Micro-businesses are part of the soul of the Kibera economy although some work better than others. Fledging starts-up have around the same success rate as anywhere else in the world and 90 percent will nose dive in the first few months. With no public social security safety net, the only choice is to get up and try again. Seed capital at Shylock** interest rates throttles innovation and the local customer base is also often the competitor which should result in the death of the entrepreneur, although it doesn’t. Far from it.
Our micro-enterprise development project with its fifty-dollar loans has had mixed results. Intended mainly to help developing start-ups, it helps baby businesses expand and develop with a capital investment but unbeknown to us had quietly been encouraging others to donate small shilling business seed money grants to those that had very little. Emboldened by this, a group of women formed a complex and bewildering network of informal community credit unions, swapping small amounts of capital with individuals enabling the micro-bulk purchase of saleable commodities for retail in the community.
Curiously named Mama Mboga, their numbers had swollen to around 60 and this formidable group gathered regularly to encourage and share ideas. Hearing their stories was a must.
*Mboga: swahili for vegetable (also a young male lion in the Lion King)
**Shylock: loan shark