Digital Solutions Help Kenyan Entrepreneurs Survive and Thrive
In Kenya, the COVID-19 crisis has created significant challenges for micro-retailers like Cecilia Njeru. But digital solutions can help entrepreneurs access business training and finance – two resources that can mean the difference between having to close a business and running a successful shop.
Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of people’s daily lives — from where they work, to their childcare responsibilities, to how they interact with others, and everything in between.
In Kenya’s urban and peri-urban communities, small business owners have struggled to retain customers, stock their shops, and implement effective health and safety protocols. According to a recent World Bank survey, 31% of people living in urban areas of Kenya reported that they had to close their business or were laid off from work in the last year.
These small businesses have been hit particularly hard since the start of the pandemic. Providing 80% of consumer goods in Kenya — often to underserved communities — shopkeepers are vital for their customers and to local economies. But with limited business skills, many of these micro-retailers struggle to make profits, even without the added challenge of a global health and economic crisis.
Since 2018, TechnoServe and Moody’s Foundation have partnered to support micro-retailers in Kenya through the Smart Duka program. This project provides targeted business training, enabling micro-retailers to reduce their costs, increase profits, and drive economic growth in their communities. With the right tools, connections, and support, entrepreneurs can find ways to not only survive the crisis, but emerge stronger than ever.
How Digital Solutions are Changing the Game for Entrepreneurs in Kenya
The onset of COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the adoption of digital technology around the world. In Kenya, digital tools can help micro-retailers access business training, develop more efficient and direct distribution networks, and improve accounting and inventory management.
TechnoServe uses digital platforms, such as WhatsApp, push SMS, videos, and phone calls, to deliver business training to micro-retailers and allow them to connect with each other and with TechnoServe business counselors. Sixty percent of those in the Smart Duka program own smartphones and can access the internet regularly. For those who do not own smartphones, TechnoServe uses SMS platforms to send information.
Cecilia Njeru is a duka owner and 40-year-old mother of three. Since joining the Smart Duka program in 2019, she has learned essential skills to keep her business running during challenging times.
I have learned about record-keeping, which has helped me understand which products are fast-moving in my business to avoid wastage. [The training] has helped me learn what is making a profit in my business and what is not beneficial.”
— Cecilia Njeru, micro-retailer, Kenya
TechnoServe also helped Cecilia join a WhatsApp group with other duka owners in her community.
“The aim of the WhatsApp group, which is still active today, is to bring together owners of businesses similar to mine so we can learn,” she says. “I have learned how to communicate with my clients. I also learned that there are different clients: those who come to your shop because they planned to and those who buy because they have seen something they like. Therefore, proper presentation of my shop has helped me get those [latter] clients.”
Access to Finance and Business Survival
For many duka owners, access to finance is one of the critical components of ensuring business survival. But having working capital to pay rent, purchase goods for the shop, and pay salaries has become exceedingly difficult during the pandemic. TechnoServe helps micro-retailers access finance through partners and other programs within TechnoServe.
One such partner is 4G Capital — a financial technology credit provider that supports individuals and businesses across Africa.
“I learned about 4G Capital through TechnoServe,” Cecilia says. “They provide finance for your business, and they give you a way of paying it back. I had a project where I built small rental houses, but I didn’t have money to install electricity. So I took my first loan of $182, which I received within an hour. The next day, I installed the electricity, and through the help I got from 4G through TechnoServe, I am now a landlady.”
The rental houses provided Cecilia with an income to repay the loan. She then took a second loan and bought turkeys and geese to start a poultry farm, which she hopes will start bringing in returns soon.
Thus far, 350 micro-retailers in the program have accessed almost $120,000 in finance.
Moody’s Volunteers Take Smart Duka a Step Further
During phase two of the Smart Duka project, volunteers from Moody’s Foundation have been using their financial services expertise to help the shopkeepers improve their business operations through virtual training and mentorship sessions.
At the beginning of 2020, Moody’s volunteers from South Africa supported 12 shop owners with a class focused on shop management practices. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional Moody’s employees volunteered, and they recorded videos that reached over 500 shop owners on WhatsApp covering business survival measures during the pandemic.
The training and mentoring sessions not only helped shop owners improve their businesses and adapt to the challenges of COVID-19, but helped Moody’s staff understand what kind of services can help emerging entrepreneurs thrive.
Continuing to Support Entrepreneurs Through the Smart Duka Program
Between October 2018 and November 2020, 2,125 micro-retailers, of whom 69% were women, received training and advisory on business skills, personal effectiveness, and access to finance — resulting in a 19% increase in revenue.
Moody’s Foundation will continue to support these entrepreneurs through its partnership with TechnoServe, helping them navigate their businesses to survive the COVID-19 crisis. The project will now train an additional 1,000 micro-retailers, mostly women, through a 100% virtual training program — building upon, and improving, the digital tools that helped previous participants save their shops amid the COVID crisis.
Learn more about TechnoServe’s entrepreneurship work.