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Preaching the greatness of small beginnings

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By SYLVIA WAKHISI | September 15th 2013

BY SYLVIA WAKHISI

Over and over again, we are encouraged to embrace a saving culture as a way of transforming our lives. Saving is a powerful tool for self-employment and improving livelihoods, especially among the poor.

It is one of the reasons why Pauline Ngari came up with Operation Akiba Nyumbani, to promote a saving culture across the country, no matter how little a person’s income.

Pauline is the chief executive of Hand in Hand Eastern Africa (HiH EA), which is an affiliate of Hand in Hand International.

Started in 2011, Akiba Nyumbani focuses on poverty alleviation through business and job creation and has benefitted about 43,500 individuals. As a result, 42,000 new jobs have been created and 31,000 new enterprises initiated.

“We started the campaign because we felt Kenyans needed to embrace a saving culture. Through savings, one can start and expand their business. Young entrepreneurs are especially in need of saving skills,” says Pauline.

At the heart of her initiative is saving at home, which promotes bigger things, just as the Kiswahili says: Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.

It targets the Hand in Hand members who have undergone entrepreneurial training, and who mainly comprise the very poor with no bank accounts.

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The campaign uses the same concept as bank saving through ‘bank tins’, a form of piggy bank. The tins are only opened once every six months.

Pauline says the members are trained on how to use their savings to initiate or expand businesses. The training includes, among other things, group formation, enterprise development, business planning, effective saving, marketing and financial management.

“When someone saves enough to set up a small business, then saves some more to expand that business, it helps in sustainable job creation.

“Operation Akiba Nyumbani is implemented through a competitive campaign. Winners receive awards categorised under the best branch, best group, best average savings per member and the best saver,” Pauline explains.

The prizes are awarded every six months, when the ‘bank tins’ are opened. The participants converge in one location and open their tins in the presence of HiH staff, and then the money is counted.

“The best part of the competition is that it helps to inculcate a saving culture among the participants, which is then passed on to their families. Self-help groups also use the home bank approach, and set their objectives based on an agreed purpose, such as saving school fees for their children,” she adds.

In the first HiH home saving campaign last year, the competition attracted 937 members who saved Sh2.6 million in six months. The best saver had Sh102,510. The just concluded ‘Season 2’ campaign had 4,315 participants, who saved more than Sh10 million within six months. The best saver, Philomena Nduku Mutuku, had Sh194,651.

Philomena is a small-scale trader from Machakos County. Prior to joining a HiH group, the 67-year-old widowed mother of ten was a farmhand, earning about Sh500 a week for fetching water and tilling land.

“After the HiH EA training last year, I managed to save Sh30,000, which I used to set up a stall. This year, I saved Sh194,651, and I’ve not only increased my stock, but put up a stone building. I no longer have to store my wares in my house during bad weather,” says Philomena.

LUXURIES

However, she admits that saving the money was hard because she is the family’s sole breadwinner.

“Despite pressing needs such as hospital bills and school fees, I was determined to save. Every time I got some money, I allocated part of it to basic needs, and then put the rest in my home bank. If I had not sacrificed spending on luxuries, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I now earn about Sh1,000 daily.”

Sofia Mbithi is another beneficiary of the saving campaign. She emerged third in ‘Season 1’ with Sh38,900, and came second this year with Sh166,215.

She used the money to buy a new grinder for her posho mill and help her husband, who was employed as a driver, buy his own vehicle.

“The HiH savings campaign has opened my eyes to opportunities I wouldn’t have seen before,” she says.

Beth Wangui, the saving scheme’s first winner, used her money to buy land.

“Owning a plot is a miracle. I’m saving more money so that I develop this land,” Beth says.

Pauline says the campaign has demonstrated that even those who perceive themselves as poor can save a lot.

“It is through such savings that we are able to alleviate poverty and create wealth among the bottom poor in our society. This approach is practical in promoting entrepreneurship,” she says.

She is quick to point out that HiH has achieved this success through working closely with other partners who share its vision, including the Government and private sector.

“We hope the Government will continue partnering with us to actualise the agenda of enterprise creation. Due to public demand, we are preparing for ‘Season 3’ of our saving competition. Though organising these programmes is tedious, I find a lot of satisfaction and fulfilment in doing it, since it helps families live decent lives,” says Pauline.

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