BFP: What do you do?
JM: Through the , I am promoting sustainable economic growth and financial autonomy among young entrepreneurs and women in rural and urban settlements by identifying, designing and developing strategies which they can use to establish and run profitable income generating activities in their day to day lives. We support these people in order to lift themselves out of abject poverty through micro lending, capacity building and value chains in agri-business and micro enterprise.
Elyon focuses on the poor youth and women, mainly in the rural areas who otherwise have no access to finance and banking services at all. The Trust brings together people of different cultures, religions, women and youth without prejudice. Our target group is the very poor who live on less than a dollar per day, whose saving capacity is very low. Through mobilising their small savings, these people are able to borrow small loans that transform their lives.
From humble beginnings, Elyon has grown rapidly to our current membership of 500 groups of 20-40 people per group. The current loan portfolio has grown to Ksh20 million and with savings of over Ksh5 million. We focus on the rural areas of Central, Lower Rift Valley and Eastern Kenya Regions, and also still operate within the urban slums of Nairobi, particularly Eastlands.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
JM: The best and most fulfilling part of my job is when I walk with poor women and young people from poverty to self reliance in their daily lives, to a point where they are able to shelter, clothe, feed and educate themselves and their children; and to watch their livelihoods change from misery to joy as we keep up our routine visits - they are all song and dance when we arrive at the village, glorifying God of heaven.
I and my team of trainers enjoy the training sessions which only end because darkness is settling in, and interacting with these women who are always enthusiastic and ready to see their livelihoods improve for the better through hard work. I love the knowledge and skills they acquire, helping them and giving them the pride of life. I love it when I connect communities in one project which joins them together and makes them into one loving and caring family where they are each other’s keeper in all their activities; when they understand the principle of Business fighting poverty and not handouts/alms.
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?
JM: This presents itself in unpredictable faces - we come across all kinds of people, including those who are after taking advantage of others, and those who come with hidden agendas. We have those who are sent by adversaries, politics of all kinds, and of course those are not willing to repay their loans and want to take advantage. Another challenge is maintaining completed value chains during high season when a particular crop is in high demand, reducing supply of that crop threatening the whole market chain.
There are of course great success stories that keep us going, and the togetherness of the majority of the members who do not want anything to draw their economic gains backwards, helps us overcome these handles. We are a team, a family and people without prejudice, of religion, tribe or status. Our members are quick to report and follow after debts, and therefore our debt recovery is up to 98 – 99% paid up.
To give just two examples: Mrs Mwangi is a peasant farmer in Ngatho on the outskirts of Ukambani, in the arid part of Lower Eastern Region. provided her with a drip irrigation kit and she started by planting kale. She is now able to feed her family and sell to the surrounding villages, which has enabled her to pay high school fees for her older children. This project uses water harvesting and is 100% organic and leaves the environment clean.
Another member, Ruth Member worked as a volunteer in a hospital but fell ill and needed an urgent operation. Her husband, a victim of substance abuse, could not help her. Ruth approached Elyon who paid for her operation. She then saved for 3 months and took her first loan to start a chicken business. She is today the proud owner of over 600 chickens and produces over 100 trays of eggs every week. She has built a house for the family and they are now living comfortably.
We have of course made our mistakes but we have learnt from them and we are careful not to repeat the mistakes anymore, we are not overcome, as we have come to realize that mistakes and experiences are a school of improvement to the next level.
Value addition business at the BOP is still very new, especially in the Horn of Africa. We have not seen many other models that we can learn from in this part of the country. Inclusiveness is a new and fast-evolving field and we are aware we have to be nimble.
Access to partnership/grants and funding is also a major challenge especially in the area of safety nets programs and in particular health, disasters and benevolent in the family set ups. We need to leverage on our current and upcoming synergies in order to keep abreast.
BFP: How have you overcome your challenges? What has been the secret of your success?
JM: We have realized that a positive approach, concerted efforts with our management team, learning from past mistakes and allowing advancement of technology, innovation and understanding works well in addressing any setbacks. Learning from the wealth of knowledge of our members and allowing ideas and innovation also go a long way in improving the projects.
Also, we believe in encouraging exchange programs with other like-minded partners; seeking knowledge and skills on entrepreneurship from others; and continuous research on what we strategize in our short, medium and long term goals and objectives. It is important to remain open to ideas, as we believe entrepreneurs do not put up a 200-page strategic plan and implement it on the spot, therefore we are always experimenting and adapting based on what we learn or experience along the way.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
a) One must have passion to do something about the less fortunate
b) Map out your goals and objectives
c) Invest in the life of these people by being in constant interaction; work with them to get to understand what, who, where, how about them
d) Invest financially and give yourself time
e) Build their capacity, therefore you must be well in capacity at the BOP
f) Set up shop, lay strategy for the immediate, mid term and long term,
g) Identify your target
h) Seek like minded partnerships
BFP: Finally: what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?
JM: I hope to make new acquaintances, connections, alliances and partnerships that will take us to the next level, and share experiences/ innovations/ ideas etc. I wish to learn what others of like minds have achieved in fighting poverty through entrepreneurship/small enterprise - their challenges, successes etc. What are their approaches that are different that they have used to improve their inclusive business models?
It is also my prayer that this forum will change the concept of fighting poverty, ignorance and disease. I hope to see food security for the third world being reality not just words. I wish to come to a time when no one will die of hunger, lack, want and need. I want to see a time when all humanity shall be adequately fed, clothed, sheltered and have a decent education without much struggle. I hope for child and maternal health addressed locally without looking to donor funding, access to clean water, alternative fuel/energy to the rural… the list may be endless, I mention just a few!!
Thank you to Jane Mugure for taking the time to do this interview.