In 2007 when Damaris Okong’o, 35, set up a hair salon in Kibera, she was very determined to make a break-through and get into the list of entrepreneurs who built business empires from scratch.
Damaris knew her chance for a decent living relied on how hard she worked in the salon as efforts to secure a well-paying job had proved futile. Furthermore, she was pregnant and the burden of caring for her child would soon be on her shoulders as she did not have a husband to lean on for support.
“I was very passionate about running my own business and after acquiring skills in hair dressing, I knew it was time to take the plunge and reap the benefits of hard work.” She reminisces.
However, as Damaris found out later, running a business was not an easy ride. For about six years, her business failed to grow as she had anticipated. Instead she would suffer losses most of the time, making it difficult for her to maintain the stock of beauty products she required for hair dressing work.
“I used to strain a lot to keep the business running and I thought of quitting on several occasions but I couldn’t because the responsibility of fending for my daughter was solely on me.” she says.
Tucked deep inside Kibera’s Makina market stalls is Rose Achieng’s boutique, which she opened nine years ago. Like Damaris, 27-year-old Rose struggled to develop her business without much success.
A single mother of three; two girls and a boy, Rose stock of clothing materials never went beyond Ksh20,000 and she was always faced with the challenge of meeting her customers’ needs.
“I barely managed to make enough money to feed my family and keep the business running. Sometimes I would use money paid by customers as deposit on personal needs, ending up without capital to purchase more stock.” Rose says.
The challenges faced by Damaris and Rose in running business reflect the plight of many single young mothers in Kibera. The majority of them do not have enough capital or the basic entrepreneurial skills to run their own business. Instead, they tend to retort for easier ways of eking out a living such as prostitution.
Luckily for Damaris and Rose, they have been able to overcome challenges they faced in their businesses following a project targeting single young mothers in the slum. The Kibera Single Mothers Economic and Livelihoods (K-SMEL) project is being implemented by Haki Community Based Organisation, a grantee of the Kenya Community Development Fund (KCDF).
It seeks to create opportunities for improved livelihoods of single young mothers through a revolving fund, which enables them to save and get loans for enterpreniual activities. The beneficiaries who have been mobilsed into groups are trained on business management and taken through a mentorship programme which enables them to engage in income generating activities successfully.
The programme’s officer, Mr Martin Hanyagoh, says the K-SMEL initiative was established after it came to the fore that young single mothers were losing out from economic empowerment project that targeted women in the slum due to skill gaps.The young single mothers were disenfranchised because their challenges were different from those of their older counterparts who dominated the projects.
“The women empowerment initiative was based on a group savings and loans scheme but we discovered young single mothers were not applying for loans. The older women who claimed they had numerous responsibilities like school fees were discouraging and even instilling fear to the young ones from going for loans.” Says Hanyagoh.
Through the K-SMEL programme, Haki is able to address unique challenges young single mothers face. Apart from being mobilised into savings and loans groups, they are assisted to identify viable income generating activities based on market demands and one’s passion.
The teenage mothers also benefit from pyschosocial support as they are able to share their business experiences and get advise from professional counsellors on life challenges.
“Most of the teenage mothers are not able to handle emotional and social challenges, making their progress in business very difficult. We have counsellors who visit them in their groups and prepare them to deal with issues affecting their lives.” says Hanyagoh.
The programme, which began in October 2013, currently benefits 10 groups with a total of 159 single young mothers between the ages of 18 and 35 in Kibera. The groups boast of combined savings of Ksh1.2 million(£ 8571) from which members are able to get loans. Through the KCDF grant, members are also able to get loans from a Ksh350,000 ( £ 2500) revolving kitty.
Damaris and Rose who are members of the groups say their businesses have been able to grow steadily since joining the programme eight months and two years ago, respectively.
They attribute their past failures to lack of business management skills, which they have since acquired from the training sessions held for the groups.
Damaris realised her major undoing was her inability to balance between income and expenses. “I used to spend more than the meagre profit of about Ksh300 that I made daily, leaving very little capital to keep the business running.” She says.
Damaris saves a minimum of Ksh200 every week and has so far received Ksh15,000 and Ksh35,000 in loans from her group and the revolving fund respectively to expand her business. She has since moved to a larger space where she not only does hair dressing but also sells assorted beauty products.
She confides that she makes about Ksh1200 as profit on a good day, an income that is enough to meet her basic needs and save for her seven-year-old daughter’s education.
Rose has also grown her stock from Ksh20,000 to Ksh50,000 and is able to pay schools fees for her children, including her aunt’s high school daughter.
Charles Ogutu, Haki’s Chief Executive Officer, says with the success of the revolving fund and the groups savings and loans scheme, the organisation plans to set up a Savings and Credit Co-operative Society (SACCO). The SACCO, says Ogutu, will help mobilise more savings to support the revolving fund for sustainability of the programme.
“This programme has given young single mothers who had lost hope in life the opportunity to earn a decent living and we want to widen the scope to cater for teenage mothers aged between 15 and 40 years.” He confirms.
With the support of KCDF, Haki has the capacity to manage huge projects as key staff members are trained on financial planning, report writing and resource mobilization.