By Jon Hargreaves
I’d like to introduce you to Flora and Hadiya, two budding Kenyan entrepreneurs who really mean business. In the absence of finding jobs and struggling to make ends meet, these two delightful ladies never thought they’d be able to start a business. That was until HCR in collaboration with Aid For Trade launched the YES (Young Entrepreneurs’ Startup) project, in an area of eastern Kenya’s Tana River County, where poverty is widespread. Using the newly established radio station, Amani FM, the project involves an innovative mix of radio programmes, live ‘phone-in discussions, community interaction via WhatsApp and workshops, to encourage local people, irrespective of their education, to develop their business ideas and then put them into action.
“I once tried setting up a juice business,” said Flora, “But I failed and lost all my money. Then I started attending the workshops run by Amani FM and the trainer, Mr Amara, equipped us with the tools to be successful. He taught us first to find out what people wanted and then see what we could do to meet that need. So I began selling porridge. At first I didn’t quite get the taste right, but after a few experiments, I quickly began selling out of porridge and having to make more batches. I now can’t keep up with the demand so am taking on a partner and borrowing money to buy a bigger stove and new pots. My new business puts food on my table, pays my rent and helps me buy clothes. One day I hope to have a chain of restaurants throughout Tana River County.”
Hadiya noticed that in one remote area of Tana Delta, the boda boda (motorbike taxii) drivers had to drive a long way to get fuel. So she started a small business selling petrol in discarded 2 litre plastic bottles. “I have been so successful,” says Hadiya, “That my mother is now selling the fuel full-time and I am launching a clothes line for ladies in the village. Having spoken to so many people I know exactly what they want and where i can get the fabric. The training has really showed me that even I CAN start a business.”
At the end of the workshops a budding group of entrepreneurs were inspired to set up a community savings and loan association, known locally as Table Banking. “Every week this group meets to pool their savings, while one or two people are able to take a loan, which has to be paid back at 10%,” said Philip Amara, the YES project trainer. “As a result of this, we have seen new businesses launched as well as existing businesses able to make improvements.”
Philip says it is very difficult for most Kenyan citizens to access capital from banks, as the interest rates are very high and few people have any collateral. “It is for that reason that we have partnered with HCR to make larger sums available, offering much better interest rates than the bank,” said Philip. He added that the best business ideas with the best plans, will be rewarded, both with a loan and free advertising on the radio station, as Amani FM follows their progress. Philip believes that through the radio, the community will learn what ordinary people can do and begin to believe that they too can start a business. “We want to end this mindset of poverty and dependency,” he said.