Vicky Mwema, Chairlady of The Sisters of Faith Group In Machakos, Kenya, speaking to a group of members.

Sisters of Faith, social entrepreneurs

A group of 20 Kenyan churchgoing women decided to tackle one of their country’s most protracted environmental and health problems – the shortage of clean drinking water – and make money to support their families in the process.

Water scarcity

Four in 10 Kenyans do not have access to safe, clean water. Erratic weather patterns cause regular droughts and there is a limited renewable water supply. As a direct result, sanitation- and hygiene-related illnesses are the number one cause of hospitalisation in children under age five in the country.

Customer of The Sisters of Faith Group filling a container with water

The Sisters of Faith experience the effects of water scarcity more than most: they live in Machakos county, 65 km southeast of Nairobi and one of the driest areas of Kenya. Deforestation has led to gradual erosion of the hilly terrain here. Most people live on family farming in terraces (to reduce erosion and capture water), but due to the lack of water the county has still experienced famines on a regular basis in the last few years. There is no piped water in the Sisters’ neighbourhood.

Prior to their training by Hand in Hand, the Sisters typically survived on casual jobs, relying mostly or entirely on their husband’s incomes to support the family. The group’s chairwoman recalls the start of the group in 2011: “When we first heard about Hand in Hand, we liked what we heard because they did not just talk about money. Like so many other groups, they also talked about knowledge and skills  – and that is what we needed.“

Machakos, Kenya

Sisters of co-operation

They rapidly raised a group saving fund worth KES 50,000 (US$ 690). Together with the business training, loans from the saving fund allowed almost every group member to establish a small business within a year, ranging from crocheting floor mats to retailing vegetables or raising poultry. One of them, Virginia Nzioka says, “I used to be a housewife who had to go to others’ homestead to ask them to give me a job. Now I am someone in society, we don’t struggle to pay my daughter’s college fees and we can still afford salt and sugar.”

The group started selling water on tap, serving their community with affordable, safe water and making a profit

An ambitious venture

More than half of the group have opened their own bank accounts with encouragement from Hand in Hand and this has made it much easier to manage their family finances. Typically, only 38 percent of people living in rural Kenya have access to a bank account.

Vicky Mwema, Chairlady of The Sisters of Faith Group speaking to the rest of the group

One year on, their Hand in Hand trainer, Robert Ithibua, suggested that the group should explore a more ambitious venture serving an underserved market. The Sisters identified water as one of the scarcest goods in their immediate area. Safe water was only available from a few isolated water distribution points and a handful of traders selling water at extremely high prices from donkey carts.

The group agreed a contract with the municipality to deliver water weekly by truck, sourced water purification chemicals and raised a microloan to buy and install a big tank on land donated by their church. In June 2013 the group started selling water on tap, serving their community with affordable, safe water and making a profit before interest of KES 12,000 (US$ 138) a week.

The Sisters are planning to set up a second tank once they have paid off their first loan. And other women in their church can’t wait to start Hand in Hand training. “We are giving Robert [their trainer] more work!” said Virginia.


Sisters of Faith’s results

Group savings fund worth KES 50,000 (US $690)

Weekly profit before interest KES 12,000 (US $138)

First loan paid; planning to expand