Sujali at 7

By | July 8, 2019

Post written by Mary Kiguru & Mike Calvert June 2019

What is there not to like about micro-finance? As we’ve said before, it’s a gift that just keeps on giving. From a modest investment and with careful stewardship, the pot must have doubled and the amounts borrowed get bigger and bigger. Sujali, the name the group gave themselves, continues to surprise and delight as the women entrepreneurs take on even bigger projects. The year before last proved difficult for Kenyans due to the elections in 2017 and the time needed for the economy to bounce back but Sujali women are nothing if not resilient and 2018-9 has proved much more successful.

Alice, one of the founder members of the group who began with a loan of KES22K (£150), borrowed KES500,000 (£4000) in March, with the help of two more local backers, for her chicken business! Alice expanded to a new location where she built her chicken house. She bought half an acre of land that is now serviced with water and electricity 10 km from her current home. She has employed someone full-time in the new centre where she has expanded her chicken farming. She will pay back over 2 years.

Grace (in yellow in the photo), one of the latest to join the group has been borrowing money, paying it back in record time and has applied for KES200,000. She continues to expand her hotel. She borrowed more KES140,000 in 2018 to purchase a motor bike. She has hired a rider and she saves KES500 each night after paying for all expenses including the rider. This is a great risk for a woman. But Grace is a go getter and a tough business woman. She is determined that this motorbike will grow into a second one in 2019. To underline the fragility of the situation, we have to report that one of the men, Muhia, died. He had a motorbike and it is believed that he was killed by motorbike jackers. A sad loss. 

Susan continues to grow her boutique. She borrowed KES40,000 in 2018 to increase her stock. Elizabeth, the hairdresser, cleared her loan and took a new loan of KES60,000. Jane, the pastor, is now concentrating on her counselling business and some farming she borrowed KES100,000. She continues to grow bananas and pomegranates. Mama Ciku (above) runs a local clinic at Kiwaka centre and has been saving with Sujali. She is not yet ready to take out a loan.

What is interesting is the gender dynamics. The group was set up for women entrepreneurs. Backed by research, women entrepreneurs spend the money on the family, do not default and do not spend the money on themselves (as the men often do). However, men have applied and been accepted into the group. Kitonga is a good example. Kitonga joined in 2017 and has now just borrowed KES100,000. He has already cleared three loans of KES20,000, KES40,000 and KES60,000.

He appreciates Sujali for offering him an opportunity to grow his business. The fact that the women keep track of his business keeps him motivated. He has brought Kyalo, another man, into the group and he has borrowed KES20,000. He also has a ‘hotel’ (a café) – see below. The new rule is that they cannot borrow more than three times their savings. He has saved KES7,000.

The women also vet new male applicants – there are two more men in the group and more would like to join. This power reversal is very interesting.

Over half a million KES were borrowed in 2018 but Sujali is not just about investments. It’s also about savings. Susan and Elizabeth have now saved KES29,000, Mama Ciku has saved KES32,000. The savings continue to grow and there will be dividends to pay out in 2019.

The group continues to grow organically under the watchful eye of Mary Kiguru who has rented an office to serve as a meeting point. New challenges include: how to accommodate the new men in the group, how to manage the monthly meetings and the biggest question: how to harness the talent within the group to benefit new members and the community. With a ‘hotel’ (café), salon, clinic, counselling, boutique, hardware store, motorbike taxi and farmer, how might they pool their resources and support each other more?

At the time of writing KES130 = £1.