Inside WEF and Coca-Cola’s plan to empower women in Kenya.
Poverty in most developing nations has a female face. Kenya is no exception.
In a country where adding economic value involves muscle power, women – especially those living in lower-income settlements are bound to limited opportunities, under-representation in decision-making processes at all levels and are likely to earn less than their male counterparts at work.
For instance, on access to credit resources, institutional barriers have seen women uniquely discriminated because of their gender. This not only reduces the prospects for Women but also stunts the development of both mind and body, essentially hobbling half their potential.
The depth of their deprivation often involves surviving on ‘peanuts’ or overreliance on their spouses even for the slightest basic needs. But restricting women economic participation is not just unfair but bad economics.
Changing this could have an enormous impact.
Industrious women seem to have discovered that the key to prosperity is by uniting to fight poverty. This discovery has seen hundreds if not thousands of women groups pop up all over the country – trying their hands on different entrepreneurial activities and then sharing the proceeds amongst themselves.
The story is almost the same for one Khadija Khamisi. She is the founder and treasurer of Bariki Self Help Group, an all-women crew operating in Mtwapa, Kilifi County.
When she founded the group in February of 2011, she brought together 15 women from her area. Each of them was expected to contribute fifty shillings per day. After intervals of two months, a member would receive a Ksh 15,000 loan which they would then repay at a fixed interest rate of 10 percent.
It was a ‘merry go round’ scheme that was thriving. Within one year, the group qualified for an account with Equity Bank where they would bank their proceeds. General elections were set to be held the year that followed and during one of the many campaign rallies, a local politician in her area floated the idea of empowering Women groups through government funding programs.
The Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) was one of the schemes that was supposed to oversee this promise. Almost immediately, Khadija and her group reached out to WEF and after a thorough audit of her group’s portfolio, they qualified for a loan of Ksh 100,000.
The Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) is essentially a semi-autonomous government agency under the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs. Its chief mandate is to facilitate the realization of the 1st st and 5th United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals on poverty reduction, gender equality, and women empowerment.
“We decided that we would utilize the loan to set up a poultry business with an initial 200 chicks – and it flourished,” Khadija says.
Within 10 months, Bairiki Self-help Group had cleared the loan, and by paying promptly they were able to qualify for another loan of Ksh 200,000 which they used to expand the poultry business.
By early 2015 they obtained another loan of Ksh 350,000 but this time they saw it fit to diversify their portfolio. Soon they would begin drenching wells and providing piped water and door to door clean water deliveries to households within Kilifi, they had struck a pot of gold.
The proceeds from this business were so good that the group put together a kitty whose funds were used to pay school fees for all members’ children to this day. They termed this kitty the ‘Education Package’.
Since it was launched in 2012, the group has received a total loan amount in upwards of Ksh 2.5 Million through WEF, which they have utilized to ramp up their ventures. The last two years have been their most productive. “Next year we are planning on purchasing a plot of land whereby we will set up rental houses,” Khadija says.
To reach such ambitious targets, the group will need more capital. Nonetheless, the success of Khadija’s group is solid evidence that giving women financial power is a recipe for economic prosperity at the same time creating sustainable communities.
However, unlike Khadija’s group, and because of little exposure to the art of entrepreneurship, few Women groups (who are always ambitious at first) produce the kind of output that might entice organizations like WEF to give them their backing.
But Coca-Cola wants to change this. The beverage maker partnered with WEF in 2014 to offer capacity building, business training skills and financial services to Women group who qualify for WEF loans. To date, over 600,000 women have benefited from this partnership, and another 285,000 women in Kenya will be next in line according to Coca-Cola’s plan.
The beverage maker reckons that in order to move more women to the economic mainstream, its initiative is purely focusing on creating a fair and equitable environment to help the likes of Khadija’s group to overcome barriers and build sustainable businesses.
If Kenya wants to bring the top half of the country actively into the economy, the country may need to literally stop funding anything else for a whole year to afford it.