4. October 2015

The big leap

Mary Wanjiku is a one of hundreds of new small-scale Kenyan entrepreneurs, trained by the organisation Hand in Hand.

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“Demand for the tomatoes and cabbage I sell is high, because most people grow maize,” she explains when asked why she chose these products. And now her business also covers footwear sales.

“The biggest challenge to success is the customers who need to buy on credit,” she adds. “And my second-largest is a shortage of vegetables when I haven’t grown enough myself.

“I sometimes buy from other farmers in order to make a least a small profit by selling this produce on. But a third challenge is that the vegetables go bad.”


Wanjiku says that her family has been very supportive while she is on the course, and lends a hand on those occasions when she has to leave the store to attend group meetings.

“They’ve backed me in taking this big leap to secure us a better future, by making a commitment to good business operation and training in entrepreneurship.”

Her teacher is Charles Mwandika, who leads 214 members divided into 10 groups in the Difathas and Karuangi villages, a couple of hours drive east of Nairobi.

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These groups save together, learn together, and support each other. They identify what things are needed and worth focusing on before getting small loans and starting a business.

Their villages are attractively sited, but half the residents live in poverty. Only 30 per cent have piped water, and the houses are largely built of mud and straw.



Although 24-year-old Mwandika also grew up in poverty, his mother and grandmother ensured that he went to university and graduated with a BSc in commerce and finance.

His personal experience means that he wants to improve living conditions for women in Kenya, and Hand in Hand has given him the opportunity to do just that.

“It’s very satisfying to participate in the transition to financial independence for a whole community,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll learn as much from them as they do from me.”

He explains that Hand in Hand functions as a supplement to government efforts to build a sustainable economy in poor areas through savings programmes and education in business and finance.

The goal for the organisation’s project in Kenya is to create 900 new businesses in three villages. That will help to lift some 6 000 children out of poverty.


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Asked to describe his normal working day, Mwandika says it consists of trudging dusty roads to hold classes for the groups in the project.

“I also provide information about Hand in Hand’s work in east Africa and talk with stakeholders and partners. And I visit the various members to see how their businesses are going.

“This involves checking that they’re working in accordance with the things they’ve learnt, and that they’re building up a sustainable activity.”

He says the best aspect of his job is the contact with group members. “Nothing’s more satisfying than to see basic needs being met and kids getting a good education.”