"Change That Will Last Forever": Women Entrepreneurs are Upending the Social Dynamics in Northern Kenya
In Swahili, the word “Daima” means “last forever.” That is why Nasujuu Lufle Gambare (Rose), Marian Galgithele and Ntubulwa Lekapina chose the name “Daima” for their butchery business in Loglogo in remote northern Kenya. Their dream was to start something that would last forever. They never anticipated that they would also become pillars of female empowerment.
The arid lands of Africa, 40% of the continent, are home to more than 425 million people. In these pastoral, livestock dependent regions, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of droughts, exacerbating poverty dynamics, undermining resilience and perpetuating a dependence on humanitarian aid.
Women and children are most vulnerable to the cascading consequences of drought and poverty. While the men travel with their herds in search of increasingly scarce water and grazing lands, the women and children are often left in the villages, subsisting on food aid or menial work, without a clear path to economic security for themselves and their families.
Poverty graduation programs have been proven to increase the resilience and self-sufficiency of vulnerable people, especially women, by holistically addressing the multiple barriers to overcoming extreme poverty. A Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity consortium led by ACDI/VOCA is working to implement the BOMA Project’s Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP), a gender-focused poverty graduation program, in six of the poorest counties in northern Kenya: Isiolo, Marsabit, Garissa, Turkana and Wajir. REAP provides participants training, mentorship in financial, business and life skills, asset transfers to start small businesses and the opportunity to join a savings group.
Rose, Marian, and Ntubulwa are part of a cohort of women who enrolled in REAP in March 2018. They were selected through a community-led process called Participatory Rural Appraisal which helps identify the poorest and most vulnerable women in target locations. They received preliminary business training and a small seed grant of $200 after deciding on the type of business they wanted to start.
Their progress has been remarkable—and their days look very different than they did a year ago. Rose describes how she used to wake up every day and worry about how she was going to feed her family. Her children didn’t attend school because she couldn’t afford the uniforms.
Now Rose describes how her day starts with giving her kids a good meal and then sending them off to school. “Our children now go to school with a full stomach and with pen, books, full uniform, and shoes; they are doing so much better.”
She then heads to the butchery. All three women say they love having their business and interacting with customers. They source their meat from a local herder, and they slaughter every day. They are proud to be known for the quality of their meat. They chose a central location for their kiosk which attracts both locals and travelers alike. Their business is booming. They reward their regular customers with a few extra pieces, or a better cut of meat, which has built a loyal customer base.
A year after launching, the business value of “Daima” has increased by 94%. The women are taking the profit from the business to build up their savings, meeting the monthly contribution targets in their BOMA savings group. They use the mobile phones provided when they enrolled in REAP to conduct transactions via M-Pesa, one of Kenya’s mobile money services.
Ongoing mentoring and business and life-skills training throughout the two-year REAP program is an essential part of the model. The women meet regularly with their BOMA Village Mentor to discuss their business and life, talk about their challenges and progress, and receive additional trainings and support.
“The REAP model is unique in that it sees women not as passive beneficiaries, but as change agents within their communities,” says John Stephens, Executive Director of the BOMA Project. BOMA, along with Mercy Corps and Smart Regional Consultants, is part of the ACDI/VOCA-led consortium implementing REAP in the six counties.
“We used to run to our husbands for money, now they run to us.”
“I am so proud of how REAP helps these women, says BOMA Village Mentor Jane Naimirdika. “By giving them the resources, including business startup capital, tools and training to start generating their own incomes and become self-reliant, we are helping them not only escape poverty, but become empowered and active contributors both economically and socially.”
Rose, Marian, and Ntubulwa agree: they all note that one of the biggest and most surprising changes in their lives is a new sense of their own power. They are making decisions in their households and being respected. They are contributing members of the community who are even conducting business with men. They have a sense of pride and accomplishment, and Rose says with a smile, “We used to run to our husbands for money, now they run to us.”
These three entrepreneurs are also setting an example for the next generation. With money from her mother’s business, Rose’s daughter Christine was able to complete a training course that will enable her to open her own salon in the town. Her mother's accomplishments made her believe that she, too, could start and run her own business.
Overcoming extreme poverty won’t be achieved without changing both economic and social dynamics. Empowering women is the best way to accomplish both. As Rose says, “Once we depended on our husbands for everything. Now we contribute!”