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How to turn the tide against Kenyans' poor saving culture

 Piggbanks are placed on top of a home bank box with a background of Kenyan currency in the concept of saving culture. [Patrick Vidija, Standard]

In some markets, April is Financial Literacy Month, and the duo of Dolly Sagwe and Kendi Ntwiga spent time over the month talking to Kenyans about personal money habits such as saving for investments, retirement and a rainy day.

The co-founders of Proper Path, a financial literacy awareness and education company, hosted virtual and physical events throughout the month that culminated in a full-day Financial Literacy Summit on April 27.

They shared their experience in setting up a financial literacy awareness company and the insights they have gathered so far about the saving habits of Kenyans with Enterprise. 

What personal experiences do you have that inspired you to create this business?

Dolly Sagwe: I was raised by two daring entrepreneurs and conversations about business and money were a common feature at home, which enabled my siblings and I to learn about money at an early age. When I started working, I realised that the information I had about money was not common knowledge. I observed how my colleagues and people around me used their money after every payday. It was a tool for consumption and nothing was left for investment.

When I inquired, they were surprised that they needed to save and invest for their future. I started sharing with colleagues some of this knowledge and this quickly grew to mentorship and began to see positive outcomes in the lives of some of my colleagues.

Seeing these changes, I expanded to mentor people outside my workplace, focusing on those in their 20s, to young couples and, since 2020, having programs focusing on teens.

Kendi Ntwiga: I was raised in rural Kenya and understood first-hand what it meant to live on limited resources and was eager to make quick money, which threw me in the opposite direction, borrowing from shylocks, investing in pyramid scheme investment and hire purchases. I was unaware that these money decisions were not healthy. Luckily, in my mid-20s, after changing jobs, I met Sagwe, a colleague who seemed to have information that I lacked.

Having failed several times on money aspects previously, I was keen to implement what I was learning and began to adopt the advice given to make incremental, positive decisions regarding money which marked the turning point in my life’s trajectory.

In setting up and growing a business, there is always the argument that business plans are good. And, there is the opposing side of the argument, business plans are not necessary. Which one of these worked for you?

Core to our business plan is the need to scale impact. We kept a balance and had an initial plan we started to work on but quickly realised that we needed to be flexible enough to make adjustments as we went on and move with speed, especially with the “Financial Literacy Month” offering. A business plan is good for structuring how to build a business - it aligns strategy, resources and market needs. But it should not be so rigid because an initial idea may need prompt reforming as one starts to execute.

From your experience in trying to increase financial literacy so far, why is awareness in Kenya low?

What we do not learn, we do not know. That’s simply the reason financial literacy is low. It is not in school curricula, up to the university level. There is little access to financial education where it exists. The content online is largely not localised. We have great educators who have done amazing work on financial education, but the knowledge gap is huge and requires scaled, affordable solutions that can be facilitated by both policy and technology solutions. 

Why does Kenya have among the poorest pensioners in the world?

It’s back to the knowledge gap and then the need for structured pension plans that deeply take into consideration the cost of living during the retirement years. We find that those who have contributed to pensions receive much less than what they need to survive after retirement but have contributed diligently over decades with little knowledge of what the real return will be.

So the reason we see the poor statistics on pensioners is a combination of the knowledge gap and policy that ensures a good structure that aligns with the real needs of the pensioner.

Is financial growth at a personal level an issue of financial literacy or lack of adequate finances?

Financial growth starts with education and from an understanding that it is by providing value one can grow their finances. Also, the mastery of how to utilise that one grows their finances.

An understanding of how to exploit a resource, an opportunity or a skill or talent and how to unlock value from it is the beginning of growth.

Once you have this understanding, you will unlock the value and experience financial growth. It is after this value is unlocked that growth is experienced.

In other words, it is possible to start from zero finances with the right knowledge and teachers and build an empire and it is equally possible to start with finances and no knowledge and end up broke!

What are some of the milestones you have achieved so far and the targets for the future?

We are excited to have kicked off the launch of the inaugural national financial literacy awareness campaign this April, aligning with the global campaigns. More importantly, we have gotten some Kenyans to commit to assessing their financial journeys and accessing free education from our platforms.

We have localised content for Kenyans put together by seasoned educators and collaborators who were able to help some of the people who attended the physical and virtual workshops to start the walk

. Looking forward beyond April, the desire is to continue scaling the access to financial education and to collaborate on policy (school, work and government policy) that will embed financial education throughout the life of Kenyans.

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