Access to credit has the potential to increase women’s economic empowerment and women’s business growth as it initiates a virtuous spiral of social, economic and political empowerment and well-being. Most financial institutions in Kenya, however, will not lend to small and medium sized enterprise (SMEs) as they are more vulnerable to risks. These challenges are even more prudent for women-led businesses due to women’s limited financial literacy, physical access, lack of clarity of bank terms of access and the inability to provide collateral or personal guarantees.
Bookkeeping training and linkages
The Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises (EOWE) programme aims to increase women’s access to and control over credit in eight counties in Kenya to enable rural women to grow their agri-businesses and increase their economic empowerment. The programme has been training more than 5,000 rural women on bookkeeping skills to increase their financial literacy and record keeping and facilitated workshops to link women-led businesses and financial institutions, such as national and county government affirmative funds, banks and micro finance institutions.
The workshops enabled women to learn about financial opportunities, products and requirements needed to access credit as well as how to directly interact with financial institutions. Through the workshops the women and women groups learned that the interest and activity level of groups and individual preparedness fasten the process and duration of the credit process. Other important conditions in the assessment process are record keeping, relevant value chains, active membership, leadership capacity and the formality of a group.
The credit facilities and government affirmative funds, on the other hand, also benefitted from the workshops and increased linkages with rural women-led businesses. The facilities have enhanced their knowledge and awareness and learned that women-led enterprises transact small but frequent amounts, which led to more friendly repayment plans for rural women.
A couple searching for financial services at a local bank
Sharing decision-making in groups and households
At group level, members agree on the finance provider to approach while at the individual level, the husband and wife agree on the collateral to support the request for the loan. In most cases collateral, like land, is owned by men and most men were not willing to use the land as collateral for their spouses’ loans which made it hard for women to access credit. In addition, social and gender norms dictate that decision-making around credit lies with men and not with women.
Through facilitated household dialogues, the programme challenged conventional social norms around access to and decision-making around credit and income. The facilitated dialogues helped couples to understand that communicating about expenditures and joining forces to realise business opportunities enables their households to fare better. This has led to increased shared decision-making around how to spend household income and access and invest credit.
Increased investments by women-led businesses
The trainings and workshops around access to finance and facilitated household dialogues around social norms enabled women and women groups to access credit and to invest in their business growth. “As a women group we focus on small stock production in Laikipia County”, explains Isabela King’ori, the chair of Lishe Bora women group. “SNV has built our capacity as a women group and we now qualify for grants and loans from County Government and financial institutions.” In November 2018, the Lishe Bora women group received a loan of Kshs 200,000 (~USD 2,000), which enabled them to increase their small stock production, while also adopting a new business in dairy goat farming. “Our businesses are profitable, we have good records and we can repay the loans.”
The Blessed Farmers women group narrates that from the time they were selected for the EOWE programme, they have not only benefited from the trainings to increase their income but also from the opportunity to meet financial input providers that would boost their goal as a group to expand their business. After the workshops, the group has approached the County Enterprise Fund, national government affirmative funds, Women Enterprise Fund and micro finance lenders.
EOWE has seen women-led enterprises grow from informal to formal businesses which led to increased income, opportunities and women’s economic empowerment.