates and students at their entrepreneurship program. And my mindset with that was that. Okay. You know I know that informal business in this economy is very important and drives the majority of businesses. But I also know that it’s a very crowded highly competitive space. Ugandans are one of the most entrepreneurial people in the world I think just by rankings but the health of their entrepreneurship is very low. Because what happens is that everyone’s an entrepreneur, but no one’s really thinking about growth with their enterprise necessarily or you know it’s common to have seasonal businesses or it’s common to have five businesses at once, or you know everyone’s going off and doing their own thing as opposed to thinking about how can I build this entity that’s going to innovate and grow and that’s not to say there’s no innovation. That’s not at all what I’m getting at, but I think just the mindset around— who would be those entrepreneurs that would kind of be the ones to want to go into the formal sector and want to like take that business to the next level. And I was just finding that most of the people that I was interviewing were thinking in the exact same way as those who were partaking in informal business and or were just looking to get jobs.  For me, I wanted to encourage local Ugandan youth to see what could happen if they were other opportunities to existing. Unemployment is very high there and I think that’s part of why everybody kind of hustles and does their own thing. But I think if more channels were open that showed like actually agriculture could be really exciting, and they’re actually a lot of innovative, creative things happening here, it’s very on-trend, it’s very in high demand high volume it kind of has that sexiness to it, that you know, many might not think of when they think of agriculture, food. And so for us, that’s really important and that’s actually something that I when I go there and visit with the team, and we do interviews or we do a lesson on just the sheer process of how it gets to the shelf and what we have to think about in the grocery industry on the shelf and all the branding and the marketing and that this. I think people have just never thought about it like that. And so my hope is just really to inspire people, especially youth to be thinking about these things because, you know, in the next 10 years, the youth bulge is going to be huge and, I just want to be able to have more avenues that really are not just like big government-driven product projects but ones that are actually attuned to a market that is in high gross.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Kudos to you for all the reasons that you just said and so many more. And there is the reality, you know that the informal sector is massive but that is a survival game, not a thriving game. Youth replicate what they know, to your point, their parents a lot of them are in the informal sector, the informal sector also does not drive tax dollars, which also has weighed down the entire social infrastructure of a country. Everything you’re doing has a massive ripple effect and I just wanted to make note of that because, spending I’ve spent time in Uganda, but also in Kenya, educated people and people in roles of leadership we discuss where tax dollars come from. There’s obviously a lot of people working in professional organizations and making good money and many of which I’ve interviewed, but there’s such a large amount of the informal sector that the 40% of the population has to take care of all of these people that are not contributing to the overall welfare of all. So, kudos to you for really focusing on the youth, and also it keeps them out of trouble. When youth don’t have something to do. They find something to do. You know, and it keeps them focused and their energy for the good.

Renee Dunn 

The fact that I’m also young around their age. They usually think I’m much younger than I am. I don’t know why, I love it. But it’s cool for me when I go meet people my age and other cultures, it’s just cool to see how we relate, and for them to be making a product that they know that, like their own cohort is interested in is exciting. And they in their learning a lot and I think that’s the issue with a lot of the current approaches to agriculture processing or to trying to industrialize things are really not market-driven it’s kind of these unsexy projects like a lot of times it’s just about the volume or about the food safety which is both important, but, you know, to mill maize for your career might not be super exciting, whereas like we make, I guess what you would call a more niche products but it’s in a very high-value space, and it’s one that’s very dynamic and there’s room for innovation. There’s room for creation and so, it’s just, I think that there’s a lot, as you said, it’s a ripple effect. I think it’s something that starts, much smaller and slower. We definitely couldn’t just up in like boom out products you know it took a lot of iterations to get the recipes right and to get things going. But I think the more our teams start to recognize the nuance and get interested in that, the more they’ll be able to think of it themselves, or the more they’ll be able to share with their families, or, you know, so I think it’s very cool to see how there are some mindset shifts happening even already on the small level.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

How much contact do you have with the facility on an ongoing basis and with the farmers on an ongoing basis?

Renee Dunn 

Yeah, well when I was first starting I’d go to Uganda, anywhere from three to four times a year. And there were usually like one to two weeks sprints, where I get everything in and because I’m a solo entrepreneur. So, especially in the early days when I was the only person doing anything on this side, it was like when I would go to Uganda everything here would stop. And then I’d have to come back and start it up again. So that was hard but I would go now about twice a year. We’ll see how it changes in the current state of the world. You don’t have to go there to have contact. It depends what’s going on if we’re in production or not but I say more or less, at least weekly I’m in touch with our production team, and or see all of the facility there, with the farmers, I mean, I personally really only engage with them when I’m there. But we do have actually just got a message yesterday we have somebody who organizes the farmers’ groups, her name is Gloria, and she’s kind of the one out in the field and so she sent me on WhatsApp yesterday. It’s been challenging amidst the coronavirus to see how we’re all going to keep up this international supply chain, but there’s always a touchpoint and I’ve been working on creating more virtual programming with the teams. We can have a lesson about pricing in the supply chain, or we can have a lesson about different flavors that are on the rise in the US, so that it has nothing to do with their production necessarily but it’s so they understand how everything fits into the ecosystem,

Suzanne F. Stevens

Two things I want to pluck out of what you’re saying. You don’t need to be their number one, because you have people on the ground who actually know the culture, understand the people can manage the people, and you’re collaborating with them so they have their self-interest, and you’re really creating collaboration, relationships, in order for everybody to win. That’s what I’m hearing, would that be fair?

Renee Dunn 

Okay.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I truly believe that’s the way business is going. You’ve referred to the pandemic and I think it will go that way, even more so because of the pandemic I think the business has been moving more toward collaboration, but particularly to your point, when you’re having a social impact, collaborations is the better way to go, rather than I Westerner flying in telling you what to do. It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work, but empowerment does work. So, love, love that. Now, you know it’s all well and good but let’s face it, all relationships and particularly when you’re dealing with international relationships, they’re tough. What would you say are a couple of the biggest challenges that you have working at collaborating and collaborating from afar?

Renee Dunn 

I’ve been working on this as I mentioned since 2016 and I feel like we only just got to a place with our supply chain where things are smooth, the product is good, I trust the relationships. I feel like we finally are in a position that we need to be. So, clearly, it’s not an easy road and we’ve had a lot of challenges between, issues when we were contracting out another supplier. There was an in-between step to the farmers, and we didn’t always know who was communicated what information. And so, having to touch both parties and try to verify who said what was very challenging.

One other thing that I do want to say also about working with farming communities especially is that I think we’ve sort of been trained to romanticize it. You see pictures of happy farmers on all of your packaging now which is great that they’re featuring the farmers, but nobody tells you that it’s a business relationship. And I think in their early days, and even still like that’s sometimes one of the hardest relationships to manage is their farms or their livelihoods and to manage expectations and to align the values upfront is so important, to go in there and say like we’re going to do all this for you like it’s going to be amazing doesn’t benefit anybody. We had an instance where for example farmers thought we were getting traction more than we were and they invested in growing more of the product and then because there were issues with our production quality the sales slowed down and then we couldn’t buy a high season and they were so upset. I’ve especially since then been very conscious to do is to communicate about the business cycle, about how that works. We don’t just buy your fruit and that’s it you know it has to be produced into something, it has to get to the shelf. It has to be well-liked it has to sell, and then I come back and forth, and I think just really communicating and being transparent and not glamorizing it has been so important on all levels. It’s been a really interesting lesson for me, and I think very like emotionally just very hard at times so I want to be the person who’s “yes it’s going to work, this is going to be great, this is all amazing what we’re going to do so much good together.”  But it’s a business relationship and so you know we have to be honest about what our pricing constraints are you know we can’t just always pay you five times what you’re growing. I think that that’s kind of my main takeaways. Even though you’re in a position of wanting to do good, you still have to be realistic. And I think that one of my mentors recently said this to me. You know there’s a difference between being nice and being kind and, you want to be kind. You want to have everybody’s best interest long term in mind, and not just feel good about being nice at the moment. And I think that’s something that I see a lot in the NGO space and in the sort of development spaces, people just wanting to come off as being so nice and great and that’s where things kind of get lost along the way.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I could talk to you about that for hours.  The word that I like that you’re using though, and I think is a really important word is transparency. Because, nice and kind, and I agree with you, I’ve heard that used a lot. You don’t want to be nice, you want to be kind, but the reality is being kind is about being transparent. And the reason it is because so many people do go to countries with their capes. And when you have your cape on it doesn’t serve anyone to see somebody else as a hero. It has a tremendous ripple effect that happens to be a negative impact.

Renee Dunn  When we go to communities and they think that we’re part of an NGO or something or they’re used to a different kind of relationship. We’re very clear that we’re not that. And some people don’t want to work with us then, and that’s fine, but that’s exactly what it is, it’s like, Hi, we’re bringing an opportunity to enter a new relationship. This is a choice. You know we’re not forcing you to do this, if you want to join us in this opportunity, here’s how this is going to work. And we’re open to hearing your needs and we’re going to tell you our needs, and that’s how the dialogue starts, but it’s never exactly what you’re saying you can’t go in there with your cape and say here are all the things we’re going to do, because it creates a very unsustainable relationship for them, why should they rely on you. So, I don’t know, I think that that’s been really interesting. Obviously as an outsider. I’m treated like one oftentimes and I think it’s interesting to try to shift that dialogue.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

And it’s congruent though with your intent to empower youth to get into the formal sector. Right, so it’s very much a congruent message that you want to enter into business relationships, and yet you’re paying. What was the percentage that you said?

Renee Dunn 

Anywhere from 33 to 67% above the market price for the farmers and then our employees are paid well above minimum wage.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

So long as you’re not taking advantage, then it is definitely a good relationship. So what advice would you give to people who have a desire to have a social impact in the community?

Renee Dunn 

Couple of things jumped out in my head. One is, it’s much harder to build a social enterprise than it is to build any kind of business, but that’s also your greatest strength. I was talking to my mentor earlier about this difficult economic time. Many people who might not be tied to that mission might be keen to walk away, it’s easier to fold, you’re not so invested in it, it’s easier to give up or not find a reason to not continue. But when you have a mission in mind and, that is your core, you’re kind of forced to think of new ways to do things because it’s not just about the thing that you’re creating it’s what’s at the heart of it. So, I think that can be a very powerful tool for an entrepreneur. This has been always been kind of hard for me, but at the end of the day, if you’re not selling your product, nothing is going to happen on the impact side. So you might feel like your impact isn’t impressive in the first few years, but it’s never going to get there unless you drive sales. I don’t know what your model might be, but if you’re for-profit that’s generally the way it’s going. So, build your business, and then you can have an impact and there’s a way to do that while having integrity.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

You made the comment that it is so much harder to start a social enterprise and referring to the mission because not everyone’s going to be aligned with the mission. Is there anything else that you feel makes it more challenging to start a social enterprise than for exclusively for profit organization.

Renee Dunn 

I mean there’s always more than one bottom line, you know it’s not just about how much money you made this quarter. Ideally, you’re working toward other goals too, so you have to balance all those. I think too I find so many comments around, let’s just get in from Mexico, it will be so much easier. I’m, Well, I know that, but that’s not the point. So, I mean my business and the process of building my business was by no means, that easy and fast way, there would be so many better ways to do it, that were more efficient.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Let’s talk about that. I think that’s a really important thing for people to learn what could have been a more efficient way to still have an impact. You get rid of the impact a lot of things get a lot easier, but to still have an impact on what could have been a more efficient way to do it.

Renee Dunn 

I mean I don’t know I think with what I’m doing I did it in the most efficient way possible. You know, you could argue that maybe I would have started getting a product somewhere else, and as that was generating I could have been gone to Uganda and built that all up but I don’t know unnecessarily would have been more efficient. I think that part of what made it inefficient was the fact that it was in Uganda,  but that’s where the community that I was trying to use support. So, you know, the problem was again that I basically had to mobilize a supply chain that wasn’t already there.  I think I was trying to think efficiently by finding people who were making similar products, contracting them, and then eventually branching out to have our own production. I do think that spending a bit more time on the front end in Uganda is one thing that I wish I would have done instead of spending a few months and then coming back and going back and forth I think maybe being more patient in the product development phases and like the building of those relationships off the bat, could have shortened, our time of back and forth,  definitely something to think about.

But you know if I was simply for profit, I would have made it somewhere else, but that’s how we ended up with the gap in the supply chain, to begin with, is that and people just go to where it’s cheapest or where the industries are really developed, or where the research is already happening. They don’t go to where it’s not. And so that was kind of my inspiration for all this, like if we keep doing it and the way that we’re doing it, there’s no way that these countries at the resource level are ever going to be the ones innovating because they’re not that’s not happening there it’s always happening somewhere else and you can see how innovative Europe and the US are in Israel and all everyone’s becoming so innovative with their food and the science and that, if we want to close that gap, you have to start having innovation in these countries as well.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What are three important initiatives are decisions that you made that make your social impact sustainable?

Renee Dunn 

I’m using fruits and products and ingredients that all could be available. Another thing is the fact that it is made in Uganda. Regardless of how our market goes you know there’s an opportunity for them to open up local and other markets. It’s not just about this specific product line and this specific market. And then I think about the ripple effect that we were talking about, if worst-case scenario everything folds and nothing works, many people have learned lessons on a new skill set a new way of thinking about what they grow in their backyards. And that has a big effect, they can go off and start making that for their local market or whatever it might be. So I think that those are kind of three things that set us apart in terms of our sustainability.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Now, generating funding to start this initiative, did you have it. Did you get investors, how did you fund Amazi?

Renee Dunn 

Boot and bootstrapped, mostly I, friends, and family. I did a Kiva fundraising for a little bit, but they’ll max give you $10,000. I had some of my savings. I took loans from family, just to get it started. I recently got a government loan. But we’re finally now bracing and sending concept notes to different organizations now that we do have some traction and are pivoting to grow so I’ve done it I’m very fortunate to have been able to do it this way.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

We’ve been talking for a while about the impact of your initiative and the one person we haven’t mentioned, is your customer is actually the people that buy it, that will support it. And we did mention that you sell mostly in the US. Do you sell in stores Do you sell online Can I buy it in Canada?

Renee Dunn 

I actually just talked to a buyer in Canada, the other day. Our main market is the US. We are sold on Amazon Prime nationally. We’re sold in sprouts Farmers Market nationally, and we are on our website, at Amazifoods.com, and we ship nationally. We also are in a number of retail locations we have a total of 400 stores across the country right now, we’re growing so just check our website for the store list and locations and, yeah, that’s how people can find us.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Am I correct in saying there’s three of you?

Renee Dunn 

I have a couple of part-time people. Okay, team members on this side mostly young women in their 20s. My dad is a big helper, he’s actually one of the main people involved in getting the factory started, he has a background in Uganda as well. So my dad is very involved, he’s champion. Otherwise, it’s just contractors and being lean and scrappy.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I love that, being lean and scrappy. Let’s have rapid-fire I’ll ask a quick a couple questions then we’ll wrap up.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew prior to engaging down this path of social impact?

Renee Dunn  I wish I did but also don’t know if I would have continued if I did. I wish I knew how hard it was going to be. It’s been a long solo journey. That’s also brought up a lot of personal development in the process. So, I wish I knew but also at the same time, as I said, I don’t know if I would have started differently.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Yeah, you know, ignorance sometimes can be blessing the worst piece of advice you ever received.

Renee Dunn 

I think just advice, in general, can be bad.  I think one lesson that I learned, and I learned it over and over again but everyone’s going to give you advice, and none of it is necessarily bad advice. But you shouldn’t necessarily listen, because they’re speaking from their experience, and from what they know and they have no idea how your brain works or what you’re doing. And so, I think I made a mistake very early on I was like getting into this paralysis phase where I would just ask and ask and ask for advice. And then I’d have no idea what direction to go because everyone has their own opinion. So, I’d say like to, it’s not necessarily like one piece that was bad it’s just, you can’t rely on advice all the time you have like a few people that you rely on and otherwise just let it be a conversation.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I think that’s excellent advice don’t listen to all the advice that you actually get.  So what would be the best piece of advice you’ve ever received.

Renee Dunn 

I mean, I think, more or less than I’m saying I got advice. I have one mentor who’s very spiritual and not traditional in this industry at all. And very much is about intuition and, that’s how she leads her business. And just when I would go to her and say: I don’t know what decision to make with this distributor, she’d say, “Well, what does your gut tell you, or have you meditated” or, how do you feel about it was just like…I’ve never thought to check in first. It’s very important along with what I was just talking about. I think we can run numbers all day long but that you lose the heart, you lose the mission, you lose yourself, and I think that if you come back to yourself you eventually actually know what you want to do. So, having the patience to do that and check-in I think is very valuable.

Suzanne F. Stevens  And often we don’t do it it’s just check in with yourself first, and then ask for help if you still need it. I think that’s great advice.

Which of your strengths do rely on the most to have success in your business,

Renee Dunn 

I’m a very dynamic person. I have always had multiple interests and I think this is what actually allowed me to see this opportunity in the first place. I’m not a one lens person which can be frustrating at times because I feel like there’s not one wheelhouse that I’m in but I think it’s been very helpful in terms of, thinking of all the different pieces and being able to take on the different roles of the business when you’re first starting. I didn’t enjoy all of them I’m not good at all of them but at least I had the ability to kind of shift hats.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I’m going to give you a word first word that comes to your mind.   community.

Renee Dunn 

Amazi

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Purpose

Renee Dunn 

snack on

Suzanne F. Stevens 

meaning.

Renee Dunn 

Life

Suzanne F. Stevens 

contribute

Renee Dunn 

Service

Suzanne F. Stevens 

consciousness.

Renee Dunn 

Awareness

Suzanne F. Stevens 

sustainability

Renee Dunn 

necessary

Suzanne F. Stevens 

collaboration.

Renee Dunn 

Connection

Suzanne F. Stevens 

consistency.

Renee Dunn 

Persistence

Suzanne F. Stevens 

learn.

Renee Dunn 

Adapt

Suzanne F. Stevens 

lead.

Renee Dunn 

Follow

Suzanne F. Stevens 

legacy

Renee Dunn 

generosity,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

you

Renee Dunn 

strong.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

The general me, not me, but the general me

Renee Dunn 

aligned.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

We

Renee Dunn 

together.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Excellent.

Thank you everyone for joining us. You can subscribe to wisdom exchange TV so you can receive each new interview notification in your inbox, please share the interview by going to the share button located on the page. You can read, listen, or watch the interview. If you know someone who has had an extensive social impact in business education civic service or advocacy, let us know. Visit the guest tab on wisdom exchange tv.com and submit information. Our research team will take it from there. And lastly, if you have contributed to the community, or you want to celebrate someone who has visit. Join the movement tab on YouMeWe.ca (https://youmewe.ca/your-contribution-counts/). Your contribution counts campaign for every contribution listed the YouMeWe social impact group will invest in a woman’s education or business moving her from poverty to prosperity. Now, before I give my last words, I want to give our guest an opportunity.

Do you have any words of wisdom for our audience regarding contributing to society?

Renee Dunn 

Just stick with it. I think there are many ways to do it. It doesn’t have to be this big glamorize way but if you’re moved by it and if it’s something that you can’t stop thinking about you should probably move forward.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Excellent, thanks for that. This is Suzanne F. Stevens, until next time, #MakeYourContributionCount.

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