Selfless, hard working, resilient and enterprising, there are millions of women in Africa who fit that description as they steadfastly, and sometimes hopelessly, run small businesses to make enough money for their family to eat. It is a very tough environment in which to make a profitable business, but they don’t give up! We met Benter, Akinyi and Salome in the local community to hear about their lives in business…
INTERVIEW WITH BENTER
Benter is a vegetable and sweet potato seller in the Tien’gre community. She began her business in 1985 and tells us that business had always been good and she had learned how to run a profitable enterprise with many regular customers. But the pandemic changed all of that and struck her business hard. Turnout became very low at the local market and the economic hard times made it impossible for most customers to be able to afford any regular purchases.
If business is good she experiences a profit margin of around £4 a day which is enough to feed her family but when the demand is too low it generates as little as 13 pence a day. The business assists her in sustaining her family, but when the profits are that low she also works in farming to top up her income for their survival.
Everyday her wish is that she would be able to get support to grow her business, that it would be able to realise the gains she needs to sustain the business and her family long term and even improve their quality of life. She prays… “If God touches someone’s heart to offer me assistance in growing my business, I will appreciate. It doesn’t have to be financial but any help to lift my business.”
INTERVIEW WITH AKINYI
We meet Akinyi at her home and she welcomes us with a prayer. Akinyi tells us about her vegetable business which began when she got married in 1996. She says that she was doing well and was making enough money to feed her family but the pandemic was destructive. She laments that customer turnout is now so low that she is often forced to return home with her vegetables for consumption by her family as the products are perishable and can’t be kept. She says, “…There is no money, everyone you see around doesn’t have money in their pocket due to hard times. I can purchase stock [to sell at the market], but end up returning home with it.”
Akinyi takes care of a number of orphans in her home as well as her own children and so she has a large family to feed. Her ability to get customers and make money depends on her leaving Tien’gre to go and sell at Kibuye market located within the city where she finds many more buyers compared to Tien’gre. But even if she does that, she cannot buy stock in any sizeable quantity to give her a low enough price to make much of a profit margin. Her current finances only allow her to buy a little stock, enough to sustain the business, but she hopes that one day soon she will be able to stock a variety of vegetables so that she is able to attract more customers, compete with the sellers in Kibuye, and realise good sales. Her hope is to be able to find someone to hold her hand in lifting her business through finance or training, to help her business to be successful and sustain her large family.
INTERVIEW WITH SALOME
Salome is 62 years of age and a widow. She sells small fish, known in the local dialect as “Omena”, in Tien’gre local market to feed her family. She spoke to us about her business that she began in the 1980’s and which was doing well until the pandemic hit. As a result of her financial constraints, she can only purchase small quantities of fish at the shores of Lake Victoria and it is only enough to ensure their survival at the moment. She says, “…business isn’t good at all, during lockdown we were forced to consume our savings and also part of our profits, I can’t say now that I will be able to purchase enough quantity of stock.” Monthly income varies and depends on the quantity of stock purchased for sale in the local market.
She used to feed her family well and pay school fees for her children, even after her husband’s demise. But she is challenged now in making business proceeds that will sustain her family. She has two sons who have completed their high school education but unable to proceed to college as she cannot afford the fees. She had another son who used to assist in managing the household but he passed away and now she is the sole breadwinner.
Salome prays that someone will step forward and lend her a helping hand to buy enough stock to make money. She hopes that if her business grows, she would be able to send her sons to college so that they can have a better future.