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Microvending in Kenya

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Microlending is when small amounts of money are loaned to budding entrepreneurs. MicroVENDING is when small business owners sell tiny amounts of their product. This idea is taking off in the impoverished African nation of Kenya. From the Marketplace Entreprenuership Desk, Kitty Felde reports.

NAOIMI WAMBUGE: This is our oven. It has assisted us for a long time, that’s why it is wearing out.

KITTY FELDE: The kitchen equipment at Nairobi’s Cornerstone Faith Assembly Church wouldn’t pass muster at the Cordon Blue. But every day, catering students like Naoimi Wambuge use the ancient stove to toast peanuts. And bake queen cakes.

WAMBUGE: I guess you call them muffins.

Wambuge sells the snacks on the streets of Nairobi. The parish came up with the idea of helping people to become microvenders, sole proprietors selling small items to their neighbors.

It’s one way to counter Kenya’s 40 percent unemployment. Vendors sell an amount even the poorest Kenyans can afford: tiny packets of nuts and individual queen cakes for about a penny apiece.

It’s a model, borrowed from the multinational Unilever.

WHITNEY SCHNEIDMAN: That makes sense to me.

That’s consultant Whitney Schneidman. He was in charge of economic issues in sub-Saharan Africa in the Clinton Administration.

SCHNEIDMAN: It’s not infrequent that one will see packets of soap that may be good for two washes. I mean you’d never see something like that in the United States, but in Africa, it’s rather common to see.

Schneidman says it gets back to a basic business principle: economies of scale. You make a profit by selling something your customer can afford.

SCHNEIDMAN: People want to get into the marketplace and they want to start selling their products and that will generate revenue hopefully and if it’s managed well, then they can grow from there.

Across town, Holy Cross Catholic Church is training a different sort of microvender: tailors.

TEACHER: I need him to do better than this, the pocket is not straight, it’s not the way it is supposed to be.

Sewing student Jacob Omondi doesn’t mind the criticism of his work on a green school uniform shirt. He’s determined to set up his own one-man tailoring kiosk. He’ll have competition. Tiny stalls selling everything from onions to water buckets crowd the dusty suburbs surrounding Nairobi. But Omondi is optimistic.

JACOB OMONDI: The teacher doesn’t teach dressmaking, also how to socialize outside that will make us get many customers.

Omondi says he’ll start with one beautiful dress and grow from there.

In Kenya, I’m Kitty Felde for Marketplace.

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