‘Banking on women’: empowering Kenyan women through microfinance
“In Africa, there is nothing as important as empowering a woman. When you empower a woman, it’s as if you are empowering the whole country. KWFT is empowering me with education, with knowledge and with money.”
Grace Njoroge is an entrepreneur, wife, and mother of three sons living in a town northeast of Nairobi called Thika. Like many other Kenyan women, she was struggling to sustain and grow her business and care for her family. As her hardware business continued to struggle, she decided to move into something more familiar: textiles. However, she was lacking the necessary capital and expertise to not only establish her new business, but ensure that it thrived.
The Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT)
In 1996 Grace joined the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (formerly known as Kenya Women Finance Trust or KWFT). KWFT is a microfinance institution founded in 1981 by a small group of women and provides loans and savings products to more than 500,000 women in Kenya.
KWFT’s focus on empowering women through ensuring greater access to capital attracted Oikocredit to partner with them in in 2010. Microfinance increases women’s abilities to make choices and become self-reliant. In addition, it is linked to poverty reduction, financial sustainability, an increased well-being, and social and political empowerment for women.
Besides financing, Oikocredit supports its partners in improving social performance and capacity building. Partners like KWFT, in turn, offer training and advice to their clients.
“What I liked most when I joined KWFT was their training. They trained us a lot about business, how to handle money, and the risks we should try to avoid when it comes to matters like borrowing.”
As soon as she joined, Grace formed a small savings group where she and a few other women were given a group loan. After her group completed a KWFT training, paid back their loan and demonstrated they had responsible financial management processes in place, the women received individual loans to help them grow their businesses and support their families.
KWFT support enabled Grace to develop and expand the textile company she started in 1998:
“When I shifted to textiles, I was alone. I could not even afford a stand for the materials. But today I have five employees enough shelves for my goods and a good display. My business has developed gradually, and I expect it to grow more.”
And what about the other women in Grace’s savings group? Demonstrating that KWFT loans can be used in a wide variety of ways, one woman was granted loans to fund several greenhouses and a water tank to expand her farm, while another funded her daughter’s education seeing her go from Form 2 (second year of secondary school) all the way through university.
Growth and entrepreneurship
With time and showing promise as a responsible business owner, Grace has been able to increase the size of her individual loan from a maximum of 30,000 Kenyan shillings (roughly € 270) when she first joined KWFT, to 3 million shillings (€ 27,000) today.
Grace’s entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing: she recently opened a KWFT agency, in addition to her textile business. Here KWFT clients can deposit and withdraw money using her premises without having to go to a branch far away. After recently purchasing KWFT shares, she now generates additional income owning a small part of KWFT.
While her husband works in construction, her two eldest sons are at university (both have savings accounts with KWFT), and her youngest boy is in primary school. Grace has big aspirations for the future of her business:
“My dream for the future is to have a garment production factory. I would be making uniforms for KWFT, uniforms for the Kenyan navy, uniforms for anybody that needs them.”