Sandra Adams is Grameen Foundation’s Vice President of External Affairs.
During the first week of April several Grameen Foundation board members, other staff and I traveled to Kiambu, Kenya—about 45 minutes outside Nairobi—to see how local organizations are making a difference in the lives of poor families. Staff at the microfinance institution Kenya Entrepreneurship Empowerment Foundation (KEEF) and some of the MFIs ambitious borrowers welcomed us and shared their triumphs and challenges in the fight against poverty in their communities.
Upon arrival, we had the pleasure of meeting the “Bright Vision” borrower’s circle. What a perfect name for a group on their way up out of poverty! They told us that they began as a small, informal borrowers circle (called a “merry-go-round” in Kenya) that provided loans and a place to put savings.
The group then decided to join KEEF because they felt they could trust the MFI with their money. They can drop by the KEEF office anytime and staff there will show them their records.
In the past year, Bright Vision has grown from 11 to 22 members. Their loans have funded a variety of businesses: a day care, a pub, a fruit and vegetable stand, a couple of cows, supplies for a storefront chemist’s shop, a breakfast porridge stand, and others.
I was really impressed with KEEF’s loan officer Rosaline “Rose” Myra who services 35 groups. Rose is on the road constantly, usually traveling from group to group by matatu (the informal van service that links towns together). She loves Mifos because she no longer has to keep track of hundreds of loans on ledger sheets—the pre-printed loan/savings forms save her 30 minutes of work per group!
After saying goodbye to Rose and Bright Vision, we were off to visit borrowers Lucy and her niece, Teresia. Lucy’s home is a two-room wooden building with cement floors, a screened porch for cooking, and a yard for her goats and chickens. She is Member #1 of her group, “Manchester Banana”— “Manchester” after a popular sports team and “Banana” for the name of her town. Lucy bought goats with her first loan of 15,000 shillings (about $200), and she sells their milk, and sometimes their kids, for traditional Easter dinners. With her first profits, she bought chickens and sells their eggs. She was proud to show us the corn crib on stilts that houses the maize she also sells.
A huge proponent of microfinance, Lucy recruited almost all of the 28 women in her group! “I was really poor and I want to help other women so they can get out of their houses and so they don’t have to try to make a living being farmhands,” she told us. She helps new group members figure out good businesses to start. Lucy suggested Teresia begin selling detergent door-to-door because people can only afford to buy a small amount at a time. Teresia makes a profit of about $63 for each enormous pail she sells. Her goal is to bank some savings and start a small curio shop selling crafts from Uganda, her home country. Lucy has a big dream, too. She wants to buy the land next to her house and, with the help of her three sons, build 10 one-room houses to rent out for guaranteed income. I’m positive that with the work ethic and determination these women share, their dreams will come true in no time!