Women double incomes in joint kiosks ownership project


One of the savings groups in northern Kenya formed under the business co-ownership project championed by the non-profit organisation Boma Project. Photo/Courtesy

A Kenyan non-profit organisation is bringing hope to semi-pastoralist communities, thanks to an innovative poverty-reduction programme.

Boma seeks to improve families’ incomes and access to basic food and household items by helping women in northern Kenya open small convenience stores. Participants receive training and a small cash grant to set up businesses. They are also encouraged to form savings groups.

The organisation operates in remote villages in Laisamis, Loiyangalani, Marsabit and Samburu, where drought has left communities at risk of famine.

“The idea is that they are going to be less vulnerable to droughts and are going to build savings,” says Boma Project co-founder and CEO Katherine Colson.

The organisation decided to focus its efforts on women after realising they were left alone for a large part of the year while men went away to care for livestock. Women living in these remote villages often have to walk many hours to reach the nearest town to buy goods and services.

In recent years, however, drought has had devastating effects on livestock, and men are increasingly struggling to provide for their families.

But Boma sees in women the opportunity to share the burden of bringing money home. Since it began operating in 2009, 1,681 businesses have been launched by over 5,500 business owners (women co-own businesses in groups of three).

Women have been able to double their income in two years, with 93 per cent of them going from extreme poverty (living on $1.25 a day) to poverty ($2.50 a day).

What’s more, 97 per cent of businesses remain in activity three years after their creation. Overall, Boma Project estimates to have impacted more than 33,000 women and children.

The Boma Project received an award by the United Nations Momentum for Change Initiative. The organisation operates in an area usually neglected by many NGOs, mostly because of its remote location and adverse living conditions.

“There’s nothing revolutionary about what we’re doing,” says Ms Colson. “What makes us unique is where we’re doing it”. But Boma Project is nonetheless innovative, using a combination of some of the latest trends in the development sector.

Its choice to use cash grants rather than loans, for instance, draws on new research showing that loan programmes by NGOs can be costly to run, and that giving out grants can be cheaper in the long run.

The organisation also closely monitors the impact of its programmes through randomised controlled trials (RCTs), a scientific method initially developed by the pharmaceutical industry to assess the effect of drugs, but increasingly used in the development sector.

This has allowed Boma Project to make adjustments to its operating model over time.

“What has set us apart from most organisations our size is the number of metrics and data we collect,” Ms Colson says.

This year, Boma is planning to help launch 650 more businesses in Marsabit and Samburu.