Manufacturing has long been known to be one sector with huge potential. The sector not only promotes the sale and use of local products, but also creates employment, financially empowers those involved in it and society as a whole.
It is however not without challenges especially here in Kenya, with the high cost of inputs being tops. Many potential manufacturers are stuck with unactualized dreams and ideas because as much as they have the energy and the will to get into it, seed money and money to continuously pump back into businesses until they firm up is a rumour. Throw in a myriad of other challenges like high cost of power, certification difficulties, high cost of manpower, under developed technologies and automation, and a sector that could employ thousands of our youth and potentially contribute up to 20% to our GDP is left crawling on its knees.
With so many stifling challenges, we have many businesses either going under, or remaining stagnant and unable to scale up. Whichever way, through no making of our own, morale in doing business is down. Unemployment and the associated menaces are hitting the roof, and the general hopelessness is contributing negatively to the mental well-being of citizens.
Despite the doom and gloom though, all is not lost. Kenyans are a resilient lot and many are trying their best to work around these challenges. Government and private sector are helping where they can and despite the overall negative outlook, entrepreneurs are still grabbing opportunities and running with them.
Take the case of Lejubi Women’s Group for example which consists of women who rolled up their sleeves and got into manufacturing. It operates from Umoja 3 here in Nairobi and earlier this week, I had the pleasure of interacting with them at their workshop to know more about their day to day activities, what they make, their challenges, and most of all their wins. The group’s products include but are not limited to handwash, detergents, shampoo, hair conditioner, fabric softer, household bleach and bar soap. They have a walk-in shop within Umoja 3 which doubles up as their manufacturing area. When it comes to making the products, the women are aware of the toxic nature of materials in their raw concentrated form and they always suit up in recommended protective gear. They get these raw materials from Kariobangi Light Industries.
Lejubi Women’s group is a 13 member group that started in 2011, was understandably shaky for the first few years as members aligned, and finally stood steady in 2014. They women are all separately running businesses of their own but they also have weekly meetings to zero in on their enterprise. It is in this manufacturing enterprise where with the help of the Women Enterprise Fund, they’ve been able to get much needed loans to improve their operations. They on the other hand have the discipline to repay their loans strictly on time and qualify for higher amounts.
This discipline is mirrored throughout the country where WEF which has an office in every constituency has an impressive 97% repayment rate. It is important to note that being a Government body, their loans are interest free save for a one off facilitation fee, and usually need no collateral. Women groups are able to access up to Kshs.750,000/- worth of loans to inject into their businesses. I came to learn that men are also free to join in the women’s groups, with the conditions that they’re not officials and they don’t exceed 30% in group membership.
Back to Lejubi Women’s Group. Other than injecting direct capital into the group’s business, the Women Enterprise Fund has seriously come through in training which is facilitated by Coca Cola, and subsidization of the KEBS Diamond mark of quality fee. Coca Cola is in this partnership as part of their sustainability initiative which ties to the Sustainable Development Goals, and Women Enterprise fund is in as part of their mandated public services as a Government agenda. KEBS is obviously in there for quality assurance purposes.
By the time I met the women, KEBS had already collected samples of their products twice for testing. This indicates progress and the group is optimistic that they’ll soon get the coveted stamp, after which they will be able to expand their markets to include supermarket chains, hospitals, schools, hotels, and the city council among other bulk customers. For now they wait for the process to be completed and hang on to the fact that it has already started and will be completed.
In the meantime they’re still going on with their day to day activities of the group, making their products, selling them to their existing markets and sourcing more. I was fascinated by their marketing strategy for example whereby each group member is obligated to make sales of a certain amount each month.
Over the years and their tireless endeavors, the fruits of this labour are showing. They’re able to save their profits and table bank the rest into a kitty from which they can borrow further among themselves. Also as we speak, each member of the group now owns a plot, and collectively they own 2 farms – one in Kilimambogo and one in Subukia. They have big plans of speculating on these and selling them off when prices appreciate. Additionally, they’re in the process of acquiring a farm in Malaa where they intend to keep dairy cows.
The good thing about manufacturing and indeed many other sectors is that it knows no gender and women are therefore not new to it. They’ve tried their hand in a few things here and there over the years with varied degrees of success. But some real change comes from empowerment which is what the Women Enterprise Fund is mandated to do throughout the country.