Overview of the Micro Enterprise Program
The micro enterprise program is a poverty eradication and development program using a multiplicity of vehicles to eradicate poverty within the Maara Sub-county of Tharaka Nithi County in Kenya. With more than 75 percent of Kenya’s population engaged in agricultural and livestock farming for subsistence and income generation, and an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the Kenyan population relying entirely on NGOs and informal associations for financial services, the Micro Enterprise program plays an important role in eradicating poverty across the Maara Sub County. Our intervention includes distribution of loans, implementation of small savings schemes, enhancement of clients’ productive assets, skills-based learning, business and enterprise education, and agricultural and livestock management advice. Our clientele base mainly comprises of farmers engaged in dairy, poultry, pig, and tea farming, as well as other micro enterprise businesses such as small retail shops, butcheries, cereals, groceries and clothes’ dealers. The program also targets clients engaged in service provision such as motorbike operators, salon and barber shops, tailoring, knitting and hoteliers. More than 60% of our clientele base comprise of women.
The history of the program dates back in the year 2001 when the first Self Help group comprising of 12 members was enrolled. The members mainly comprised of peasant tea farmers in the Rwanchege area who were coming together to mobilize savings and access additional financial support from the VHI to expand their farming activities. Since then, the program has expanded tremendously to the current 143 groups each having 12 to 15 members who have been funded with various loan amounts to run small businesses. With an average of 13 members in each group, we estimate that a total of 1680 clients have been funded over this period. This translates to more than 10,000 beneficiaries who have benefited directly or indirectly so far considering that each client supports a household comprising of about 6 dependents. According to Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA, 2011), Tharaka Nithi County is ranked as the number 23 poorest county in Kenya with a poverty rate of 48.7%, which is above the National average of 47.2%. Thus, the group lending model becomes the most appropriate funding strategy for us in ensuring that the poor target beneficiaries of Maara Sub county in Tharaka Nithi county get an opportunity to co-guarantee each other in the group and subsequently access funding to run their micro enterprises. In this approach, we give special attention to marginalized and stigmatized groups such as HIV groups and caregivers in the community and thus fill the gaps created by other financial institutions who discriminate these groups for being risky borrowers. After graduating from our program, clients have increased levels of income and assets, and developed technical skills, thus enabling them to better support their families’ health, nutrition, and education.
What value do we offer to the community?
The Micro Enterprise program provides clients with an opportunity to access financial services and training that would otherwise be unavailable. Clients are marginalized due to their inability to gain employment in the formal job market, low income, minimal assets, and because they are perceived to be too risky borrowers by formal institutions. Our approach, therefore, empowers clients’ by marrying training, mentorship, and loans. This being a poverty eradication program, many of the targeted beneficiaries lack tangible assets to pledge as collateral for formal financing from the banks and other microfinance institutions. Through the group co-guarantee approach, we therefore give the poorest segment of our community an avenue to access funding support affordably.
Our value to the community
- Employment Creation
- Affordable Financing
Community Mobilization and Funding
The community mobilization stage is the entry point for clients into the program. The groups enrolled into the program are self-forming. The micro enterprise team (MET) mobilizes the targeted groups through such channels as word of mouth, referrals and support from the department of gender and social services. During mobilization a group is taken through the minimum entry requirements which include but are not limited to: a small registration fee per member, an active table banking scheme, average monthly income of Kenya shillings 10,000 or USD 100 for majority of the group members, commitment to participate in the group and the program activities and willingness to undergo the soft loan phase after the group has registered with us. The soft loan in the context of the Village HopeCore International is a small loan given to an associate group or new group in the range of Kenya shillings 30,000 to 90,000 or USD 300 to 900. This funding is aimed at boosting the table banking kitty of the group by allowing members to borrow and invest in small businesses of their choice. The soft loan repayment period is three to six months at an interest rate of 4.5% flat rate. HopeCore encourages its Self Help Groups to lend the money to individuals in the group at a 10% interest rate in order to save the 5.5% as additional money for the group’s table banking (savings), the remaining 4.5% is paid back to HopeCore. When the soft loan is successfully repaid, the group is eligible to participate in the normal loan cycle as a partner group.
Before being given the normal loan, a pre-funding questionnaire is administered at each of the members’ homes to collect baseline data on the clients and their businesses. This allows HopeCore to measure the impact the program is having on the wellbeing of its clients and general levels of poverty in the community. The partner stage is structured into 4 cycles. Full individual “normal” monetary loans for the 1st cycle range from KES 30,000 (USD 300) to KES 60,000 (USD 600) per person while the 2nd, 3rd and 4th cycles loan range from KES 30,000 (USD 300) to KES 100,000 (USD 1,000). The normal loans are charged a reasonably low interest rate of 9.0% per annum with a repayment period not exceeding 2 years. The interest earned on each loan is then recycled into supporting the administration of the loans. By growing our Micro Enterprise loan client base faster, we are able to earn more income to provide for the other activities within the organization. The clients are also required to deposit some little initial savings before being funded which is refunded back at the end of the cycle. This fund serves two purpose: it aims to inculcate a saving culture in addition to acting as a partial collateral for the loan. In order to further support our clients, we ensure that business training, monitoring and mentoring are a consistent theme throughout every cycle of funding.
B. Training and Capacity Building
Acquisition of new skills is an integral part of personal and business development. In the micro enterprise program, we are actively involved in training our client besides enhancing skills development amongst our staff through capacity building. Training for our clients comes in 3 levels, namely:
- Table banking training
- Business training
- Leadership training
Table Banking Training
- The table banking training is specifically tailor-made for the associate groups. Table banking activities not only help in instilling cohesiveness in groups but it’s also a way of assessing commitment of individual members to group projects. The goal of table banking training is thus to enable group members to mobilize savings and grow a kitty where individual members can access small loans for their investment needs. Upon successful demonstration of commitment to the table banking activities, the group is then asked to participate in the soft loaning phase. The VHI micro-enterprise table banking training is conducted for all the new groups of 12 – 15 members that have met all the registration requirements and enrolled into the program. The new group is referred to as an associate group.
Business Training basically involves educating and empowering the loan clients and greater community on business processes, entrepreneurship, and economic empowerment through offering variations of business support, training, and mentoring for functional living. The training covers the following sections:
- Business planning
- Money management
- Growing your customer base & customer service
- Market research
- Group management and group dynamics
- Agribusiness and gross margin analysis
- Soil & water conservation
- Emerging trends in agriculture
- Record keeping and book keeping
- Healthy living
The training is done for 4 days before clients are funded after they have graduated from the associate to partner stage. Clients are expected to apply the skills gained during this training to run their businesses successfully. The training is facilitated by both external and internal trainers.
Leadership is defined as the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. In a business setting, this can mean directing workers and colleagues with a strategy to meet the company's / organization’s needs. Our leadership training focuses on:
- Roles & Responsibilities of Group Leaders
- Qualities of a Great Leader
- Conflict Resolution
- Loan Repayment Procedures and Policies
Through this training we create more effective, efficient, responsible, accountable, knowledgeable and trusted group leaders who have the capacity to motivate and inspire group members towards a brighter future.
In our program activities, we invest immensely on capacity building for our employees. Each staff is provided with a computer of their own. The organization also supports employees in their efforts for self-improvement through one-on-one mentorships, sponsoring continuing education courses, and connecting staff to online courses and resources. Such efforts are made in a bid to ensure that our staff are fully equipped, motivated and well-prepared to offer quality services to our clients. In the recent years for instance, the staff underwent through a credit management training facilitated by trainers from the university of Embu. The training covered such topics as loan appraisal and portfolio management, customer service and screening, dos and don’ts of credit and modern micro financing issues. In the previous years, the staff have also been trained in other skills that have greatly improved our service delivery and customer satisfaction levels.
At the end of each normal loan cycle, HopeCore conducts a two year, four-year, and 6-year follow-up assessment. Two Year Follow Up questionnaires are normally used in order to measure the general successes and weaknesses of the program and evaluate the true impact of the micro loans. The assessments seek not only to evaluate tangible and quantitative indicators of the program’s success, but also the more intangible and qualitative ones. This assessment is normally conducted to get information that will help the team know whether the programs that are being funded are producing real and impactful effects in the community or not, and what areas need to be restructured for future improvements. The Four Year Follow up assessment is very crucial for the department in terms of appropriately assessing what is being done, whether the stated goals are being realized, and it ultimately gives the department room to modify its interventions and assess the quality of the activities being conducted. The results of these assessments are compared to the pre-funding questionnaire to measure the successes and areas of improvement of the program. Furthermore, throughout funding cycles, assessments are conducted on samples of groups and members to follow up on progress and measure impact, these are known as Group Profile Interviews and Success Story Interviews.
D. Collaborations & Partnerships
We adopt a stakeholder approach to our programs, involving different partners in the government, private sector, foundations, the local community, and village chiefs, from identification of relevant projects to our clients through to implementation and evaluation. We also build upon and strengthen our capacity where we identify gaps. We have managed to forge successful partnerships and collaborations with various institutions and organizations including the local administrators, departments of agriculture, livestock development, and social services and financial institutions such as the Kenya Commercial Bank. We are also in close collaboration with the Uganda-based street business school in offering practical hands-on business training to our clients and the larger community that we serve. Through such initiatives we’ve managed to tighten up connections and learn from one another thereby scaling up our operations.
E. Special Days and Events
In recognition of the need to appreciate and enhance our clients’ technical knowledge and skills, we continually hold and celebrate some special days and events. For instance, on August 2019 we held a successful alumni day that brought together more than 80 former HopeCore clients who have already benefitted and graduated from the program. The event gave the participating clients a rare chance of reconnecting and bonding with HopeCore staff. It was also an opportunity for collecting client feedback for improvement of our program activities. Additionally, we also conduct dairy farming field days to help dairy farmers professionalize their farming practices and make their milk cleaner, safer and higher in volume. This is done in collaboration with external trainers from the department of livestock and agriculture. A model farm is usually identified where training and demos are done. The training focuses on the following areas:
- Fodder Production and Preservation
Housing – adequate and proper housing for livestock
- Calf rearing – good management practices for calves
- Feeding Practices - what to feed their cows, how to determine how much to feed their cows, and what good practices of feeding are in relation to dairy farming, measuring the exact amounts of food being given to their cows and to ensure that their cows get well balanced diets
Breeding – different livestock breeds, methods available for producing high quality offspring and how to source different breeds, Artificial insemination (AI) and the natural mating service, how to make informed choices about what type of breeds would best meet their dairy farming needs and the adaptive performance of the breed
Clean Milk Production - the best hygiene practices in dairy farming and how high quality and clean milk can be produced all year round
Disease Control – various livestock diseases, prevention and treatment and, the importance of maintaining livestock healthy
F. Our Impact and Achievements
We are very proud that over the last two decades our program has expanded greatly registering huge impact for our community. Our major areas of impact and achievement include:
- Poverty reduction
- Improved monthly incomes
- Growth in number of groups and beneficiaries
- Promotion of sustainable businesses
- Education and training
- Enhanced linkages and collaborations
Our program seeks to eradicate poverty in totality. We understand that poverty can be absolute or relative. Absolute or extreme poverty refers to the complete lack of the means necessary to meet basic personal needs such as food, clothing and shelter. According to the World Bank, absolute poverty measures poverty strictly in economic terms where someone is earning less than USD 1.90 a day. Our poverty eradication programme impact assessment survey (2019) revealed that 47% of the sampled households were living below poverty line before enrolling to the Micro Enterprise programme. At the end of the loan cycles, only 23% of the households were still living below the poverty line. This indicates an impact of 24% positive change. The assessment also compared some of our beneficiaries who are deemed poor in relation to the economic status of other members of the society. In this case, people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context. Using this criteria, the average monthly income per household before and after enrolment into the Micro enterprise programme were found to be KES 9,426 and KES 16,803 respectively. This indicates an improvement of the living standards in the neighbourhood by 29% change. The current household average monthly income of KES 16,803 has been established as the relative poverty line in the area where Village HopeCore’s Micro Enterprise program operates going forward. The current National Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per Capita is KES 16,744 while the current National Minimum Wage in Kenya is averaged at KES 16,161. After the beneficiaries went through the micro enterprise programme, some 27% of them were able to move up to the monthly income that is above the GDP per capita and the Minimum Wage of the country. Our program has therefore contributed significantly towards poverty reduction in Kenya particularly in Tharaka Nithi County where the Village HopeCore International operates. The county is ranked as the number 23 poorest county in Kenya with a poverty rate of 48.7%, which is above the National average of 47.2%, according to Commission On Revenue Allocation (CRA, 2011).
As noted in the preliminary pages, our clientele base has grown consistently to reach a high of 143 groups and an estimated 10,000 pool of program beneficiaries. This is a very huge achievement for us considering that many of these beneficiaries have undergone a real socio-economic transformation as pointed out in the PEP impact assessment report (2019). The assessment reports a Beneficiary Satisfaction Index (BSI) of 95%, a clear indication that most of our beneficiaries are in agreement that we’ve truly changed their lives positively.
Our concerted efforts to initiate and nurture sustainable businesses has also enabled many of our program beneficiaries to change their mind-set in the manner in which they run their business enterprises. It is estimated that about 400,000 small business enterprises in Kenya close down annually mainly due to deficiency of finances and inaccessibility to loans according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS, 2016). We’ve therefore continued to finance and inculcate an entrepreneurial culture to budding entrepreneurs with an objective of propelling them to stability and self-reliance even after graduating from the program. Such initiatives have given birth to many successful and sustainable small businesses that might not have flourished without our intervention. As such, many Kenyans in our area of operation who were once poor are now acquiring new assets such as land, motorbikes and better homes. Others have even gone ahead to start approaching banks for mortgage financing since they can afford to pledge land title deeds and vehicle log books as collateral. We celebrate this great achievement as it has not only transformed poor families’ lives but it has also given us the motivation to scale up our operations to greater heights.
Education and training component has also risen our capacity to eliminate mental poverty. Our well-crafted education and training programme gives every beneficiary an opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills in key thematic areas such as business and enterprise education, financial management, agricultural and livestock management advice, leadership skills, and healthy living. Through such initiatives we’ve managed to give rise to thousands of community change agents who can run their businesses professionally and mentor other entrepreneurs in their localities. We equally celebrate the huge milestone we’ve registered with regard to nurturing healthy and lasting linkages and collaborations. Our major partners who include leading financiers, local administration, and other like-minded organizations are a huge motivator to us. They keep on assisting us in reaching out to the community, collection of beneficiary feedback and most importantly, identification of our areas of improvement. Thus, as we continue to scale up our activities, we remain motivated, united and committed to eradicate poverty amongst our communities as enshrined in the vision of the VHI.