Right behind the Barclays Bank building in Nakuru town is a group of young traders selling clothes, shoes and fruit salad, among other wares.
They open shop as early as 8 o’clock in the morning. As they go about their business on the side street, the young men among them engage in small talk about the English Premier League, challenging one another on their favourite club.
One can walk through this kichochoro or alley without fear of mugging or of some hungry trader accosting them in the hope of making a quick sale.
When a potential buyer stops by any of the stands, he is given ample time to look around. A shopper is under no pressure to buy. Neither will customers encounter drunk or disorderly traders. Members are not even allowed to smoke at work.
Such is the discipline in the group that last year, Hope and Vision Youth Sacco won a top prize for the best youth-run society in the country. For a group that started out as a welfare society or chama, the members, mostly aged between 20 and 35 years are well on their way to starting a front office micro-savings bank or FOSA, as the outgoing chairlady, Irene Wangui, told Business Daily.
“When we started, we did not think we would do much more than being a merry-go-round where each member would regularly get a share of the savings. But our vision is indeed bigger, and we hope to even open a bank one day!”
Ms Wangui says as the group turned into a micro-savings scheme, more people asked to join paving the way for new members.
“So long as the applicants understand and abides by the laws, they are welcome to be part of us. You do not have to be based in Nakuru town. We are giving opportunity to those with income-generating activities from other parts of the county,” she says.
Members contribute Sh1,500 every month, with the option of contributing daily or weekly to reach the target. They do not discriminate on the type of business, and members comprise tea vendors, barbers, curio dealers, shoe shiners, water sellers and book sellers among other ventures—except contraband goods.
“We cannot accept a member who sells illegal products from poaching or drug peddlers. Potential members must provide all their personal and business details.”
The registration fee is Sh2,600 for new members. The group’s aim is to inculcate a savings culture as well offer loans at affordable rates.
“We realised that our businesses could not grow unless we came together to help one another. Other financial institutions demand sureties and other documents that as micro-business people we do not have,” says credit officer James Kimani.
There are 10 different types of loan products that the Sacco offers its members, says Mr Kimani. Some are soft loans such as money for buying food and home improvement.
Each product comes with its own repayment interest, with the highest being the Mbuzi loan that one can pay at 15 per cent interest for up to four months. The money is to help members during festivities such as Christmas holidays and is repayable within four months.
There are also business development products from which members can borrow up to two times their savings.
Mr Kimani adds that discipline in the payment of monthly contributions, and repayment of loans has kept them strong. He adds that the bond they have built over the years has also been cemented by their businesses and social lives.
In 2007, the group undertook a three-day training where they were taught how to grow their businesses, and how to make the group become much more than a merry-go-round.
It is from there that they moved a step higher to form a sacco. They have now opened an office at the Salman Centre in Nakuru Town which handles their administrative work. Ms Wangui says without a formal office, even the government and other international groups would not have shown interest in working with them.
They have been working closely with an international non-profit organisation from Britain. The group, Balloon Kenya, brings in volunteers to work with young entrepreneurs as they exchange and refine business ideas into workable enterprises. The organisation then offers grants for kick starting the best business ideas, along with constant advice and follow-up.
Balloon Kenya plans to use the Nakuru small businesses model to teach successful business start-up in other parts of the world. And so far, things are looking good.
Comprising 102 members so far, Hope and Vision Youth Sacco has bagged several trophies and awards. It was named the best-managed Sacco in Nakuru for three years from 2010, 2011 and 2012.
In 2011they were the highest dividend paying Sacco in Nakuru and also the Sacco with the highest number of women members in the committee.
Last year, the youthful businessmen and women walked away with the top prize for the best managed sacco nationally. The future for Hope and Vision Sacco is bright. They are focusing on opening a bank for small-scale traders.
For a group whose ground values, basic friendships and mutual understanding are still their strongest principles, nothing is too hard to achieve.