Wesley Owiti is the group CEO and Co-Founder of Cherehani Africa – a social enterprise that uses mobile-based technology to provide working capital, financing for productive assets, distribution of financial literacy content and creation of credit profiles for women and adolescent girls who own micro-enterprises.
Wesley grew up in a low income neighborhood in Kisumu, Western Kenya. His family home was one of twenty households that shared one pit-latrine toilet. Despite this, Wesley smiles with great pride as he shares his entrepreneurial journey with us. He reminds us that even though he experienced poverty while growing up, his childhood years were filled with memorable moments of love and happiness, moments that shaped his formative years and instilled a sense of purpose, and passion to fight for equitable economic and social inclusion - first in his community, then across Kenya, and beyond.
Cherehani Africa’s story began in 2014 when Wesley, and his co-founders Robert Mboya and Nasreen Ali attended an event where the keynote speaker called the audience to action to commit to catalyzing economic independence in the lives of individuals and communities. Wesley, Nasreen and Robert decided to take up the challenge. They sat down and brainstormed ideas on how they could empower women in Western Kenya. They went out and spoke with women in many communities and asked them questions, some silly, others serious….all to gather as many insights as possible from them. Their research was eye-opening.
Wesley and his co-founders learned that Kenya is home to about 10 million unregistered women owned micro-enterprises whose annual credit gap is greater than $1.5 billion. They learned that in most rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, starting and growing a business can be a challenge. Startup capital is hard to come by, there is minimal access to technology, and cultural norms and gender inequality make it extremely difficult for women to start and run their own businesses.
The data and research collected led Wesley and his fellow Co-Founders to start Cherehani Africa.
Today, a majority of their customers are small scale farmers, vegetable/cereal vendors, retail shop owners and tailors. Cherehani Africa provides its customers with the following loan options - productive asset loans; biashara (business) loans; renewable energy loans; kilimo (agriculture) loans; water, sanitation and hygiene loans; and smartphone loans. Smartphone loans? YES… customers can access affordable smartphone loans through a pay-to-own model to enable access to the limitless opportunities the digital economy has to offer.
Cherehani Africa also prides itself in the journey it takes with each of its customers. A customers’ initial engagement begins with a field officer advising them to form or join a women’s group in order to take advantage of areas of synergy and shared learning. Each formal group consists of 10-25 members who own the same type of business, and who live within close proximity to each other. The groups are run by elected officials who ensure each member attends meetings and stays actively engaged - a requisite for accessing loan opportunities. The groups meet often and receive training in business management, saving structures and options, and personal finance. The goal of these formal groups is three-fold; first, for members to co-guarantee each other for available financial products; second, to provide structured learning opportunities for micro-enterprises in the same line of work, and third, to enable them save together. Targeted mentorship in also provided as members share their business experiences during meetings.
Like most other social enterprises, Cherehani Africa’s start-up capital was raised by its three co-founders. Since 2014, they continue to reinvest their annual earnings and inject new capital to expand their footprint and impact more lives. Along the way, they have received grant funding through the M-PESA Foundation; The United States African Development Foundation; Citi Foundation; Levi Srauss Foundation; and SPRING Accelerator.
For Cherehani Africa, their hard work is evidenced by the transformational growth they have seen in their customers, and their businesses. Take the example of Rehab Wasonga. Rehab had exceptional tailoring skills. Every month, she paid $5 as payment to rent a sewing machine. When Cherehani Africa became her financial partner, she joined a tailoring group in her community, she attended financial literacy classes and soon became eligible to apply for a financial loan. Today, Rehab is the proud owner of a sewing machine. She has grown her business to have a fully stocked and profitable apparel shop. She is also one of two main suppliers of soft drinks in her community. She enjoys an average monthly income of $400.
Another success story is that of Benter Apiyo. When Benter first approached Cherehani Africa in 2014, she did not own any tailoring equipment. She also lacked any credit history and couldn’t access financing. With sound advice from Cherehani Africa’s field officers, Benter registered as a member of a women’s group in her community. She took the requisite training to learn about asset financing and savings structures, and she learned about Cherehani Africa’s micro-loan offerings. Today, Benter owns one of the largest apparel shops in her community. She has also diversified her earnings by launching a wholesale egg business. In a good month, she takes home more than $500 from her businesses.
These stories are common across Cherehani Africa’s customer listing. They serve as stories of inspiration that continue to motivate this social enterprise to support even more women owned micro-enterprises.
Wesley and his co-founders challenge assumptions and rely on customer feedback and comments for their continued growth. They understand that very few women in underserved markets have access to the business opportunities presented by digital technology. As a result, they are now strategizing how best they can leverage technology to democratize entrepreneurship. They want Cherehani Africa to be the enterprise that truly makes it easy for women and adolescent girls across Sub-Saharan Africa to run sustainable micro-enterprises.