VISIONARY IDEA TURNS AROUND THE FORTUNES OF NEEDY WOMEN

Eng. Charles Mwirigi, Chief Executive Officer, Women Enterprise Fund (WEF).
cropped-leaderboard-ad

Started with a small kitty, the Women Enterprise Fund is now a mega revolving Fund that is transforming the lives of many households countrywide

By George Gichuki

The Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) was established in 2007. Fully funded by the Exchequer, the semi-autonomous government agency is domiciled in the Ministry of Public Service, Gender, Senior Citizens Affairs and Special Programmes. The main goal of WEF is to empower women (mainly the ones who are vulnerable and in the low income bracket) to engage in economic generating activities by financing them to establish micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in different sectors of our economy. Given that men also play a pivotal role in supporting their families, WEF has created a small window for them. According to Dr. (Eng.) Charles Mwirigi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), WEF, while executing its mandate, the flagship organization focuses on five major areas: funding, capacity building, market support, linking women enterprises to larger organizations and development of infrastructure.

To start with, access to affordable financing comes in handy especially when a business is at the start-up stage and needs to grow to the next phase. In that regard, WEF gives subsidized credit to women who are not well endowed financially so that they can establish and scale-up businesses. Additionally, the organization’s main target group, (any economically active Kenyan woman aged 18 years and above who wants to start or expand her business), receives training before being financed so that they do not divert their funds to other needs. “Our training curriculum has nineteen modules focusing on how to identify a viable business idea, how to develop a business plan, mapping out supply chain opportunities as well as mobile banking among other areas,” says Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi. “All our field officers are trained on all the modules equipping them with the knowledge on how to train other trainers,” he adds. Development of the curriculum was supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) and UN Women.

Secondly, the funded groups are linked with large organizations in order to network and learn best practices in various industries. They are also mentored by their fellow women who have succeeded in entrepreneurship.

In the same breath, WEF endeavours to create a decent work environment for women running MSMEs in the open air markets and road sides. One of the interventions in that regard has been by providing them with parasols which shelter these women from sun and rain, as they sell their merchandise.

Finally, WEF is mandated to support women in marketing their goods and services both locally and internationally. For instance, the organization has created an online marketing platform known as WEF SOKO where women can sell their products at no cost. “There are many women who have been able to sell their goods internationally after displaying them on our SOKO hence motivating them to soldier on in their respective businesses,” Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi says.

Product offering

One of the reasons which has been attributed to the fast growth of WEF is the development of innovative products. Its flagship product is branded Tuinuke loan. It is an interest free loan that targets women in self-help groups registered by the Department of Social Services and with a minimum of ten members. Ideally, all the members of these groups should be women. Nevertheless, a group can accommodate thirty percent of its members as men, but all leadership positions must be held by women. If a group is not registered, it is assisted to do so by WEF officers in all the 290 constituencies. In total, Ksh. 21.3 billion has been disbursed to 2.1million women (an equivalent of 98%) under this product. This loan is disbursed in five cycles ( Kshs. 100,000, Kshs.200,000 and Kshs.350,000 repayable within one year) as well as Kshs.500,000 and Kshs.750,000 repayable within eighteen and twenty four months respectively. According to Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi, due to the growing demand for this product, a sixth cycle of Kshs. 1 million has been introduced.

The innovative product has been rolled out in all the two hundred and ninety constituencies and thirteen selected Huduma centres countrywide. Before a group applies for a loan, all members must be trained for three days by an officer from WEF, who issues the loan application form. The loan is processed within forty-five days. The loan application can also be downloaded from the organization’s website.

Additionally, WEF has established sixteen fully fledged regional offices. “We started with eight regional offices in every province as per the Old Constitution, but we spilt them into two after the New Constitution was promulgated,” says Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi adding that they are now planning on establishing regional offices in all the forty seven counties.

WEF has also developed a product known as Local Purchase Order (LPO) or Local Service 0rder (LSO) financing to support access to government procument opportunities. It is accessed by companies with either one hundred per cent or seventy per cent shareholding by women. The financing is equivalent to sixty per cent of the LPO or LSO value. It is disbursed within ten days after the customer has complied with all the requirements. “The current ceiling of this facility is Kshs. 2 million but it will soon be reviewed to Kshs.5 million after getting relevant approvals,” says Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi. WEF accepts LPOs/LSOs from both the national and county governments, blue chip companies, public hospitals and learning institutions. In the same breath, WEF facilitates women to tender for business through bid bonds or tender securities within a day.

WEF also gives loans to financial institutions (mainly Saccos) for onward lending to women customers. This product is known as Jiimarishe loan and the maximum amount that a financial institution can access is currently Kshs. 20 million. The financial institution in this case acts as an agent of WEF and it is supposed to lend this money at an interest rate that is less than eight per cent per annum, on a reducing balance. On its part, WEF lends this money to financial institutions at an interest rate of only one per cent on a reducing balance bearing in mind that they are in business. “ Previously, as a way of promoting the uptake of this product, we used to advertise for expression of interest in the newspapers,” says Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi adding that the product has now gained traction after being advertised consistently in both the electronic and print media. “This is the only loan product in our offering which attracts interest,” he says.

Prof. Margaret Kobia, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service, Gender, Senior
Citizens Affairs and Special Programmes (7th from left) and other dignitaries during
the launch of Thamini Loan, a special loan product by WEF for groups led by widows.

New products

In response to the needs of its customers and market trends, WEF has developed individual loan products. They include: asset financing, business and agribusiness loans. Therefore its customers are able to buy motor vehicles, posho mills as well as stock for their businesses. These products will be unveiled in the market soon.

Additionally, in July last year, the organization launched a group based product dubbed ‘Thamini’ which targets widows. This product is already in the market on a pilot basis.

According to Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi, WEF developed ‘Thamini’ based on a survey that was conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2016 which revealed that there were about one million widows in the country at that time. Additionally, WEF collaborated with a National Widows Association to understand the diverse challenges experienced by widows in the women empowerment space.

Milestones

One of the major achievements of WEF is that the organization has been able to turn around the Kshs. 5 billion seed money given by the National Treasury to over Kshs.23 billion. From a small kitty, WEF has created a revolving fund that is being utilized to meet the needs of enterprising women throughout the country, ultimately transforming their lives.

By the same token, WEF has been able to carry out a very effective training programme among its customers focusing on value chain management, entrepreneurship, online marketing and mobile banking among other areas. Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi estimates that 1.9 million women have benefited from this programme.

WEF has also fully automated its key functions including: loan management, finance, human resource and procurement. Currently, it is in the process of automating the audit function by procuring a robust software. Automation has enabled WEF to conduct its core business (lending) seamlessly and efficiently. For instance, the customers are able to pay their loans through the M-Pesa mobile banking platform, and they receive a confirmation from WEF’s bank via the short message service (SMS). The confirmation process is very helpful to the customers operating in groups since it checks on diversion of funds by those who may be entrusted to make payments. “Once a loan is disbursed, we also notify our customers using our mobile phones,” says Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi.

WEF is also ready for ISO 27001 certification on information security management. This is beneficial to the organization because its stakeholders will have confidence dealing with the Fund.

Most importantly, WEF has created jobs directly and indirectly for millions of Kenyans. In this regard, women have been financed to start their own businesses hence having a source of income. As these businesses grow, they have created employment opportunities for other people directly and to various service providers and suppliers indirectly. “This has dignified the lives of many Kenyans who do not have to depend on the benevolence of their friends or family members in order to make ends meet,” says Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi.

Another major milestone is the impressive loan recovery rate which is ninety eight per cent. This has been made possible by the development of a lending policy and loan management system as well as the creation of regional offices. It also demonstrates that WEF has been able to cultivate loyalty among its customers.

Some members of Kwamanga Women Self Help Group which is currently servicing a
loan of Kshs.500,000 from WEF.

Hurdles

According to Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi, if more financial resources are allocated to WEF, the organization will be able to employ more members of staff and equip them with the necessary tools so that they can perform their duties effectively. Currently, at the regional level, some tools like vehicles are being shared due to a shortage of financial resources to acquire them. Consequently, this is slowing down the pace of work among the affected staff members.

Secondly, some religious beliefs (mainly among the Muslim community) prohibit the charging of interest on loans. WEF therefore engages Muslim religious leaders so that they can elaborate to the customers in their communities that WEF loans are interest free. Another way of overcoming challenges related to culture according to Dr (Eng.) Mwirigi is by recruiting field officers from the specific localities.

Road ahead

WEF has moved its head office to Britam

Towers in Upper Hill, Nairobi. This is a strategic move that will enable the organization to cut its overheads by paying less rent. Additionally, all its departments are now on one floor and hence the human resource will be easier to manage.

As outlined in its current strategic plan, WEF is planning to have regional offices in all the forty seven counties by 2024 in order to take its services closer to the people. In preparation for this move, the organization will open sixteen more regional offices in July this year, hence bringing the total number to thirty two. According to Dr. Mwirigi, this will also make it easier for WEF to roll out more products.

In 2021, WEF advanced loans amounting to Kshs. 2.87 billion and this year’s target is Kshs.3.02 billion. Given that this money will go mainly to needy households, the decision to establish WEF by the Kenyan Government was noble and visionary. The timely intervention has made many citizens to be masters of their destiny.

cropped-leaderboard-ad

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here