When two friends Tess Kariuki and Wanjiru Macharia decided to have weekly coffees last year to catch-up and chart the future, nobody could have known that their discussion would lead to a social business that has captured the hearts and minds of Kenya's women.
You see Tess and Wanjiru are truly your average Kenyan women. Both in their late twenties. Both single mothers. Both grew up outside of Nairobi. Both have been through the bloodsport that is surviving as a single woman in the big city and that is why their innovation has suprised many.
Over a series of some sixteen meetings, they went about examining the reasons why so many young urban women experienced such high levels of financial stress and such low levels of financial success.
"It became clear to us that the modern woman was not doing well financially because in reality the education system and society has set them up to fail," Tess Kariuki explained.
"The whole game is based on go to school, go to university and then get a job. It is a mirage. Even though the number of women going to university has dramatically increased over the last ten years there are no jobs. There are twenty million people in Kenya's work force and only two million of them are employed with only four out of ten of those being women. The fact is the standard narrative is not working and has not worked in more than two decades but it is still being sold as the way to go," she continued.
With clarity, she then explained, "80 per cent of urban women are in business. Whether it is boutique, cosmetics, baking, catering, shoes, makeup, dietary supplements, and herbal good you name it.
They have never been unemployed and have never earned a salary. They have lived on profits in their entire lives and that is at the core of the strain on their finances.
If hard work paid, Kenya women would be the richest in the world but hard work does not pay. Smart work does. The Kenyan woman in urban setting is largely a businessperson with no formal business training or practical advice. She just knows how to raise capital, put it in a business and hope.
When matters unrelated to the business deplete the business capital, look for more capital and do the same thing over again. It is a cycle of failure that is leaving many women surviving from hand to mouth, with little to no savings, debt thirty times their earnings with deep stress and non-stop anxiety."
Statistics reveal that 80 per cent of businesses fail within six months. Of the remaining 20 per cent, 80 per cent within eighteen months.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
If you dont know what you are doing, if you are imitating what others are doing, if you are doing a business because you heard it from somewhere, then business is where you go to lose your savings or the money you borrowed and become poor.
Armed with the information the two women sought to find where their colleagues have consistently done well financially outside the family confines minus being employed.
Their research led them to find out what happened in Canada in the 1950's , western Europe in the 1970's and south east Asia in the 1980's and 90's . And what is happening in China currently.
They discovered a trend where women would come together to move away from being businesswomen to become entrepreneurs, to gain the knowledge to enable them to take control of their lives and their circumstances, to practically obtain the skills to be adept entrepreneurs while putting small amounts of money collectively into investments that allowed them to have multiple income streams.
Devoid of any definition for what they were seeing, they called these entities women income and wealth incubators. The template was simple.
The women groups would organise mentorships on life, money, relationships and entrepreneurship once a month yet they would contribute twice the amount required for the event. Half the money would pay for the event. The other half would be placed in enterprises that would be presented for funding at the events.
Once the enterprises where funded the membership would get information on the enterprises at every stage of its development.
The women were therefore learning about the legal aspects of enterprise , finance and accounting, marketing and advertising, sales and strategy in a very practical sense by being shareholders in the businesses they were studying. What emerged was astounding.
First, the practical approach led to the women having greater stability and purpose in their own lives.
Second they became very astute investors able to spot good investments and make the amendments necessary to enterprise proposals to enable them to be effective moneymakers once they entered the market.
Third when they did present enterprises for funding they would present enterprises that solved problems that they faced in their own lives or that they saw in society or that improved or consolidated business process that they themselves interacted with.
Fourth, these women over a period of two years would consistently be described as happy and financially stable. With five years happy and wealthy.
"We realised that a practical model existed for the financial empowerment of women that could take them from states of financial distress to financial stability within two years and then wealth within five years. Therefore, we began to note down the core lessons that these women had been exposed to.
“We then looked at the structure of how to bring the notion of a woman’s income and wealth incubator to the mass market to enable any woman anywhere to be able to join,” she says.
“We decided that if we could have all the moving parts on a mobile application we could do what had only been done for a few millions , " she explained.
She continues, "So we started drawing sketches, putting together a business plan and talking to App developers who told us not was it possible but it would be easily doable. That is when we got to work in earnest by talking to friends to raise the money needed to bring the concept to market. As we spoke to friends, an odd thing happened. As they would commit they would ask if they could tell a friend so that friend could invest as well and in short order we realised that we needed a more organised process that was all inclusive for women who wanted to come on board."
The ladies then put together a well-organized social media campaign that started in June and ends in September that has attracted women in droves looking to get in early on a business model that many are saying could have global implications with some even comparing their concept now christened WIIE (women investing in entrepreneurship) to Facebook and Uber.
"Women are investing now so that when the platform launches in September they will be shareholders in what we believe will be a global phenomenon that women everywhere will use.”
“When it rolls out women will pay for the life mentorship that will last four months and the enterprise mentorship that will be continuous a minimum of Sh1,500 per month, the money will go into enterprises that will be presented on the platform for funding.”
“So they will walk in for a mentorship and end up with multiple investments and as a result multiple income streams. The women who are investing see that there is a huge market for this model not only locally but also internationally. By investing now, they are becoming owners of the platform, which will make money when businesses are presented for funding, in the management of that business, and from the profits, those businesses will make. For most Kenyan women this a practical way to invest in a model that they know when rolled out to the general public already has huge demand" she concludes.