Microenterprise Development Program
- The Feminization of Poverty in Western Kenya
- How Volunteer Kenya Helps Empower Women in Rural Communities
- Moving to a More Sustainable Type of Assistance
- Benefits and Impact of the Program
- Types of Microenterprises
The Feminization of Poverty in Western Kenya
Women represent 70% of those people worldwide who live in absolute poverty. In the rural areas of Western Kenya , thousands of women live on less than $2 USD per day. With the increasing spread of HIV/AIDS, thousands of women are becoming widows and are now trying to support themselves and their children on this income, without the assistance of a husband and his associated income.
The social structure within Kenya is such that women are often defined only as mothers, a role which maintains job segregation and low wages.
The United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) reports that profits made by women in business, as opposed to men, are much more likely to benefit entire families, as the funds are used to purchase food and other health-related supplies rather than the consumer goods which men are more likely to purchase. For this reason, Volunteer Kenya sees the empowerment of women as essential to help alleviate the over-all poverty levels in the country as a whole but especially in the rural sectors of the Western province.
It is very common in western Kenya for women to form communal groups to support member needs through group loaning, merry-go-rounds, and general mutual support. Since these groups are already formed, they are the ideal basis on which to start a microenterprise business. The groups are well-organized with executive committees, written rules, and monthly meetings. They are made up of hard working women with vision and determination, but they lack one very important tool…capital.
How Volunteer Kenya Helps Empower Women in Rural Communities
Volunteer Kenya is assisting the women of rural Kenya by providing the necessary seed capital and advice to start small business enterprises. Our Microenterprise Development Program aims to assist in the reduction of poverty through the establishment of income-generating activities for women. Since 2001, we have been funding and advising microenterprise projects, with each group consisting of 20 to over 100 women.
We believe that assisting microenterprise programs for local women will go far in fighting the increasing feminization of poverty. Through microenterprise development, we are helping women gain economic independence, allowing them to fill a more active and assertive role in the society of Western Kenya .
Through funds raised by overseas volunteers and individual donors, Volunteer Kenya provides start-up materials, equipment, capital, training, and consulting services to women’s groups in order to establish small income-generating group businesses. Most of the enterprises we have supported thus far are:
1. Sewing and tailoring shops that sell school uniforms, dresses, table clothes, etc;
2. Bee-keeping projects that harvest and sell honey;
3. Cooking oil projects where oil is extracted from sunflower seeds to sell in the local markets;
4. Horticulture projects that grow and sell tomatoes, maize, kale, and other crops;
5. Fisheries that raise and harvest fish in rural man-made ponds to sell in the local markets;
6. Boda-boda groups that provide bicycle taxi services in the rural areas.
Our seed capital is not used for consumable assets but rather is used to purchase productivity enhancing technology and resources. Each business is set up through an initial grant of $500 to $600 that is used to purchase start-up equipment, materials, tools, and training. The program provides a long-lasting impact on the women and the community due to the newly acquired tools, machinery, and knowledge which enable the women to increase their efficiency, productivity, and output.
Moving to a More Sustainable Type of Assistance
Over the last two years the reach of our program has grown so dramatically that our financial resources are now only able to help a very small percentage of the groups who have joined our network. Thus, in order to reach and provide a beneficial impact to a broader spectrum of groups, we have begun to focus less on simply giving grants to the "self-help" groups, but more so on assessing the progress of the groups we have financially assisted in the past, as well as provide advice and consulting services to newly forming groups.
There are now over 100 microenterprise groups in our network and we have learned a lot from the successes and failures of one of these groups. The volunteers and our field coordinators in the MDP use these "lessons learned" and "best practices" to help other groups further develop and improve their income-generating activities. We also act as a bridge between this network of microenterprise groups by facilitating the sharing of resources and knowledge between them.
We now see the future of our program to be more focused on helping the groups become self-reliant from the start through the point of profitability. Through this expansive network of microenterprise groups, we are able to link up newly forming groups with nearby, successfully established groups who have created innovative and cheap solutions to the problems faced in their particular kind of business project. By facilitating this knowledge and resource sharing between the groups, we are able to help more groups design, develop, and implement an income-generating activity without the need of outside financial assistance.
All of the microenterprise groups are independent of Volunteer Kenya. We take no role in the day-to-day operations of the projects, nor do we exercise any type of managerial control over the group’s activities. They are completely independent groups, with the ability to use their income for whatever purposes they deem worthwhile. The groups do not pay Volunteer Kenya any type of fee for joining the network (aside from the occasional pineapple, papaya, and egg gift baskets given to volunteers who visit their projects), and, likewise, we derive no other financial benefit from helping the groups. The Microenterprise Development Program, like all of Volunteer Kenya’s projects, is a volunteer funded and volunteer driven program.
Benefits and Impact of the Program
The Kenyan women we assist are all from very rural villages and farms and usually have no or very little source of income. Many of them have been widowed by AIDS or are themselves HIV positive. Having previously experienced tremendous struggles in gaining access to capital, these women are incredibly grateful to the overseas volunteers who come to meet with them and help start a group business.
Profits received from the businesses are generally used for one of following purposes:
- Reinvested in their business
- Used to pay school fees for the members’ children
- Pooled into a group bank account that members can take small monthly loans from ($5-$20)
- Used for agriculture products such as seed and fertilizer to help produce higher yields
- Used to support the groups’ HIV/AIDS community assistance programs
The benefit of the Microenterprise Development Program is not only the new access to capital that the income-generating activities provide to the group, but also the sense of hope and empowerment that the women gain from organizing and running their own business.
Our network of microenterprise groups is always very eager to have volunteers come work with them in Kenya. Volunteers in the MDP spend almost all of their time out in the field meeting with microenterprise groups on a daily basis. They work on updating our progress assessment reports for each group, discussing their current project problems and needs, and taking a hands-on approach to learning and improving how each type of microenterprise is run. Volunteers can focus their time working in detail with just one or two groups or they can spend their time rotating around to many groups.
If volunteers are able to raise “extra” money before their trip, they can help start a new microenterprise project or help grow one of the existing projects that they have been meeting with during their time in Kenya. The volunteer will be involved in buying the material, equipment, and tools in Kenya and will then personally handle the donation of this equipment to the women’s group, which is usually a very festive celebration ceremony organized by the women. The atmosphere of excitement, joy, and gratitude is incredibly moving during the start-up celebration. The women are so grateful for the donations, which now enable them to take charge of their future and help provide for their families.
Volunteer Qualification and Requirements
Volunteers in this program need to be outgoing, have a lot of initiative, and be comfortable speaking in front of a large group of adults (20-50 people at a time). Volunteers need to have knowledge on business, management, (very basic) accounting, and project planning. The Kenyans really look up to outsiders and are eager to get advice on improving their projects.
If you are currently in college/university at the undergraduate level, you need to be a business, economics, international studies/relations, or other closely related major. You also need to be 20 years old by the time you come volunteer with us and have a GPA of 3.0 or above (on a 4.0 scale). We just want to make sure that if undergrad students are coming, they are educated enough on business so that they do not cause more harm than good with the MDP groups. These groups are very eager to learn from volunteers – and they will listen and follow what you say. So volunteers need to be careful that they do not overstep their bounds and give advice or incorrect training that could harm the group’s project.
If you are not in college/university, you need to be over 20 years old and have some type of business, economics, management, or international development experience (for the reasons listed above). You do not need to have a college degree (because there are many successful businessmen/women who do not have one – and none of the MDP group members will have one) and you do not need to have microenterprise development experience. However, you do need to have basic business knowledge so that you can effectively give the business training seminars in Kenya .
Volunteers in our Microenterprise Development Program have come from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds including undergrad business students (Duke, Rice, Miami, Indiana, Cambridge), MBA and graduate students on their summer break (Stanford, Penn, etc.), management consultants (BCG, McKinsey, CRA), accountants, investment banking/private equity, small business advisors, a naval officer/pilot, and retired professionals.