VISIONFUND KENYA KNOCKS THE SILVER JUBILEE DOOR CONFIDENTLY

Mr. Reuben Mwaura, CEO VisionFund Kenya.
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A department of a global humanitarian organization evolves into a major microfinance institution

By George Gichuki

VisionFund Kenya was established in 2000 as a department in World Vision – a global humanitarian organization. It was then known as KADET (the Kenya Agency for the Development of Enterprise and Technology).  KADET, a limited company, operated in Kenya for thirteen years as a microfinance institution.  It rebranded in 2013 acquiring its current name; VisionFund Kenya.  “VisionFund Kenya is a wholly owned subsidiary of World Vision International,” says Mr. Reuben Mwaura, Chief Executive Officer, VisionFund Kenya.  “ It was established in order to extend  financial services  and  livelihood  solutions  to    the communities  residing   in  areas  where  World Vision International  has a presence,” he adds.  Since then, VisionFund Kenya has grown in leaps and bounds.    It   serves various regions   across the country and not just the ones where World Vision International has a presence.  The lender will celebrate its twenty fifth anniversary (silver jubilee) in 2025.

The decision to rebrand VisionFund Kenya was informed by the fact that the microfinance institutions operating in various countries (for instance   Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi and Zambia) under the umbrella of World Vision International had different names and structures. “A need therefore arose to create a unified brand that was driving a common agenda   across these markets,” says Mr. Mwaura.  Additionally, World Vision International was keen on focusing   on its core mandate (offering humanitarian support) as opposed to managing microfinance business.  To that end, Vision Fund International was created. 

Milestones

Over the years, VisionFund Kenya has   served thousands of clients. “Our mission as guided by World   Vision International   is to   give children a   brighter future,” says Mr. Mwaura.   “ By  so  doing, we   empower families to  create jobs  and  generate  incomes,  hence  unlocking    their   potential  to thrive,”  he emphasizes .  To  that    end,  VisionFund Kenya  is driven by the need to enroll  children in schools,  in  good  health  and living in homes that offer dignity  and protection to  them. “We have therefore developed products that empower families to improve  their livelihoods,” Mr. Mwaura further says.

Over the years, the fast growing microfinance institution has served close to three hundred thousand customers.  Most of these customers are vulnerable, have low incomes and they reside in the rural and far flung areas. By and large, the solutions offered by VisionFund Kenya transform their lives. They are impactful. “When we hear that our customers have been able to take their children to school, their businesses are thriving and the living standards of their respective communities have improved, we get inspired to continue serving them with more zeal,” Mr. Mwaura avers.

VisionFund Kenya undertakes a lot of studies and surveys in order to assess the impact of its financial solutions in its target market. “Many customers prefer our products and services because they connect with their needs and aspirations,” affirms Mr. Mwaura.

TEAMWORK: (L-R) Hotensiah Muthoni, Marketing Manager VisionFund Kenya, Mr. Reuben Mwaura, CEO VisionFund Kenya and Patricia Kuria, Communications Lead, VisionFund Kenya.

Mandate

As an organization, VisionFund Kenya’s mandate is derived from the one of World Vision International.  This mandate is dubbed ‘Our Promise 2030.’  Based on that, the lender has come up with ‘Our Livelihood Promise’ which drives its business and agenda in Kenya.  “We serve the low income and vulnerable households and this is driven by the aspirations of our main shareholder – World Vision International,” says Mr. Mwaura adding that thy are keen on facilitating the low income households in the rural areas to thrive in line with the promise of World Vision International. “The solutions that we offer are geared towards addressing the needs of the low income and vulnerable households,” affirms Mr. Mwaura.

Products

VisionFund Kenya has developed an array of innovative products based on its customers’ needs.  One of them is dubbed ‘Chipuka’- which means germinate in Kiswahili.  The product targets customers who are economically active and keen on overcoming poverty.  These customers are therefore in need of financing their micro and   small enterprises so that they can start growing.  Secondly, a product named ‘Nawiri’ targets businesses that are blossoming.  ‘Vuma’ product on the other hand targets established businesses and its goal is to enable them expand and fully  exploit the potential  they have in the market.

Given that agriculture is the mainstay of Kenya’s economy (especially in the rural areas),  VisonFund Kenya has developed a product dubbed ‘MkopoShambani’.

It targets customers who are practising farming and who have needs like irrigation and quality seeds.  The product contributes thirty per cent of the lender’s total business.  “We are very keen on providing interventions in the agriculture space since they have a huge impact on our target market,” says Mr. Mwaura. 

Mr. Reuben Mwaura in his office.

VisionFund Kenya also offers education loans to parents so that they can pay school fees for their children. Recently, the lender launched a product that targets private schools. The decision to launch this product was informed by the fact that after the introduction of the competency based curriculum (CBC) in Kenya, schools have a big need to put up classrooms, purchase laboratory equipment and train teachers. “Our new solution is meant to address that financing gap in schools,” Mr. Mwaura says.  “We have partnered with the Kenya Private Schools Association in the roll out of that solution,” he adds. So far, sixty schools in Nairobi County have benefited from this innovative product.

In response to the market trends, VisionFund Kenya has also launched a digital loan   product dubbed V-Pesa.   The product is very suitable for customers with emergency needs since it is processed via their mobile phones on a real time basis. In the same regard, there is a huge shortage of houses in Kenya (mainly in the urban areas), yet this is a basic need. To address this gap, VisionFund Kenya has developed a loan product for constructing and improving houses.  “Most Kenyans construct their houses in phases depending on the availability of funds,” observes Mr. Mwaura. “Our product therefore is offered on an incremental basis depending on the construction stage,” he adds. This product is suitable for customers who want to put up decent houses for their families. Customers can also use it to finance the construction of rental houses.

Many Kenyans (mainly the ones residing in the arid and semi –arid areas) cannot access clean water and sanitation. This exposes them to ill health and food   insecurity.  It is against this background that VisionFund Kenya has developed a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) product. Through this product, customers are financed to buy water tanks, excavate water pans , harvest rain water and construct latrines. 

According to Mr. Mwaura, while working in partnership  with World Vision International  to train self-help  groups in a programme known as ‘Empowered Worldview’,  the VisionFund Kenya team realized that the money shared by members during table banking was not enough for everyone who needed a short term loan. The lender consequently developed   a product to beef up the groups’ kitty so that those in need of funding could access the same on time. In essence, groups are financed by VisionFund Kenya and in turn, they on- lend their members. “In the process, many self -help groups have been able to generate a lot of profits hence sustaining their kitties,” Mr. Mwaura avers. This solution has been rolled out in Migori, Bomet, Kakamega and Mombasa counties.  It has been branded ‘Fast’ which stands for ‘finance accelerating savings groups transformation.’

According to the 2023 AMFI-K sector report, the group lending methodology (popularly known as the Grameen model) is losing preference to individual lending.  As they scale up their businesses, most customers are preferring to borrow as individuals since they already have collaterals like title deeds.  In that regard, VisionFund Kenya has developed a product for individual borrowers in addition to solidarity loans- a product offered to groups.  The current limit for individual loans is 25,000 USD ( an equivalent of Kshs.3.65 million).  “Our mandate is to serve the low income rural communities and that is why we have limited the amount of loan that we can give to an individual,” says Mr. Mwaura.

Unique

VisionFund Kenya is unique not just because of its Christian identity, but also its convenience and efficiency in service delivery.  In the same vein, the lender has built a very strong and cordial working relationship with its customers by for instance training them on life skills, entrepreneurship and financial literacy among other fields.  “Our goal is to make sure that our customers derive value from the products and services that we offer them,” says Mr. Mwaura.

Digitization    

By and large, VisionFund   Kenya has embraced   digitization. It is one of key strategic imperatives of the organization from 2024 to 2027.  “ We  really want to promote   digitization  in our business  because it enhances efficiency, “  says  Mr. Mwaura adding  that  the lender has been   cashless since 2010  when it  integrated its  systems.  99% of VisionFund Kenya’s   payments are made via the mobile banking technology. To that end, it has developed an app – V-Pesa- which customers can download on their mobile phones.    Alternatively, customers   can make mobile banking transactions via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD).  Currently, the organization is digitizing all its processes so that ultimately, it can become paperless.   Additionally, by embracing machine learning,  VisionFund Kenya will be able to   review customers’ statements efficiently  and  provide them with suitable solutions  within a short period of time.  “Customers’ preferences keep on changing; they want innovative and convenient   solutions hence the need to embrace technology,”  Mr. Mwaura observes.

VisionFund Kenya women group dancing during a marketing storm in Kapenguria.

He further says that 40% of VisionFund Kenya’s customers are below the age of thirty five years and they are technologically savvy. Consequently, the lender uses social media platforms to engage these customers and create awareness about its product offering.

Essentially, even though VisionFund Kenya has developed digital products, it is still modeled as a   microfinance institution with a branch network across the country.  By the same token, it has a team of officers who work closely with customers by offering them training among other value add services.  As a member  of the Association of Microfinance Institutions  – Kenya ( AMFI-K),  VisionFund Kenya  has   been   working closely with other players in  the  microfinance  sector  in lobbying  the  government  to make  regulations for the credit only microfinance institutions  operational.   As a way forward, VisionFund Kenya    has applied for a license from the Central Bank of Kenya so that  its  digital loan business can be regulated.

Changing the mindset

According to Mr. Mwaura, in the process of offering various solutions to communities, they realized that there was a huge gap in their mindset.  “Some of them harboured beliefs that they cannot make it in life because they have for instance been bewitched,” he says.   As an intervention, they introduced a training programme that they branded: ‘Empowered Worldview.’  “The intervention seeks to debunk the beliefs that are inherent in us hence hindering us from achieving the potential that God has blessed us with fully,” he adds.  The training is offered in groups.  VisionFund Kenya has internally trained a team among its staff members to offer this programme.  Customers are empowered to know that they have unlimited resources at their disposal which they can use to turn-around their lives.  They are also trained to know their identities, to leverage the financial solutions offered by VisionFund Kenya in order to unlock their potential and the need   to put their faith into   action.

VisionFund Kenya Senior Leadership Team cutting a cake to celebrate an achievement of a 1 Billion Mark Portfolio.

The training programme is interactive. It has kits and group activities.  Mr. Mwaura recalls conducting a session in Eldoret a  while ago.   After concluding  it,  some  group  members  said  they  were not in need of  funding  after  realizing  that  they  had not fully  tapped into  their  resources and  potential.  “  For a business,  that may sound like you are losing a customer but what that tells us is that we may have been  giving    solutions  that were not  meeting  the  needs of  those  customers,”  he observes.   “ What they needed was  awareness  creation ( mindset  change)   that  would  help  them  to utilize the  resources   at their disposal  well,”  he adds. 

Silver jubilee

VisionFund Kenya’s silver jubilee anniversary is just around the corner. That is no mean achievement.  “We have positively impacted and reached many customers through our solutions within the last twenty five years but we still believe there is a lot more that we can do,” Mr. Mwaura avers.  He is emphatic   that the opportunities to serve rural communities and low income households are enormous in Kenya.

Last year, the organization started offering insurance products   in partnership with underwriters.  This decision was informed by the need to enhance the resilience of the communities it serves – for instance farmers keeping livestock and growing crops and who are exposed to erratic weather patterns.  To complete the intervention picture fully, the lender is planning to start offering   savings products.  Globally, its goal is to reach thirty million customers.  “For us to achieve those audacious goals, we must develop products that are connecting with the needs of our customers,” Mr. Mwaura ends with optimism.

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