Hand in Hand teams up with Visa to empower women entrepreneurs

03 Mar 2020

Hand in Hand member Dorcas | Shop owner | Greater Nairobi, Kenya

What happens when thousands of unemployed women in Africa’s biggest slums are empowered to take control of their finances and launch their own businesses? And when thousands more of the most promising micro-entrepreneurs in those same slums receive specialist training, financial services and mentor support to help level up their businesses – what happens then?

Thanks to a ground-breaking new partnership with Visa, the world’s leader in digital payments, we’re about to find out. Launched with a US $2.4 million grant from Visa, the three-year project aims to reach 10,200 members in two groups in the slums of Greater Nairobi, some of the biggest anywhere on Earth.

Financial inclusion, a prerequisite to small-business growth, will feature centrally throughout the programme, which aims to elevate both groups to a position where they can access the financial services they need.

Equality for each

This International Women’s Day, millions of individuals will converge on a collective theme: #EachforEqual. Hand in Hand’s partnership with Visa flips the equation, seeking equality for each of the 6,880 women who comprise 80 percent of the programme’s first group, our Launchpad.

Women living in Nairobi’s slums face restrictive norms and attitudes that keep them from earning their own incomes, controlling their own assets and making decisions for themselves. Hand in Hand’s package of Self-Help Groups, business and skills training, mentorship, financial inclusion and market linkages will empower our Launchpad members to overcome those barriers and increase their incomes

Scaling up our most promising micro-businesses

Our second group, the Accelerator, takes established micro-businesses to new heights. Here, we’ll select 1,600 pre-existing entrepreneurs for high-growth potential – including Hand in Hand’s most promising entrepreneurs from previous projects – with an eye to helping them scale up. Urban in nature, businesses in this category will range from retail shops and salons to garbage collectors, upcycled-waste producers and more. At least 50 percent will be owned and run by women.

Since our very first days in rural south India, Hand in Hand has prioritised a single demographic: women living in extreme poverty, defined since 2015 as those earning less than US $1.90 a day. So why, almost 20 years later, are we expanding to include our Accelerator class?

Dorcas serves a customer.

Small businesses lift up the communities around them by creating employment opportunities and enhancing livelihoods in a multiplier effect. But the answer is also strongly reflected in a 2019 survey of our members in Kenya, conducted by impact measurement leaders 60 Decibels. On the whole, found the survey, Hand in Hand’s members are pleased with our programmes: 95 percent said their quality of life improved after taking our training, and 51 percent said it improved “very much”.

Still, when researchers asked for improvements a number of key themes emerged. Eleven percent of respondents, many fitting the accelerator profile, said they wanted “expanded content” to help them keep learning and growing. For 34 percent, the answer was even simpler: “increased financing”.

Hand in Hand’s Enterprise Incubation Fund already provides finance to members at the Launchpad level. In keeping with our ethos of self-help, that finance is limited to one loan cycle of roughly US $200 – a bridge to other, more formal providers. By helping our Accelerator members scale up, we’re extending that bridge further, to a place where lines of credit are comfortably within reach. In other words, they receive “expanded content” – more training – and “increased financing” all in one go.

The programme will also see investment in Hand in Hand’s IT infrastructure to support digital program data and collection. Eventually, this technology will be scaled across all 23 of Hand in Hand Eastern Africa’s field offices, enabling programme managers to learn and adapt in real-time.

By the numbers

10,200 members recruited

75% of members women

6,020 micro-businesses created

1,600 micro-businesses expanded