Supporting Small Business in Kenya
Posted 1st November, 2020
The story begins over ten years ago, when Vitality Founder and Managing Director James Wright, attended an African photographic exhibition in Melbourne. Being born in Nairobi, Kenya, the exhibition felt close to his heart. As James perused the photographs on the wall, he found himself drawn to a portrait of a young boy in a blue shirt with an intense gaze.
Beneath the image was a plaque that read: “My only hope is a good education.”
James purchased the portrait and hung it on the wall of his office. Looking at it every day for two years, he often wondered about this boy. Who was he? Where did he live? How was he doing?
So he reached out to the photographer, who informed James that the boy’s name is Paul and he is an orphan who is being supported by an organisation called African Kids in Need (AKIN). AKIN had found the boy living in very difficult conditions with his brother, Peter, and had enrolled the brothers in their Learning Centre in Nairobi.
Without hesitation, James reached out to AKIN, wanting to do something to help. He agreed to sponsor Paul and Peter’s education costs whilst they were at the AKIN Learning Centre.
Since that day, the Wright family has maintained an ongoing relationship with the boys and their extended family. They’ve exchanged regular letters, sent gifts and James and his family have visited them in Nairobi each year since 2015.
The gift of education continues beyond school
Today, Paul is a young adult who has transitioned into work. With this, Paul and James’ partnership has evolved from an education sponsorship to a business mentorship.
After completing school, Paul sought work to earn a living. He considered filling plastic jugs with water from the local bore hole and selling them to the neighbouring residents in the slum. But AKIN stepped in, offering Paul the opportunity to take a driving course and get his license, before becoming a tuk tuk (taxi) driver.
Although a great opportunity, it soon became clear to Paul that the costs of renting a tuk tuk and supporting his two brothers Peter and Joseph made saving money difficult.
Saving for his own tuk tuk would have taken decades, with many small business entrepreneurs unable to meet the minimum lending criteria set by financial institutions, particularly without a credit history, strong business plan or financial know-how – let alone growing up in a without parents, in a rural village.
Upon learning of these barriers, James didn’t hesitate to help. He gave Paul a substantial interest-free personal loan to purchase a tuk tuk outright. The loan meant Paul could pay off his own vehicle with the knowledge that every shilling he put into the bank not only paid off the loan but would ultimately be available to him in the form of another loan to expand his business.
After an initial Skype meeting, James began coaching Paul on how to operate a small and stable private business. Each month, they went through his budget, discussed the taxi industry and areas for improvement, and discussed plans for the future. James even had a number of rides in the tuk tuk!
“To say Paul is eager to learn and grow his business is an understatement,” James says. “He firmly has his sights set on paying back the loan so he can get another loan.”
The journey continues
James and his daughter, and Vitality Social Impact Manager, Hayley Wright, withnessed how small loans could improve the livelihoods of the AKIN network, and subsequently co-founded the AKIN Bakari Micro Loans program. “Bakari” is a Swahili word for ‘shows great promise.’
“Through working with Paul, we have witnessed firsthand the personal and professional benefits that access to a small amount of capital can have,” says Hayley. “We learned a lot about micro-loans during that time. We learned that while access to low-interest capital was an obvious benefit, the commitment to mentoring and offering some commercial education was the key ingredient for success.”
“We also learned that there was an opportunity to expand the micro-loan and mentoring opportunities to other AKIN beneficiaries, and that a well-structured program with good governance and oversight would ensure its sustainability and positive impact over the long term.”
With Paul Miller, the founder of AKIN, as well as Sophie Omutanyi & David Oketch, the local AKIN Program Managers, they created a rigorous process from initial business idea vetting, to loan application writing, business planning and loan approval. They have established a mentoring program with field visits and a process to ensure the program’s ongoing financial sustainability.
Alongside Paul, Bakari now funds 7 other loanees in varying businesses such as a hair salon, community food stores, tailoring and a pathology clinic, and each of these young men and women are mentored over Skype every month, as well as in person by David Oketch and other local AKIN mentors.
Demand for loan capital is increasing all the time, whether from new applicants or from people like Paul Thuku, who has since continued to prove his business success, having now repaid his first loan in full. He has since sold his tuk tuk and received a second loan for a car and is now a carshare driver.
“I have now graduated from three wheels to four,” says Paul Thuku.
For James, seeing the results of his work, as well as involving Hayley, provides a sense of unity: “I feel it’s not just my personal pursuit. It’s something I can share with my daughter and the rest of my family, as well as my team at Vitality.”
James is dedicated to his ongoing social investment in AKIN: “I have been surprised at how much a small amount of time, the sharing of a little knowledge and the investment of a targeted amount of money, can bring such large rewards to everyone involved.”
To learn more about AKIN, visit: africankidsinneed.org
As an organisation with a long heritage of leaving a positive social legacy, Vitality is focused on supporting important causes through sales of its wellbeing brands. This is encapsulated in the Vitality promise:
We will offer products that help people feel healthier and happier. Whilst doing this, we will behave ethically, respect the planet, and share our profits to leave a positive social legacy.
In 2020, Vitality was proud to make the GoodCompany Top 30 Best Workplaces to Give Back 2020 list in recognition of its social impact initiatives.