Village Ventures: Empowering women in Enterprise Development

Posted April 18, 2011 from Kenya

After attending the Opportunity Collaboration Conference held in Ixtapa, Mexico in 2010, I returned home with the bigger passion to invest more in people and in ideas that promote social justice. I resolved to establish Village Ventures (K) a small firm embracing the principle of social entrepreneurship that a business can be established to make profit for non profit gains.

I love working with women may be because of one noble woman who taught me that good character is established from the foundations of love for others as for oneself. This woman is none other but my mother. She was charitable and kind both to her friends and foes. Many times she gave to many without expecting to be given in return. And so in her honour I give my service to women and girls.

In 2009, I met a long time friend Jorn Slette and his wife Sheila who visited Kenya from Norway. Their journey was to come and see first hand the programs that we run in Project Africa. As it is with many who get to see our work, They too were convinced that empowerment of women is long over due and that to achieve empowerment by a good margin, We must promote education and enterprise development for women. Jorn and I immediately started mapping out ways of empowering women to start their own small enterprises. "Micro credit schemes will do" Jorn thought. Soon after he was able to return to Norway and spread the word to his friends and family who immediately raised Ksh 75 000 equivalent to USD 1000.

This amount was to be invested into small businesses run by women as small loans payable weekly, we realised the project would not achieve much since the rate of default in payment was high. There are a number of reasons for this situation; one, we invested in the women at the beginning of the year when many had high financial responsibilities like paying school fees for their children. It is obvious that at least 75% of women participating in the first round spent their money to cover for school fees hoping that in February and march they would do business and refund the money with the little interest accrued. But this plan would affect the overall performance of the micro credit.

So we had to re- strategise, with lessons learnt from the Cordes Fellowship at the Opportunity Collaboration Conference, from the experiences learnt from my fellow peers, I thought of a model to establish women business incubators and thus the village ventures idea. It is simple, Instead of giving hard cash to women as start-up capital for business, village ventures invests in skills and resources for enterprise development. We identify women who have business skills but have no resources to convert their skills into income. Such resources may include working space, tools and equipment of trade and technical advice in business administration . Village Ventures (K) therefore provides these resources on condition that that the Village Entreprenuer must mentor at least four other people in the trade or provide them space to earn as casuals.

Mama Brenda (real name Grace Muthoni) is one of our Village entreprenuers. She has a skill in Hair dressing and beauty. The 30 year old Grace is a mother of two daughters Brenda and Cynthia. Mama Brenda, though having a skill did not have a stable job for lack of working spave and salon equipment. She was only hawking her hairdressing service moving from house to house as clients would demend. Many days she would stay without being called by any of her clients. The support of our new approach of empowering women in enterprise development came handy. Village Ventures paid the first month rent for Grace to start a Wa Brenda Hair salon and Kinyozi. Village Ventures also purchased hairdressing equipment to the tune of Ksh 40 000 and other additional equipment donated by Friends of Project Africa at Ksh 32 000. The condition remained that Mama Brenda must mentor at least four other women in her locality.

Today, Grace Muthoni Mama Brenda is earning at least Ksh 10 000 every month and her mentees are able to learn a skill in hairdressing and also earn from her at least Ksh 200 daily being commissions paid as they attend to clients as salon girls. The five women are able to pay the rent of the business space and all utility costs. They also save at least ksh 200 every month.

All the women in the Wa Brenda hair salon and Kinyozi , a village venture are able now to earn a living for their daughters and sons and improving the livelihood of their households. Thanks to our friends Jorn and Sheila Slette and Friends of Project Africa.

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