The past week has been awful for merchants in Kaloleni, Kilifi County. Ongoing road constructions on their usual route to Mombasa town, coupled with thorough NTSA inspections at almost every kilometer are forcing matatus ferrying residents to use a longer 70Km route marred by steep valleys and sharp rocks.
“It’s quite a hectic experience, I am tired,” said Elizabeth Mae, a resident of M’bungoni village in Kaloleni. She had just arrived from Mombasa town to collect an order for animal feeds, which will then be sold at their local center.
Elizabeth is the Chairlady of ‘Najeza’ Women group – a Giriama phrase that means ‘try’. The terror of poverty and over-reliance on their husbands for the slightest basic needs was haunting them, and so, together with twenty-four other Women, they resolved to start a women’s group back in 1998.
Their first order of business was to venture into the broom-making business. “The abundance of palm trees (raw material) in our area was quite an obvious advantage. Every week, each member was required to bring two homemade brooms which we would then sell in Mombasa town” Elizabeth said.
They continued with this venture for five years and by 2003, the business was booming. The group was able to purchase their first plot of land and even went ahead to put up a building foundation for future business plans.
“We did it ourselves, from digging and placing the concrete – it was purely the effort of the women” She explained proudly.
However as the years went by, competition from other Women groups that continued to pop up in the area – copy-pasting all their ideas, and a general lack of demand for their brooms meant very little profit. By now her women’s group had come down to only 16 members from the initial 24.
It was only in 2013 during a chief’s Baraza that she learnt of a semi-autonomous government agency dubbed ‘Women Enterprise Fund (WEF)’ under the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs.
WEF’s mandate was to facilitate the realization of the 1st and 5th United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals on poverty reduction, gender equality, and women empowerment.
Its idea of prosperity was to spring honest, sober and industrious women from poverty by offering them entrepreneurship skills and advancing to them small loans to start or ramp up their businesses.
Elizabeth’s ‘Najeza Women Group’ fit squarely within that description. With a one year repayment period and zero interest on the principal amount, her group applied for their first WEF loan of Ksh 50,000 which they used to purchase chairs for renting and venture into the animal feeds trading – a thriving business in the Kaloleni area.
“In a good month we would sell about 50 to 70 bags of Poland cow feed within kaloleni,” she said.
The Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) has since evolved and even on-boarded new partners most notably Coca Cola in 2014. Through capacity building for WEF beneficiaries as well as providing financial training and market linkages, the beverage maker is keen on creating a fair and equitable environment to help women overcome barriers and build sustainable businesses.
Elizabeth and her group are now among the 557,000 women in Kenya who have reaped sweet fruit from this initiative.
Since 2013 when the idea of WEF was floated; Najeza Women Group has so far obtained a total of Ksh 1.3 Million which they have pumped into other projects including a hardware business where they sell cement from the nearby Athi River Mining factory, Sufuria’s and kitchen-ware which they rent out for festivities and occasions and a boutique business dealing with classic ‘dera’ dresses – whereby this writer had the privilege of being gifted a piece.
Najeza is among the few women groups in Kaloleni that are still standing despite harsh economic times. They attributed this to better organization order and solid friendships. Elizabeth explained that her group’s ventures have been flourishing since 2013 – providing a ripple effect seeing that her community members have gained employment opportunities with the group both directly and indirectly.
Another member of her group told Maudhui House that from the support they have received from WEF she has been able to offer quality education to her son who is currently a form two student at the nearby Mikuhi secondary school.
The last few years have brought out a flood of reports about gender inequalities in everything from health outcomes to pay and promotion. But one gap is gradually narrowing: that of access to credit. Now, through the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) initiative, Coca Cola says it wants to loop in another 285,000 around the country to link them up with opportunities driving economic prosperity.