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From a women merry-go-round to multi-million women lender

Multi-million Started in 2003 with Sh960 seed capital, Jiweze Women network now has a loan portfolio of Sh160

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Ms Philomena Kahoro, chairperson of Jiweze Women Program.

A bout a decade ago, Philomena Kahoro, the chairperson of Jiweze Women group partnered with her four friends to launch a money lending venture. And from Sh960 seed capital, the initiative has grown to a loan portfolio of more than Sh160 million. 

Jiweze Women Programme started its business in 2003, in Nakuru. “It just started like small gitati, (merry-go-round) where our first clients contributed Sh120 each for registration of the enterprise and Sh200 for savings, summing up to Sh960 in total,” says the 32-year-old mother of two.

Having been employed as a business development officer by an NGO that was offering credit to women in Gatundu, Kiambu County, after dropping out of college for lack of fees, Ms Kahoro acquired skills of running a money lending business. 

“Our aim was, however, to upgrade from the conventional gitatis by offering loans to women to start small businesses and pay school fees, and in the process, make a small profit out of it” she told Money. 

She appreciated the role of such a business in her home county having been faced with fees problems just like many other school children in her neighbourhood. 

Empowering women with loans, she says, was the only way the group could start small projects that would enable them pay school fees and put food on the table. 

“This gave me the go-ahead and I resigned from my job to start my business, given that I was familiar with what it takes to open and run a credit facility. I talked to three friends who also resigned from their jobs and they joined me,” Ms Kahoro said in an interview. 

Within a year of opening a branch in Nakuru, the venture ropped in 27 groups with 35 members each. 

“But just like any new company, we were struck by financial crisis the following year. And for three years, we almost went under due to financial mismanagement and the post-election violence. The latter saw our members reduce by half from 3,500, leading to the closure of some branches in Eldoret,” says Ms Kahoro . 

But after revamping the enterprise in late 2008, it was able to regain momentum, leading to the opening of more branches in Eldama Ravine. 

“Our members also rose significantly to over 150 groups and 6,000 members; a move that saw our partnership through Women Enterprise Fund as a financial intermediary to lending to women entrepreneurs,” says Joyce Ndirangu, one of Ms Kahoro’s founder friends, who is currently the chief executive. 

The network has more than 12,000 members from 700 groups. It has branches in Naivasha, Eldoret, Eldama Ravine and Nakuru, its headquarters which has about 40 employees. 

Besides offering loans for school fees, the institution also helps members buy water tanks, energy saving jikos and solar energy products. 

The business has also ventured into real estate industry in Nakuru. It is among the first developers of gated communities in the town. 

While appreciating her friends for their patience throughout the years, Ms Kahoro says the growth of the entity is attributed to patience, hard work, planning and management. 

“Having started small with a loan book of Sh960, and one employee, I see the venture as a transformation, as compared to the cumulative amount of more than Sh1 billion we have so far loaned,” says Ms Kahoro. 

-Money nation

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