Monday, August 31, 2009

Liesbeth in Kenya: Namachuma and Ugali!

Day 3 continued
Project visits

The last client we visited was Mr David Kobaai. He and his wife have used the loans from the SACCO to build their house in Kajiado in about 10 years. They have a daughter, Sma, who is 4 years old. Mr Kobaai is a teacher at Iltareto Primary School and is a farmer (he is a Masai).
He has been with the SACCO for 17 years and has had six loans in that time. Currently, he has a loan of KES 200,000(€1900). He explained to us that a teacher’s salary in Kenya is not high, so he has other sources of income, but the fact that the salary is paid through the SACCO helps him to repay his loan on time. The repayment and interest are then deducted from his salary and he does not need to think about it. Being a Masai, he has both cows and goats but because of the drought, the cows were in a different area and we could not see them.

After this visit it was time for a different local experience - the food. We ate Namachuma (roasted goat meat) with Ugali (a maize-based dish). Normally, the Masai men would eat first and afterwards the women can eat what is left. For us, they made an exception and we ate together with the men.

Liesbeth in Kenya: building towards the future

Day 3 continued
Project visits

At the SACCO offices we had met with a few board members. One of them, Mr Christopher Tomaka Meikoki Parkau (2nd person from right in the picture) is the present SACCO chairman. He was very eager to have us visit his house in Bissil and meet his wife and (some of his) five children.

We each received a nice Masai necklace as a gift. The Masai is a Nomadic tribe who live mainly in Kenya and Tanzania and are well known for their colorful clothes and jewelry. To save money they invest in this jewellery which they carry around everywhere they go. The jewellery does not lose its value, so it is a very inventive saving mechanism. I was impressed by their generosity in giving away their invesments. Who of us would go to the bank, take up our savings and give it to strangers?

Mr Meikoki joined the SACCO in 1990 and has had six loans so far with the organisation. He presently has a loan of KES 180,000 (€1700). As the principal of Lenkishon Primary School, he is trying to diversify his income by the construction of six, two-room apartments (see picture, right). In about a month the apartment block will be ready for occupation and they have all been rented out. The income from these apartments will not only add to the low income of a teacher, but is a good way to protect against damaging affect of the drought.

For Masai, their cattle are their pride. As a Masai, Mr Meikoki has quite a number of cows. The price for cows is low at the moment and it is difficult to find grass for the cattle. Therefore, they need to buy additional food for the cattle. The income of a principle is not high so therefore the income from the apartments will help him to provide for his family and at the same time keep his cattle in a healthy shape.

Liesbeth in Kenya: drought on the horizon

Day 3
Project visits

We left our hotel early and headed out of Nairobi to the country side, to visit one of Oikocredit’s existing clients, Olkejuado. The teachers SACCO (savings and credit co-operative organization) is based in Kajiado, a few hours from the capital. The members of Olkejuado are scattered throughout the region.

The first Olkejuado client we visited was 46-year-old Lukas Matheka. Mr Matheka has been with Olkejuado for over 23 years with and is one of the founders of the SACCO. He is a primary school principal and runs a small cerials shop. He currently has his fifth SACCO loan of KES 500,000 (€4,700). He uses the loans for the development of his shop where his wife is working. The cereals come mainly from his land. Next to this he sells herbs, including stinging nettle which is good for blood pressure and general health. Country managers Edith and Carol were convinced and bought some of Mr Matheka's healthy herbs.

Mr Matheka explained to us that while the business was running well, they faced a severe drought that could influence the cereal supply, and consequently, the price levels and purchasing power of the community. The drought is a wide spread problem across Kenya and the East African region.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Liesbeth in Kenya: Free home delivery!

Day 2
Project visits

Going to the outskirts of Nairobi, the country managers and I met with Joseph Ngaza and his wife. He became a client of Small and Medium Enterprise Program (SMEP) in 2003 and is part of a lending group.

All members of his group live in the same area and know each other quite well. Even though he is only 30 years old, he has already had seven loans. His first loan was of KES 20,000 (€ 190) through to his most recent loan of KES 600,000 (€ 5,600). He told us soon apply for another one soon of KES 1.2 million (€ 11,250). With the loans, Joseph opened a small shop and four points to sell kerosene, which is used for cooking and lighting.

Deus Manyenye, Oikocredit's country manager from Tanzania, asked him how many people worked for him. In total, he has eight employees including his wife. When we were visiting, she worked in the small shop, despite have a six week old baby who slept peacefully in a quiet corner of the shop, wrapped in a blanket. Their other daughter, aged six, was playing outside with some friends and enjoyed posing like a model for us whenever the camera was nearby.

With his next loan Mr Nganza wants to buy a truck to transport the kerosene to Nairobi and save on transport costs. Furthermore he wants to supply the transport for other kerosene sellers in the area and diversify his income even more. Currently he has only a motorbike, which he uses for the delivery of the kerosene tanks to clients. "Free of charge!" he told me with a smile on his face.

When he was asked by Simon Karimi (operations manager SMEP) what business he would choose if he had to choose between the two he was very clear about it: “The kerosene business, it is much more profitable!"

Joseph Ngaza and his story made it clear to me why I work in microfinance. With a small loan people are given an opportunity to improve their lives, and the lives of those in their family and community.

Liesbeth in Kenya: finding the market niche

Day 1
Project visits

After three and a half days of conducting training, it was nice to leave the office on Thursday after lunch with three representatives from Oikocredit’s Kenya regional office. We were expected at the head office of SMEP (Small and Medium Enterprise Programme), a potential project partner of Oikocredit in Kenya. There we met with the CEO (Phyllis Mbungu), the finance manager (Simon Kamore) and the operations manager (Simon Karimi). Even though we met briefly, it was very easy to see they have a strong vision to improve the lives of the poor in their country, as well as growing their institution.

Mr Karimi took us thereafter to the Nairobi branch of SMEP and to a few clients related to this branch. The first person we met was Mrs Eunice - a 40 year old lady, living in Nairobi. She has been a member of SMEP since 2003. Her business is a small hairdressing salon in a mall in one of the suburbs of Nairobi.

When we dropped in the salon was full of women, waiting to have their hair straightened, weaved or braided. Eunice told us that before she came to this mall she had a small hairdressing salon elsewhere. Because of competition, she decided to find a new place to continue her business. She is the only hairdresser in this shopping mall and as a consequence, she can serve all the people living near by or working there. She explained that she still had some marketing to do in order to manage all of the women in the building as clients.

So far Mrs Eunice has received three loans; two of KES 50,000 (€470), and one of KES 200,000 (about €1,900). The loans were each through the SMEP individual loan scheme, which focuses on enterprise growth. With the latest loan she plans to expand her salon with a barber section and a small selection of clothes, which she was already successfully selling in the salon. In her shop she has three employees working for her and with this business she can support her husband and children.

After we asked her what the main challenge was at the moment, she told us that facing the general increase of prices in Kenya is difficult. For example, clients are used to paying KES 200 (€1.90) and are not happy to pay KES 250 (€2.30)for the same treatment.

I was very much impressed by the entrepreneurship of Mrs Eunice, who is faced with many business challenges while at the same time finding a market niche.

When we were leaving she offered to do my hair but unfortunately we did not have time...

Photograph: myself (second from right) together with Oikocredit and SMEP representatives.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Introduction: Liesbeth Sijtsma

My name is Liesbeth Sijtsma and I work as a Loan and Investment Risks analyst at Oikocredit's office in Amersfoort, the Netherlands. As an analyst, I evaluate potential loans and investment projects against a strict set of Oikocredit's financial and social criteria. I then recommend whether to invest in or lend to the projects.

In August this year, I travelled to Kenya to meet with representatives from Oikocredit's East African office and visit potential and existing project partners. After spending the first three days conducting training sessions , I had the chance to meet with people who's lives have been changed by microfinance. Here are some of their stories.