A Grassroots Social Enterprise

By Andrew Weber

My name is Andrew Weber and I recently served as a Zidisha Client Relationship Manger in Kenya. There I paid a visit to Dorcas at her home in city of Mombasa on the coast. Dorcas is one of the most amazing borrowers that I encountered because of the unique nature of her business – she has unknowingly started what many Westerners would describe as a social enterprise. Dorcas and her husband have lived very successful lives so far. They both had stable jobs for many years, she a secretary and he a journalist. They were able support several children who have now gone on to find good jobs and raise families of their own. Her husband over the years has gained enough respect in the community that he was voted a village elder, which entitles him to settle disputes in the town. Upon their retirement they easily could have decided to relax and live off of the support of their children and whatever savings they accumulated. But Dorcas and her husband saw a problem in their community which they could not ignore. There was no running water in their village. For years, they walked several kilometers every day like the rest of the villagers just to buy water from a polluted pump. If they wanted to buy a large quantity they needed to pay a motorbike a hefty $1 each way to help them transport it. She says to retrieve truly clean water a well must be at least 90 feet deep. Otherwise there will still be salt in the water as they are so close to the ocean. She is pretty certain the well that everyone in the town used to use was far more shallow than this threshold. With newfound free time after their retirement, they decided to do something about the village’s perilous water situation.

Dorcas built two water pumps drawing from a well over 90 feet deep outside of her home with support from a high interest bank loan. The tanks hold 800 and 1,000 liters respectively and they are filled four times a day. Dorcas initially just built the tanks for her family and friends, but her little water project has spiraled into something much larger. As word of the pumps spread, there was no way she could ignore the hordes of people in her community in desperate need of cleaner water. So she began providing water to everyone in the area at a low cost. Today she has over 300 customers per day. My conversation with her was actually interrupted several times as she had to help various people fill up their water containers, but that is the nature of Dorcas’ life now. People typically buy 20 liters of water at a time for about 3 cents – less than the cost of the polluted water people in the village used to drink. Often people come great distances to her home from highly impoverished areas and are unable to afford even the 3 cents, so she often ends of giving water away or allows people to buy water on credit. Her customers include some of the poorest people in the region, and she often provides wagons for those who travel great distances but can’t afford means to carry the water back.

Dorcas understands how much her tanks of improved the lives of those in her community, so she naturally wants to do more now. Her tanks are still relatively small and do not fully meet the vast demand in the area. Dorcas now wants to install a 10,000 liter tank (5 times the size of her current capacity). Unfortunately a quality tank and pipes represents a significant investment, not to mention the increase in her already high utility bills. But when Dorcas speaks about this proposed new tank a fierce determination enters her eyes contrasting with her usually gentle, grandmotherly demeanor. She knows people in her village need this, and providing this service has become her primary mission in life. Her first Zidisha loan has contributed to her payment of the utility bills associated with her current two tanks, but it is not quite enough to install the 10,000 liter tank. She eagerly awaits her second Zidisha loan which should allow her to afford the new tank. Until then Dorcas hopes the stream of water from her pumps can come close to the needs of the stream of people coming to her home every day.

You may view Dorcas’ account of her business and recent comments at her Zidisha Microfinance loan profile page.

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