Conceiving and nurturing a fledgling a micro finance initiative on paper is relatively simple. Micro loans for a cottage business attracting a modest service charge facilitating the entrepreneurial in Kibera a hand up and an alternative to the Shylocks’ incalculable interest rates and leg-breaking consequences for non-payment. An impartial committee of local volunteers and community leaders oversee the administration and the collection of the repayments whilst offering business support, advice and encouragement.
Inevitably loan demand outstrips supply and not all business ideas are suitable and some will fail. On paper the figures looked acceptable, one or two disappointing and some remarkable. Making loans to folk to whom the mainstream institutions regard as invisible may give some justification to the Shylocks’ business model. The field visits kicked myopia into a new perspective.
Stumbling along the tiny dark alleyways into the even darker homes of the cottage industries with our patient fixers, we witnessed the business intangibles of hope, pride and the satisfaction from the ability to feed a family. Simply being able to purchase raw materials in bulk brings costs tumbling and aspirations soaring. The bottled liquid soap, stacked quality vegetables and deep fried mandasi were displayed with pride.