Posted in Kenya my country

Out an about in the Slums of Kibera and Mathare

I am working with the slum communities in a couple of projects and I have never felt so useful and so small at the same time.

Over the weekend I visited the slums of Kibera. It was such a beautiful morning and I was in high spirits actually, luminous with energy. I took a group of visitors along. It has been a while but everything was the same, except me and the minibus full of visitors. I have always known that I cant trust myself with directions but I had so many other like me friends. So when we got lost in Kibera without any effort on my part I had to step up and unleash my tremendous memory of landmarks and finally we found our way. I was amazed at how fast a group of over 25 people navigated through the narrow streets, thanks to my my resident friends who is always ready to help.

We visited one of the sanitation facilities in Kibera called 81- No idea where the name came from but I will investigate very soon. It is like an oasis in the middle of so many houses with no sight of a toilet or a water point. The facility serves thousands of people in the area with clean sanitation services- toilet, shower and water selling point.It is not without challenges; water is rare and the operator has to look for water from vendors every morning sometimes he gets none and therefore the facility remains closed and the regular users have to turn to flying toilet.

On monday, I visited Mathare slums and couldn’t help myself but compare the wide streets in Mathare with the ones in Kibera. The lives of the people living there is no different only that in Kibera every one owns a small business which is not so much the same in Mathare. A more fancy sanitation facility graces the slums with its classy design and warm colours, the interior wants a person like me want to hang around longer and admire herself in the full mirrors. The facility provides clean, hygienic sanitation services and serves close to 2,000 people. Too bad, its the only one in the area unlike the 8 facilities in Kibera.

I visited my favorite youth groups garden down at Mathare river and I have never been so surprised. Just the other day, they were flattening the land they have reclaimed to what was a garbage disposal site so that they could plant some vegetables and corn and now the corn is almost ready for harvest. Kosovo Youth Group is doing a great deal of service cleaning the river and doing something to uplift their standards. sometimes when I talk to them I feel that given a chance, they would go places but they are so unaware of the chances outsde there both interms of financing, forming successful groups and all.

Kenya has a Vision 2030 which is supposed to steer the country towards socioeconomic development and face the development challenges being faced in the country but the government does not recognize informal settlements in their plans and therefore not in the Vision 2030. Where does that leave the informal settlements whose residents are struggling with unemployment, inadequate sanitation and safe drinking water, HIV/AIDs and other social economic problems?

Posted in Day....

Is valentine’s day Overrated?

I decided to go for a cup of camel tea with my friends to start off the weekend and found myself in the middle of  a hot discussion. I sat there wondering why I was part of that discussion. A discussion about a topic I knew very little about outside the theory I researched on the net few years ago.

The experts gave their professional views. Others listened and smiled. I just sat there, listened and hoped to learn something.

Why talk about Valentine’s Day in the middle of March?

Like most discussions of this nature that I find myself in,  it died without a concession on whether it should be a day when men do everything manly possible to please their women and show quantitatively how much they love their women or women should just drop their rather unrealistic expectations.  The discussion gave birth to other related and non-contentious discussions but I am still wondering  if Valentine’s day is overrated and if it is just how much

Posted in Day...., Grateful

International Women’s Day

I find this poem very inspiring and I would like to share it especially on this day.

MAYA ANGELOU’S

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE …
enough money within her control to move out
and rent a place of her own,
even if she never wants to or needs to…
something perfect to wear if the employer,
or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour…

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ..

a youth she’s content to leave behind…..
a past juicy enough that she’s looking forward to
retelling it in her old age….
a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra…
one friend who always makes her laugh… and one who lets her cry….

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ….

a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family…
eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems,
and a recipe for a meal,
that will make her guests feel honored…

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE .

a feeling of control over her destiny…
how to fall in love without losing herself..

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW…
how to quit a job,
break up with a lover,
and confront a friend without;
ruining the friendship….

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW….

when to try harder… and WHEN TO WALK A WAY…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW…

that she can’t change ! the length of her calves,
the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents..
that her childhood may not have been perfect..but it’s over…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW…
what she would and wouldn’t do for love or more…
how to live alone… even if she doesn’t like it…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW.. .
whom she can trust,
whom she can’t,
and why she shouldn’t take it personally…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW…
where to go…
be it to her best friend’s kitchen table..
or a charming Inn in the woods…
when her soul needs soothing…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW…
What she can and can’ t accomplish in a day…
a month…and a year….

Posted in Business

The missing middle

If you want to start an informal micro-enterprise, then it is usually possible to secure micro-credit, while banks will back well-established medium-to-large companies.  But in between lies an entire segment of entrepreneurs who are faced with a terrible problem: virtually no financial services serve their segment.

Recently I attended a workshop that had been organized by WASTE Netherlands on business opportunities in Sanitation.

There has been a shift to investing in the less explored sectors like sanitation and given the fact that this is a sector where most of the work should be done, its saddening.

Anyway, for two days, with representatives from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Benin,  we had intensive  discussions on the possibilities of upscaling sanitation into viable business opportunities in the respective countries.

The objectives of the workshop were:

  • To explore opportunities for local financing of sanitation
  • To explore options for boosting sustainable financing mechanisms
  • To share experiences and lessons learnt from local sanitation models
  • To Make proposals on how to improve sanitation
  • Open new opportunities for financing sanitation as a business

Sanitation businesses are everywhere but faced with a lot of challenges that make them appear invisible. the main chalenge is few or nonexistent sustainable finacing options. This points to the need for financing models that reorient the focus onto local entrepreneurs especially the ones in sanitation businesses. Local financing is the best solution to fiancing these businesses but are there available products from our financial institutions that cater for such enterprises?

The realities of carrying out a micro sanitation business especially in the informal settlements where the service is met by far much more demand than supply is characterised by infrastructure, logistical, financial and social challenges that reinforces the obscurity of the invisible entrepreneur. It is upto the entrepreneurs to step up and grab every opportunity they can get to make their businesses work and become visible and then the financial institutions and other players will be willing to give them a second look.

Bringing together people from the financial institutions, business world, development partners and policy makers as in the case of Nakuru Municipality who were well represented by their municipal leaders, the workshop explored ways of upscaling sanitation businesses into viable investment opportunities.

It was more of a FYI to the financiers that Hey look, there is a big opportunity in sanitation that has been untapped for so long and you can invest in the sector and still realize your goals as commercial institutions.

As much as opportunities exist in investing and opening up access to finances for all actors in the entire sanitation chain including transport and treatment. However it also requires boosting up information opportunities for the entrepreneurs on financing and channels open for this. To determine the viability of local businesses under credit consideration, there is need to define the roles and responsibilities of all actors in the chain. If one level does not play its role, then other businesses will be affected. On the side of the entrepreneurs, formation of groups helps to improve their credit rating to be acceptable to banks.

Accessing financial resources from a financial institution for an entrepreneur is based on factors such as business orientation of the individual or enterprise, potential for growth and the risk factors associated with financing such a venture. The absence of good infrastructural support for accessing finance coupled with lack of security for the loans makes them less attractive to financiers. Other local conditions such as the inability of the customers to pay up for services rendered also compromise the ability of the entrepreneur to make proper projection on returns on investment.

Financial institutions realise the potential that lies in tapping into the small sanitation businesses. As highlighted by the Ethiopian Omo Mircro Finance Initiatives (OMFI), funding sustainable sanitation is an area of great potential. Experience from Kenya’s K-rep and Family banks too alludes to the vast potential in the otherwise traditional “unbankable lot”.

The very fact that this sector still remains largely unregulated becomes a challenge to the financial institutions; Lack of adequate collateral is another challenge to providing loans for the businesses. Even when in groups, SMEs are not able to mount sufficient assets to act as security for loans. Other concerns raised include the low technical feasibility of the sanitation businesses.

There was a common agreement that there have been a lot of discussions on how to address the issue in a more sustainable manner but this needs to move from mere rhetoric to practical action vested on local knowledge and realities of the communities.

But it also got me thinking about the missing middle? Is that what is happening to sanitation businesses? or is the sector still too small to be in the middle?