50 young warriors from Naibunga Community Conservancy have become the latest beneficiaries of NRT Trading’s Savings & Credit Cooperative, aimed at mobilising young men to save and borrow money for investment in small businesses.
“Can start-ups really be the answer to an arms race that has defined and constrained a region for decades?” NRT CEO Mike Harrison asks in an article he wrote recently for Forbes online. The idea of dispensing loans to encourage illiterate young men wielding AK-47s to start businesses sounds absurd, but that is exactly what NRT Trading is doing. In 2016, over 200 warriors - most of whom never completed secondary school, nor opened a bank account - surrendered their arms to pursue businesses with loans supported by USAID, The Nature Conservancy, DANIDA and others.
North Kenya’s troubled history of ethnic rivalries, wildlife poaching and cattle theft has affected this demographic more than any other. Young warriors (morans) – charged with herding family livestock - are on the front line of most conflict, as traditional policing systems break down and the availability of illegal weapons escalates. “By their very nature community conservancies are ‘grass-roots’ – organisations created by the people, for the people” Mike writes. “Yet, until recently, there wasn’t a dedicated drive to involve the very demographic that instigated - and suffered the most fatalities from - ethnic conflict and regional insecurity. The ‘morans.’”
Now, a new initiative by NRT Trading aims to mobilise young men to save and borrow money for investment in small businesses. The Moran SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation) Program was started in 2016, and has already benefitted 600 young men.
Earlier this month, 50 young warriors from Naibunga Conservancy became the latest to qualify, by undertaking a two day training course in business management, leadership and financial literacy lead by NRT Trading’s Community Economic Empowerment Director, Ture Boru.
"Micro-credit can mean morans have a chance at running their own businesses, which not only improves their economic circumstances but also their status in society,” Ture explained. "More resources in the hands of morans means less raids, less idling around. It means an engaged and empowered community."
As Mike explains, the member-driven cooperative uses mobile money to make savings and credit accessible even when the nearest bank is hundreds of miles away, and is helping to create an environment for businesses to thrive in remote conservancies. Those that join have to pay a 500-shilling membership fee (equivalent to around $5) and are asked to invest in a $10 share capital with a minimum monthly deposit of $3. To govern the SACCO, warriors elect a ‘star moran’ and a ‘superstar moran’ from each of the groups they form. These men must be good leaders and peace ambassadors, and have good business instincts. They are charged with debt collection, overall running of the SACCO, and raising financial awareness among their peers.
“Sometimes all it takes is a spark to ignite hope in the heart of a moran living in extreme poverty. That spark can come in the form of a microloan and training for him to grow a successful small business,” said Richard Kasoo, Regional Director of NRT West.
A 6-month membership will enable SACCO members to access interest-free loans three times their savings, with just a 10% administration fee. Access to the program is only available to community conservancy members, who contribute 2% of the admin fee to their conservancies. The rest is split between the star and superstar morans (3%) and the SACCO (5%).
“In the drought last year I lost 50 animals” said James Kapoi Mamai, one of the newly elected ‘star morans’. “Times have been hard, but these loan payments are good. It makes up for small losses like that lamb”.
“Without this Sacco loan many of these morans would not have been able to own businesses,” said Beatrice Lempaira, Production Manager for NRT Trading’s BeadWorks business. "This has given them a fantastic opportunity to improve their lives and be able to make better lives for themselves and their communities. It is very inspiring to giving them a little seed of capital and support because this gives them hope they need to pursue their dreams in the near future.”