With a transformative strategy that is focused on agility, responsiveness and stability, leading microfinance bank touches its customers’ lives with unique water and sanitation products
Rafiki Microfinance Bank (MFB) was established eleven years ago. It is a top tier microfinance bank that mainly targets the small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Rafiki MFB has been growing steadily over the years due to its innovative product offering and agile business model. “We have a lot of passion and focus on empowering our customers economically,” says Mr. Joseph Njuguna, the Managing Director. “We believe in not only providing financial solutions to our customers, but also ensuring that we have a positive impact on their lives and livelihoods,” he adds.
Headquartered in Nairobi, the bank has nineteen branches that are spread across eleven counties nationwide. In line with the market trends, the bank has developed an array ofinnovative digital products. In that breath, its customers ( mainly the young entrepreneurs) are able to carry out various banking transactions via their mobile phones and internet at the comfort of their businesses and homes.
True to its name (Rafiki is the Swahili name for a friend), the bank has cultivated a cordial working relationship with its customers. “We pride ourselves as a relationship microfinance bank and our customers are not mere statistics,” says, Mr. Njuguna. “We treat each customer in a unique way so that we can understand their needs and tailor solutions for them accordingly,” he adds.
Unique value proposition
According to Mr. Njuguna, Rafiki MFB is very passionate about serving youthful and upcoming entrepreneurs in various business fields. “Going by the current statistics, the average age of Kenya’s population is twenty years. Most of our products therefore target the young demographic,” he says. This market segment is well educated and technology savvy. In that respect, if the youth are supported adequately with capital and other critical resources, they can turn their brilliant ideas into viable business enterprises. Mr. Njuguna is emphatic that through such interventions, Kenya can create many employment opportunities which in turn can accelerate her economic development.
Rafiki MFB is also very strong in financing investment groups (popularly known in Kenya as chamas). This product supports people to collectively save, invest and build enterprises.“We are well positioned in terms of mobilizing groups, building their capacity and then providing them with the requisite financial solutions so that they can thrive,” Mr. Njuguna avers.
According to Mr. Njuguna, partnerships in the microfinance sector are important because they enable players to develop and roll out products efficiently and effectively. Additionally, players are able to have a competitive advantage, build synergy, mobilise resources and overcome technology barriers to the benefit of their clientele. “As a bank, we have embraced partnerships as a key pillar in our growth strategy and through them, we have been able to develop innovative products, tap into technology that is new in the market, besides accessing more resources,” Mr. Njuguna states.
It is against this background that the bank has partnered with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Kenya (AMFI-K) and Water.org in the Water Credit Adoption programme (WCAD). The objective of the programme is to promote and build the capacity of microfinance banks and credit only microfinance institutions (that are members of AMFI-K) to develop and scale up water supply and sanitation products. The programme was launched in 2019. It is currently in its second phase.
The decision of getting into this partnership according to Mr. Njuguna was informed by the fact that water is critical in supporting human life, especially due to the climatic changes taking place in the world today – a phenomenon that has disrupted the weather patterns and led to prolonged drought among other challenges. Additionally, the Sustainable Development Goal 6 focuses on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. “ At Rafiki MFB, we are keen on being part of the solutions that will help a vast majority of Kenyans to access clean water and sanitation as part of our agenda to empower communities and improve their socio-economic well-being,” says Mr. Njuguna.
Rafiki MFB was in the first cohort of the WCAD programme that was launched in 2019. The programme has enabled the lender to touch the lives of its customers – especially the ones residing in areas with an acute shortage of water and poor sanitation. Besides being able to access safe water for domestic use, some of these customers have established water based enterprises, hence sustaining their livelihoods. To that end, the bank has developed an array of financial products to enable its customers harvest rain water, drill boreholes and purchase water vending facilities. “Most importantly, these products have helped us to enhance financial inclusion for the rural population that we serve,” observes Mr. Njuguna. By harvesting rain water and digging boreholes, these customers (who are mainly engaged in farming) have been able to irrigate their farms and grow food for domestic and commercial purposes.
In the same vein, many customers in this target market have been able to improve their sanitation by building septic tanks, pit latrines and waste management facilities like bio digesters. “Bio-digesters have helped our customers to produce clean energy for domestic and communal use,” Mr. Njuguna affirms.
Over the years, the microfinance sector in Kenya has played a pivotal role in enhancing financial inclusion. That has mainly been by ensuring that the micro, small and medium enterprises ( MSMEs) and residents of the rural and far flung areas are able to access innovative financial solutions at competitive terms. In the post Covid-19 era, the sector has seen an increase in the adoption of digitization. About 80% of Rafiki MFB customers for example are now accessing the lender’s products and services via mobile phones and internet according to Mr. Njuguna.
The bank has also embraced digitization as a way of enhancing its internal efficiency. This has led to better turnaround time in service delivery and product offering. “Our customers are now able to access our products – especially trade finance- within a record time of thirty minutes owing to digitization,” says Mr. Njuguna.
As the bank continues to advance in technology adoption, it has put in place solid data protection mechanisms as required by its regulator – the Central Bank of Kenya. Additionally, as the world continues to experience challenges (like food insecurity) because of climatic change, Rafiki MFB ( just like other players in the financial sector) has adopted green financing. “This ensures that our customers are in the forefront in protecting the environment,” says Mr. Njuguna. “As part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, the bank is also engaged in initiatives that are aimed at protecting the environment – for instance planting trees.
The road ahead
Going forward, Rafiki MFB is keen on building its internal capacity in order to serve its customers effectively and efficiently. In that respect, the lender is in the process of implementing a very transformative strategic plan that will position it as the leading microfinance bank in Kenya. In order to attain that ambitious goal according to Mr. Njuguna, it will develop products, processes as well as a culture that will resonate well with the needs of the market. Additionally, it is investing over Kshs.200 million within the next two years in a bid to upgrade its technology and achieve its transformative agenda.
Moreover according to Mr. Njuguna, as the economy continues to recover from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the prolonged drought experienced in the country recently, Rafiki MFB is keen on offering the necessary solutions. “The ultimate goal of these initiatives is to build a solid relationship microfinance bank that is agile, responsive and stable,” he avers. At the centre of this transformation agenda are the lender’s customers. In that breath, it is positioning itself to empower its customers with solutions that are globally competitive and responsive to their needs.
RAFIKI MFB: BONDING AND EXCELLING WITH CUSTOMERS
By cultivating a cordial working relationship with its customers, leading microfinance bank develops innovative products that are transforming their lives
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) products play a critical role in fostering man’s well-being. Notably, many Kenyans (especially the ones living in the arid and semi-arid areas) cannot access clean water and sanitation. This exposes them to ill health and food insecurity. Growing up in a clean and safe environment is every child’s dream and right. Indeed, access to clean water, toilets and good hygiene practices gives children a healthy start in life.It is against this background that Rafiki Microfinance Bank has stood out in developing and offering innovative WASH products.
Mr. Joseph Ng’ang’a is the team leader of Rafiki MFB Kayole branch. He joined the bank in 2018 as a relationship officer. Later, he was promoted to a senior relationship officer, before becoming the team leader. His appointment to the current position was based on his good performance. “I can attest to the fact that it is possible to grow your career at Rafiki Bank as an employee, so long as you are productive,” he says.
On a closer look, Rafiki MFB has been playing a pivotal role in transforming the communities where it has a presence since the launch of the WASH products. The bank has established various operations relating to water, sanitation and hygiene such as drilling boreholes. “As a bank, we finance our customers to drill boreholes and acquire water bowsers for supplying clean water to various homesteads, learning institutions and restaurants,” says Mr. Ng’ang’a.
Some of the major factors that led to the establishment of the lender’s branch at Kayole were the huge population in the area and its proximity to Nairobi’s central business district ( CBD). Most of the residents in the populous suburb run micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) across various fields. On the flipside, given the huge population in the area, there is a lot of pressure on the drainage and sewerage system. Additionally, the supply of water by the county government is inadequate. “The need to fill this gap informed ourdecision tooffer WASH products to the customers residing in this area,” says Mr. Ng’ang’a.
“They need a constant supply of clean water especially from boreholes and water bowsers, as well as exhausters for sewerage disposal and we have been financing them successfully in that respect,” he adds.
Initially, the visibility of the WASH products in the market was very low. Few customers understood the benefits of these products and bringing them on board was not a walk in the park. After engaging the customers in groups and making presentations to them regularly, this challenge has been addressed. The customers are grouped depending on their localities. Consequently, staff members from the bank organize meetings for them and through such forums,they are educated on the benefits of WASH products and how they can access them.
By organizing these meetings, the bank have been able to understand the customers’ needs, and address them accordingly. This winning model has enabled the bank to get referrals from the existing customers. In the same token, building a cordial customer relationship has significantly led to the growth of the product and earned a good reputation for the bank in the market place. Further, according to Mr. Ng’ang’a, they are able to set aside specific days for visiting customers in order to get feedback on the performance of the WASH products and monitor their performance. “I would say that this strategy is critical to the growth of our business because it helps us to build a cordial working relationship with our customers,” he avers. “In that respect, we are able to offer them the necessary support and facilitate their businesses to grow to a higher level,” he adds.
The bank works hand in hand with its staff members in promoting the WASH products. “I have been able to lead my team (especially in regard to the WASH products) in organizing meetings in order to train them on their features and benefits,” says Mr. Ng’ang’a. “The staff members are the first customers and therefore understanding the importance of cleanliness and hygiene empowers them with the ability to market the product effectively to potential customers,” he emphasizes. Further, as a team leader, he motivates his staff members so that they can achieve their targets.
Rafiki MFB Kayole branch continuously engages customers to share their feedback. In that respect, the branch has set a day every week where all the suggestions are evaluated and a way forward is developed. In the process of engaging its customers, the bank has realized the need to organize meetings with them on a regular basis so that they can understand the benefits of its products in a better way. Additionally, as a demonstration of the tight bond between the bank and its customers, it supports them in times of need. “In case any of our customers is hospitalized, we assist him or her in fundraising and this has helped in strengthening our relationship,” he ends.
BEATRICE AKOTH: LIMITLESS AMBITIONS
An outstanding entrepreneur ventures into water vending business after being financed by Rafiki Microfinance Bank
To a large extent, entrepreneurship enables people to take their career into their hands and lead in their own direction. It is all about building a life on your own terms, no bosses, no restrictions and no one to hold you back. Entrepreneurship is both a challenge and a great opportunity. It takes certain qualities to be a successful entrepreneur. There is no right or wrong way, as long as you possess the entrepreneurial spirit and you are be able to seize opportunities and overcome challenges that may arise in your journey. Great entrepreneurs can come from all walks of life. While that is true, it means that you need to possess important skills and characteristics when starting and leading a venture. It is through entrepreneurs (who are able to take the first step) that the world becomes a better place for everyone; including themselves.
Water vending business entails the selling or onward distribution of water from other sources by small-scale vendors for domestic use. Water vendors are common in many parts of the country where the commodity is scarce or lack of infrastructure limits access to safe drinking water. That is particularly in urban areas. It entails different forms of selling water. It could range from individuals who carry water in containers on pushcarts, to water kiosks, where consumers fetch the water by themselves. Normally, water vending is a competitive business. The level and harshness of competition in water markets may vary in different areas. The competitiveness usually occurs because there are many people without jobs and entry into the business is easy. However, achieving profitability in the market is very challenging. The vendors must win their customers’ loyalty in order to maintain them and remain profitable in the highly competitive business.
Beatrice Akoth, founder of Savannah Traders identified a water shortage gap in Kayole. She decided to seize the opportunity, heralding the beginning of her journey in the water vending business. After working at the Kenyatta National Hospital in the laboratory services department for thirty years, she decided to start the business not only as a profit making venture but also to solve the water shortage problems in her neighbourhood. Akoth’s remarkable entrepreneurship journey took off with the help of Rafiki MFB after the lender launched water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) products. “After I retired, and having built a house in Kayole, perennial water shortage in the area was quite a challenge and I needed to fill that gap,” she says. After making a lot of enquiries on the cost of drilling a borehole, she decided to device mechanisms on how she could raise funds for the process to commence, but her effort at that time did not bear any fruits.
In 2009, she decided to start a group known as Bethosawa – an acronym of its officials. The group’s goal was to save funds in order to acquire a piece of land where they could build their houses. “We started the ‘chama’ and we were saving on a monthly basis – we were about eighty in number,” she says. Since all of them were low-income earners, they decided to fix a reasonable amount of money to be saved every month. After saving for one year, they were able to acquire their first piece of land. Some of them were able to build their houses. Akoth was one of them. Her house was two bed-roomed.
Partnering with Rafiki
By 2010, the group had not yet achieved its goal fully. The members were keen on purchasing more land in order to put up more houses. As a group they decided to carry out a survey on a number of banks and Saccos where they could save money and get favourable loans at favourable terms. Ultimately, they settled on Rafiki MFB. “We chose Rafiki because they were very friendly in the way they handled us and they were also ready to give us a loan nine times our savings,” states Akoth. They would deposit money every month after conducting a series of meetings for mobilization. A few months later, they were able to secure a loan which they used to acquire several pieces of land: ten hectares in Kamulu, Joska, and KBC Malaa respectively. This was a life changing moment for them.
Later, Akoth decided to start Savannah Traders with some members from Bethosawa group. The group members would meet on a weekly basis and contribute money which would later be deposited in the bank. “I decided to start this group after Rafiki MFB introduced the WASH products – that was a very a good business opportunity,” she says. Through the training offered by Rafiki the group was able to understand the benefits of the WASH products. Their efforts paid off after they secured a loan which they used to purchase borehole drilling machines. A few loans later, she was able to buy a three bed-roomed house in Ngara. The borehole does not only supply water to the residents of Kayole, but also to her household and restaurant. She sells water at Kshs. 2 per 20 litre water jerry can.
Just like it is common in many businesses, Akoth’s water vending venture also encounters challenges. For instance, at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, most people worked from home and businesses collapsed. This interfered with several loan plans that they had. “During the Covid-19 period most of our group members were adversely affected,” she says. “It got so terrible that we could not secure more loans, hence delaying most of our projects,” she avers. Since the effects of the pandemic have subsided, the group is planning to continue embarking on its projects as some of its land is still undeveloped. They are still optimistic of achieving their desired goal.
Further, she adds that she is unable to raise her charges for a 20litre jerry can, given the current state of the economy. Sometimes, she has had trouble in paying her electricity bill when it becomes too high. “When the bill gets too high and I am not able to clear it all at once, I get a loan from Rafiki,” she says. Moreover, during the rainy season, she is not able to get customers because most of them are able to harvest water.
Nonetheless, no challenge is insurmountable. With the help of Rafiki MFB, Akoth hopes to conquer all the challenges and also expand her business to greater heights. “My group and I have benefited a lot from the financial training programme offered by Rafiki MFB and also the awareness they have created in regard to the WASH products,” she says. She refers her friends who are in need of the said products to the lender.
WATER MEANS BUSINESS FOR PATRICK NDUNG’U
Financed by Rafiki Microfinance Bank (MFB), ambitious entrepreneur ventures into water business
Water is a key pillar of economic and social development. As the popular adage goes, water is life. It is a vital commodity in the maintenance of good health, growing food, and generating energy, managing the environment and creating jobs. Improved water supply and sanitation and better management of water resources, can boost a country’s economic growth and contribute greatly to poverty reduction. Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. In case of shortage of water, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services, then the residents are exposed to preventable health risks.
Poor management of urban, industrial and agricultural wastewater means that millions of people are exposed to ill health. When water comes from improved and more accessible sources such as boreholes or water bowsers, then people spend less time and effort to access it, meaning that they can be productive in other ways. Water bowsers, also known as water trailers, are fitted with a tank. They are mainly used for water transportation and storage. Additionally, they contribute to personal safety and reduction of musculoskeletal disorder which can be brought by fetching and carrying water from long distances.
Bottom of the pyramid
Rafiki Microfinance Bank (MFB), prides itself as a relationship microfinance bank. “To achieve impact on effective relationship management, we listen in order to pick needs and gaps in the marketplace, then offer innovative solutions,” says Mr. Ken Waititu, the head of business, Rafiki MFB. “It was through this customer centric culture that we realized water, sanitation and hygiene was a great need for us to step in,” he adds.
The partnership with AMFI-K and Water.org has helped Rafiki MFB in capacity building activities since the lender has trained its staff through the initiatives co-opted in the tripartite collaboration.
Mr. Waititu further says that Rafiki MFB has established water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) products and designed an articulate process flow in order to ensure that the products are administered with an efficient turnaround time, together with defined acceptance criteria that will encourage more clients to onboard.
As a microfinance bank, they address the bottom of the pyramid where most of the customers need aggregation support in order to be fully settled in a financial inclusivity or social impact based programme. “We therefore welcome more players like Water.org and AMFI – K to come on board with more structured mitigation to enable us serve our niche market,” Mr. Waititu avers.
Through its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) products, Rafiki MFB has addressed the challenge of water and poor sanitation among various communities where it has a presence. One of these communities is Kayole. By accessing this product, Kayole residents are now enjoying water in their homesteads. Additionally, the enterprising ones have become water vendors. Patrick Ndung’u, a resident of Kamulu, is one of them. He realized the potential of entrepreneurship after being employed as a lorry driver. After a few years of working, the visionary and industrious entrepreneur decided to try his luck in business. Through the savings he had made while working, he decided to look for funds that could enable him venture into water business.
Partnering with Rafiki MFB
His journey took off with the help of Rafiki MFB. “My business is supplying water to customers using a water bowser,” he says. He has been in this business for the last five years. According to him, this is a well-paying venture. Since the money he had saved was not enough for him to start the business, he decided to look for an institution that would finance him. After surveying several commercial and microfinance banks, he settled on Rafiki MFB. The lender financed him to purchase his first water bowser.
His business grew fast within a short period of time. He got a lot of clients from within his locality and without. “After I finished paying the loan, I decided to add another water bowser because the demand was getting high and I wanted to satisfy all my clients,” he says. Not only was he seeking to meet the demands of his clients, but he also wanted to ease his logistics of the supply of water. Through Rafiki MFB, he was able purchase the second water bowser as well as a mini lorry. As time went by, his business grew to greater heights. Ndung’u shares that the bank has played a major role in his business growth. Through its friendly terms, he has been able to service hisloan conveniently, while still using the water bowser. One of the major benefits of being a customer of Rafiki MFB is that you can be financed to buy a new car, without necessarily disposing the old one. The bank also supports him in maintaining his vehicles.
“Rafiki MFB mainly supports upcoming entrepreneurs to grow their businesses,” he says. Given that his business is thriving, he has a vision of expanding it. So far, he has referred a number of friends to open accounts with the bank for the purpose of saving, investing and also personal growth. “Since I joined the bank, everything in my business has been running smoothly and therefore I will continue being its loyal customer,” he asserts. Some of the benefits that he enjoys include: competitive interest rates on loans and flexible repayment schedules.
Many successful entrepreneurs are often faced with upsand downs. Ndung’u is not an exception. “This business has a number of challenges but the major one is the failure of customers to honour their payments on time. “I have about six customers currently who have not yet honoured their payment to the tune of Kshs. 120,000, hence adversely affecting my business,” he states. In the process, he ends up incurring debts for he has to fuel his lorry and also repair it in case of damages.
Having bought a second hand lorry, he spends a lot of money to maintain it. “Most of the time, the police always check my number plate and going by the fact that it is very old they tend to get some mistakes and I end up being fined,” he says.
To overcome the challenge of delayed payments, he has been engaging his customers in order to come up with an amicable solution. He has also been able to get some top up loans which have facilitated the repair and maintenance of the Lorries.
He hopes that Rafiki MFB in the coming days will finance him to drill a borehole where he could access water easily. Finally, he is planning to purchase a new lorry in order to lower the maintenance costs.