Nowhere is the spirit of Entrepreneurship more rampant than in Gikomba market. Gikomba is the largest second-hand clothes market in East Africa. This open-air market located near the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi is home to hundreds of traders. The traders are small retailers that sell second-hand clothing they purchase from larger distributers for a small profit. This is a bustling market and on any day, you can hear retailers shouting over each other trying to attract customers to their stall.
Recently the market has been plagued with multiple disasters. In mid-March an electrical fire raged through the market, destroying 1/3 of the stalls. Many small retailers lost most of their merchandise in the fire. Shortly thereafter, the Kiva Zip team was approached by Frank Buchanan, who runs a social venture called Inukabuy, that aims to increase income for these small retailers. He was looking for ways to help these retailers get their businesses and lives back on track as quickly as possible. Gaining access to low cost capital seemed like the way to go. Knowing that time was of the essence, we added Frank as a Kiva Zip Trustee in less than 5 days! This meant he could start selecting and endorsing borrowers to get a 0% interest Kiva Zip loan.
I had the opportunity to spend a day in the market with Frank, and we met the retailers who had lost their merchandise in the fire. Hearing their personal stories and how the fire had already impacted their lives, struck a cord with me. There was a real sense of community here. They competed with each other for sales, but were there for each other in time of need – whether it was lending money to one another, selling merchandise for someone that was sick or protecting each other from theft.
As a community, they had already gone through so much, but rather than dwelling on that, they were hopeful and eager to get back to their businesses. In the middle of talking to us about the loan process, they were still trying to attract customers to their stalls and were busy selling whatever they had left.
One of the potential borrowers asked, “Why do these people who don’t know me want to support me?”
Trying to explain crowd funding and the generosity of complete strangers seemed a strange concept to explain, as I’m sure it was to comprehend! The good news is that all the borrowers that were selected for loans that afternoon had their loans funded on the Zip website in less than an hour!
Just when it seemed that these retailers were getting back on their feet, they were victims of another tragedy. Two weeks ago, Gikomba was hit by twin terrorist attacks. In the first incident, an improvised explosive device exploded inside a matatu (public transport van) loaded with people and in the second, a grenade was hurled inside the crowded market. Ten people died, and 76 people were injured in the attack. Hearing about the blasts, my immediate reaction was to ensure that neither Frank nor the borrowers we support were involved. Luckily Frank was out of town and none of our borrowers were affected, though I’m sure their businesses were impacted as the market tried to recover from the blasts. I hope in the near future, we can support more of these retailers through a Kiva Zip loan.
As they say, time and hope are the best healers. It’s now been over two weeks since the terrorist attacks, and the retailers are back at the market, trying to earn a livelihood and return to a sense of normalcy. I’m so inspired by the spirit and resiliency of the people in the market and like the Phoenix they are truly rising from the ashes.
To support other entrepreneurs in Kenya, please check out https://zip.kiva.org/loans>
About the author
Shikha, a native of India, has called the Bay Area home since age 12, but considers herself a Global Citizen at heart. Having traveled to 40+ countries, she has a mild obsession with travel, exploration and adventure. Through her journeys in the developed and developing world, Shikha has always come away with the same conclusion: we are all more similar than different, and what really differentiates us is opportunity, access, and infrastructure. If there was a way to change this, would we really be that different? Shikha graduated from U.C. Berkeley, with a B.A. in Psychology. She has worked both in the public and private sector, always with a connection to the underserved. Recently her passion to give back, coupled with her curiosity to find cross-cultural equalizers, led her to join Cisco’s Global Education Philanthropy group. Here, she experienced first-hand how access to quality education helps individuals from disadvantaged communities change their future and participate on a global stage. She sees a huge parallel between education and microfinance – both are empowering and sustainable change agents in breaking the cycle of poverty. Shikha is thrilled to serve as a Kiva Fellow in Kenya. She speaks Hindi and French and looks forward to learning Swahili.