Christine said she started her business because she lost her job and needed an income, but really didn’t have a purpose to it. Peter is a painter who said he had more time for painting, but no one was calling him for jobs. Mike owns a daycare center, but it just seemed like no matter what he did he wasn’t making any progress. Collins drives a motorcycle taxi and was busy every day, but he never seemed to have any money at the end of the day. Hilda has a business selling plastics but was having trouble keeping up with her inventory. Helen is a barber and was doing business in the ‘normal’ manner. She was marginally successful but felt she could do better. These are just of few of the ‘starting points’ I heard on Friday afternoon as I met the first students sponsored by The East Africa Project to graduate from one of two different “SOMO Africa” business classes. These students were all church members of Pastor Harrison Mmaitsi’s church in the Tassia neighborhood of Nairobi, or pastors of churches that were launched by Pastor Harrison.
SOMO Africa was founded to train entrepreneurs in low-resource communities and help them to establish or grow small businesses. It is based in Kenya and taught by Kenyan trainers. While profit is certainly an outcome, SOMO strives to help the communities they operate in by bettering the economic outlook of the area. SOMO Buruka is a 3-month training program designed to lead inexperienced entrepreneurs through a series of topics taught over a 12-week period. It includes training sessions that equip them with skills in business, storytelling, and financial literacy. Boost Biz is an intense 8-week program that targets longer existing small businesses and helps them to upscale their current operations. During this training, an entrepreneur is taught practical skills such as reporting, how to calculate profits and loss, customer relations, and pitching. SOMO helps assess each student to determine which of the two programs best meets their individual needs. What did they learn? Was it a success? Let’s see.
Christine said the first thing Maureen from SOMO asked her is “Why are you in business?” Christine said she’d lost her job and needed money. SOMO Director Maureen Moraa told her that most businesses that focus solely on profit eventually fail. After the 8 weeks, SOMO has helped Christine define her “Why” and she has doubled her business while helping another person start one. Peter partnered with a friend of his to branch out from painting to carpentry and is busy all the time now. Mike learned how to separate his business finances from his personal finances and how to market his daycare. He now has 4 additional clients and knows how to complete a Profit and Loss statement each month. Collins learned how to budget and keep records of his income. He is now aware of how he was letting money slip away each day. Hilda can now keep track of her inventory and has learned how to tell what is selling and what is not. Her business has grown, and she has hired one employee. Helen learned how to take better control of her supplies inventory and she learned how to market her unique hairstyles. Because her business is operating more efficiently, and she has gained new clients, she has hired 2 assistants and is training them. Before SOMO, she would never have been able to take the afternoon off to come meet with us.
The story doesn’t end with better performing businesses! These entrepreneurs have formed the “Spiritual Life Center Self Help Group.” This group is based on a “savings group” model, and they have elected a Chairman, a Secretary, and a Treasurer. They meet weekly to share challenges, encourage each other and share successes. Each one contributes 500 KSH (about $4.55 USD) each week to the treasury. As the balance grows, members will be able to apply for capital loans to expand their businesses at below market rates. This ‘microfinance’ model will allow them to grow organically without relying on outside capital. They have a BIG vision. They hope to grow their organization to the point where they are operating their own bank and have a goal of 3M KSH (about $27,300 USD) on deposit.
But for them, it’s not about making money, though that is a good outcome. It’s about bettering the community, helping people and most importantly, providing security for their families. And most important is that by providing for their families they can focus more on the work of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ! “For what does it profit a man that he should gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?”