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.