Francis the Millionaire

Since several generations the family of Francis has been living in the same neighborhood of Nairobi, Gatina (Part of Kwangware). Gatina, which means in Kikuyu “people that are behind”, is one of the biggest slums of the city. Basic public utilities, such as electricity, roads and sanitation are here deficient. For a living people are doing precarious daily jobs or when they have the opportunity they start their own informal business on the side of the road. That is what did Francis,5 years ago. At the age of 25, not having enough money to go to university he started selling sweets. After years of efforts, he was finally able to open a little shop and called it, as the bill board on its roof says, “Millionaire base”. Since then, to answer his basic needs and the ones of his wife and daughter, Francis works from 6am to 9pm, 7 days a week. But the business isn’t good all year through. When comes the end of the months, Kenyan Shillings become scarce and trade decreases. Moreover, during the rainy season, because of the poor water draining system, floods are more than common and trade becomes nearly impossible.

After hearing of the Bangla-Pesa program Nyendo-lernen, a German NGO that works with schools in Kawangware, invited us to introduce the concept to the Gatina community. When Francis first heard about the success of Bangla-Pesa in Mombasa and the project of bringing it to Gatina, he was convinced and took part in the introduction of the idea to the community. Few months later we, together with the community, started the program. Gatina-Pesa was launched and Francis became the vice chairman and member of the Gatina Business Organization as did nearly 100 other businesses, schools and churches within the area. Every day, a part of his trade with the other members of the network happens through Gatina-Pesa. The members can now buy his products, even when they don’t have enough Kenyan Shilling by topping up with Gatina-Pesa. As a result, his number of costumers and daily revenue increased. The same happened with the costumers belonging to the network. Indeed, as he put it “You buy in my shop, I buy in your shop”. According to him, this daily interaction with the members also made his shop famous among the community.

Every day, he usually receives 200 Gatina-Pesa (2$) from the members. But at the end of the months, when the Kenyan shillings are becoming scarce, the part of trade in Gatina Pesa increases and Francis get as much as 300 Gatina-Pesa a day.

This amount is spent daily to answer 2/3 of his family needs in food, water, paraffin, charcoal and medicine. Additionally, when comes the time to pay his daughter school fees he can also pay a part in Gatina-Pesa, the school being a member of the network.

As a result, the 200 Kenyan shillings that he would have otherwise been spent are saved in the common saving account of the Gatina Business Organization. In few months he hopes that through this program, he will be able to get a loan and to expand his business. Indeed he wishes in the long term to grow from his small shop to a supermarket and to a wholesaler. Additionally, Gatina-Pesa can also help to manage the lack of cash for the change. Francis gives up to 100 Gatina-Pesa a day as part of the change for his costumers, members and even non members if they know how to spend it.

But according to him the Gatina business Organization is also beneficial as a network in itself. As Francis says : “The first thing it does, it brings us together because in our network, we have the Kikuyus, we have the Hindus, we have the Luos, we have many tribes, and when we come up together we create this unity, this union, and when you walk as one, I believe you can achieve a lot. As the saying goes, divided we fall, together we rise”.

Francis is part of a big family that is expanding every day. Other businesses of Nairobi have decided to implement community currencies in their area too. Grassroots Economics has also brought a community currency to Kangemi (a neighboring informal settlement) and Kangemi-Pesa has already been launched a month ago and Lindi-Pesa will soon too be in Kibera. The three Complementary Currencies will be exchangeable among them which we hope will multiply the positive benefits for their members and will allow more families such as the one of Francis to be more confident about their future.

Robin Gerbaux is studying International Development Studies as a graduate student at the Université Joseph Fourier, in Grenoble, France. He has been investigating community currencies while living in Nairobi.

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