Slum women pool resources to fight poverty

Some of the leaders of self-help groups from
Some of the leaders of self-help groups from Tharaka-Nithi and Meru counties look at an award from a South African lobby group, Leading Women of Africa, at a function in Mulathankari in Meru County on March 22. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL  

The determination to break the shackles of poverty drove a group of women in Majengo slum in Meru to begin saving and investing through the table banking concept seven years ago.

They formed the Solidarity House Community Based Organisation (CBO) and have over the years recruited more members to the group, mostly from Meru and Tharaka-Nithi counties.

Solidarity House boasts a share capitalisation of Sh145 million as at December 2015 and its founder and chief executive, Dickson Mugendi, says their membership now stands at 3,000.

“We have exploited one major way to ensure the continued wealth of our members—their contributions. We realised that common problems can be turned into common wealth,” the 44-year-old said.

Mr Mugendi came up with the idea of setting up Solidarity House in 2008 when he working in Thika with the Poverty Eradication Commission, a project under the Ministry of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030.

This commission was formed with the aim of helping women access start-up funds for income-generating enterprises. The pilot groups were first taught basic business skills before they embarked on any project.

“The pilot was very successful and the results were measurable. However, Meru had been left out and I decided this was the opportune time to start a similar initiative back at home,” said Mr Mugendi.

But it was not easy. Having spent most of his life in the United Kingdom (UK) studying, his local community viewed him as a foreigner and out of touch with their real problems and needs.

Mr Mugendi sought the help of John Nteere, a Bishop with the Neema Evangelistic Christian Ministry and who was running a church based in Meru’s Majengo slums.

The bishop was a well-known man in the area and Mr Mugendi says he was sure his inclusion in the project would help win the trust of the community, especially the women.

Mr Mugendi also as a sign of his dedication, decided to live in the slums for close to four years.

In 2009, the Magundu Neema self-help group was formed and registered with the Ministry of Labour and Social Services. After the first meeting, the savings amounted to Sh7,500 after 50 women expressed interest to join the group.

The members agreed that the least contribution would be Sh370; Sh150 as registration fee, Sh100 in savings, and another Sh100 for a passbook while Sh20 was for insurance.

In table banking, the only security required when asking for a loan is trust among the members who guarantee each other and as such an effort was made to keep the membership low and manageable.

In 2014, upon realising the potential of Magundu Neema group, other groups with ambitions to grow economically and socially requested to join Solidarity House.

These groups, some of which have male members, were taken on board, raising the number of groups in Solidarity House to 200.

“Participants must be willing to attend monthly training and abide by the table banking rules and regulations,” said Mr Mugendi.

The women meet once a month and each brings a minimum savings of Sh100.

Members seeking loans make their requests during these meetings and the application are then considered depending on their individuals shares in the group.

“The shares determine the loan amount. For long-term loans, members can get three times their savings while for short-term credit, members access two times their savings payable at an interest of 10 per cent monthly.

Early this year, Mr Mugendi was awarded by Leading Women of Africa, a South African Lobby for his efforts in empowering women.

Solidarity House CBO is working closely with development partners in order to empower their members socio-economically.

Two weeks ago, more than 150 group leaders groups attended an entrepreneurship training workshop organised by a leading commercial bank in the country.