The 27-year-old entrepreneur already owned a small tailoring shop in the Kibuye Municipal Market of Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city, but had been unable to grow the business enough to meet her family’s needs. And her family was growing. Lillian, the mother of a young boy, was expecting her second child.
Two years ago, Lillian joined a women’s savings and loan group established by Alice Visionary Foundation Project and WomenStrong International. She said the group not only helped her save money and gain access to cheap loans, but equally important, provided her with business ideas and encouragement.
With good ideas and access to small loans, Lillian bought a second sewing machine and later opened a barber shop and M-Pesa (mobile money transfer) service, all out of her market stall. When her net monthly income grew to $450, she hired two young people to help her run the two new businesses.
With most women-led businesses still shunned by formal financial institutions worldwide, Alice Visionary and WomenStrong International have sought to fill this gap in Manyatta with a Group Savings and Loan program, adapted from a highly effective, rural-focused strategy developed and widely disseminated by CARE International.
Alice Visionary trains the women in financial literacy, savings, lending and in their responsibility to each other, and follows up to help every participant succeed in meeting individual goals. This person-to-person mentoring and the sense of solidarity and commitment among group members are among the most powerful elements in Alice Visionary’s toolkit, as witnessed by women’s demonstrated ability to pay off their loans, increase their monthly incomes and open, expand, diversify and hire for their small businesses.
Alice Visionary monitors and mentors the groups, focusing on the success of each individual and each group rather than on trying to grow the program as fast as possible. , As a result, the retention of the groups is 98%, and success breeds success. Women (and men) who see their neighbors succeeding want to join. This year, Alice Visionary and WomenStrong will be doubling the total number of savings groups and women served.
WomenStrong International views the economic empowerment of women as one of the 6 Essential Needs required for poor women to lift themselves, their families and communities out of extreme urban poverty. Lillian is on the path to doing exactly that.
In her share-out at the end of the first year, Lillian took home a lump sum of $160 (KES 16,000); in the second year, she took home $460 (KES 46,000). With this money, she opened a savings account at a local bank to begin saving future school fees for her children. And, she has given her husband a portion of her share-out to start his own small business. When women succeed, so do their husbands, families and communities.
Beldina Opiyo-Omolo, Founder and Director of Alice Visionary Foundation Project, said the savings groups provide women with more than money, they offer dignity and a supportive social network. “The change you see in the individual women is phenomenal,” she said. “You can see it in the way they talk, dress, how they carry themselves. When you have money, you have a voice, and that is what this is all about.”