REHEMA ATIENO is the CEO of Wevarsity Sacco Society Limited based in Kakamega. She tells NATHAN OCHUNGE how she got the job at only 26 years old and what she is doing to steady the once troubled Sacco.
Briefly tell us about yourself...
I am the Chief Executive Officer of Wevarsity Sacco Society Limited. I was born in Siaya County and am the last born in a family of 12 children. I went to Siranga Primary School and then Siranga Mixed Secondary School and sat for my KCSE exams in 2014. I proceeded to Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology where I graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree – Accounting option. I have since enrolled for a Masters in Finance at the same institution. I am married and blessed with one child.
Where were you working before joining Wevarsity Sacco?
Wevarsity Sacco is my first employer. I did my industrial attachment at the Sacco and came back to work as a volunteer between 2018 -2019. After graduating, I was recruited as an intern in the credit department helping the credit officer perform his duties effectively. I used to advise Sacco members on the status of their savings and their eligibility to get loans.
How did you get promoted to your current position of CEO?
While still working as an intern, a vacancy arose in 2020 of an Assistant Credit Officer. I applied for the job, got shortlisted and passed the interview. After a short stint in the position, I was elevated to also double as Accounts Assistant where I used to interact with 100 per cent of the total Sacco membership and this exposed me to many of them and developed a good rapport with the members. In fact, they (members) suggested that I need to be promoted to a bigger position. A new board came in and the majority of the directors I served them diligently, they unanimously suggested that I be made the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Sacco.
What made you get this appointment as a substantive CEO at the very young age of 26 years? How did you convince the board that you are fit for the job?
When the then CEO was dismissed by the board of directors, they recruited another CEO in an acting capacity who involved herself in fraudulent activities and had to be let go. Another one was also recruited, also in an acting capacity and was not competent in that position. That’s how I was picked to act as CEO and after just nine months, in June 2022, I was confirmed as substantive CEO. I didn’t have to convince them. I had a clear record of what I was doing and my turnaround strategies to enhance the growth of the Sacco. By the time the interview was called, I had already surpassed the targets I was given by the board.
How did the board of directors help you settle quickly into your new role?
The board is the engine to my success as a CEO and supportive of the initiatives I started to turn around the fortunes of the Sacco. I was a junior officer and abruptly, I transitioned to a senior management role. I can’t say I knew everything. In case I needed clarification, I always sought concurrence with the board and within two months, I had familiarised myself with 80 per cent of Sacco operations.
What were the first steps and tactics you employed to bring back members' confidence and avoid a mass exodus from the Sacco?
An organisation is as good as its leaders. When I was appointed to the position of CEO, I was very aware of what was happening as a junior officer. I first ensured the staff and the board of directors enjoyed a cordial working relationship, which in turn, enhanced service delivery to our customers. I also embarked on dealing with the liquidity issues, which is now a work in progress. I also started internal resource mobilisation by encouraging members to save more in order to increase share capital and avoid external borrowing. I also introduced austerity measures where money was only spent on budgeted projects only and today, there’s prudent management of members’ savings.
What measures did you take to ensure the Sacco continues to grow, members get loans and salaries paid on time?
Our liquidity issues were brought about by a lot of capital expenditure which was not generating income. With the help of the new board, reduced by a bigger percentage and concentrated on our core business of lending and saving. We started a marketing and recovery department, which we used to enhance the new membership recruitment drive, by targeting to have at least 80 per cent of Masinde Muliro University staff join the Sacco. Many loans were in default which resulted in liquidity issues but after creating the new department, we ensured all loans are repaid as per the Sacco Societies Regulatory Authority regulations. We also started a plough back of dividends in which after declaring dividends during the Annual General Meeting, we do not pay members but deposit it to members’ accounts, thus increasing our liquidity and ensuring they get loans whenever requested. If members are satisfied, they will stay, one can’t get beyond one month to get long-term loans.
Where does the Sacco draw its membership from? Any plans to recruit outsiders to join the Sacco and what are the benefits?
Our membership is mainly from Masinde Muliro University staff, Kibabii University, Turkana University, Friends Kaimosi University, Access Kenya and the County Government of Kakamega among others. We have also partnered with the Mmust Human Resource department to communicate to us anytime there is a new staff recruitment, as an employer, they give them forms to fill to join the Sacco. We started recruiting outsiders those in formal and informal employment and we got products for all of them. We have introduced Wevarsity Sacco FSM (Financial Support Management) to support members in business and commercial agriculture. Most businesses fail due to lack of financing, marketing and technical know-how, financial planning, record-keeping and strategy. This enhances the creation of more entrepreneurs and encourages self-employment.