Alice Korir’s entrepreneurial spirit developed on her parent’s tea farm in Kericho, Kenya. Growing up, tea was the only source of income for her parents, who had inherited a tea farm from her grandparents, as is common in the region. But tea can be a fickle crop to manage. “Tea depends heavily on rainfall, which can be scarce. The prices aren’t steady and sometimes crop diseases affect how much we harvest,” the now 47-year-old mother of four explains in Kipsigis, the local language.
Korir’s parents supported her education to Grade 12 through tea farming. When she was planning for her own children’s education, she decided she didn’t want to rely on tea as her sole source of income. She started of thinking of ways to diversify.
In addition to farming and selling tea, Korir bought cows and started selling milk. In 2017, when her own children started university, Korir and her husband opened a small shop to sell household items and started a maize mill. They hoped the new business ventures would provide enough income to finance their children’s education.
But a year in, Korir wasn’t making enough money to justify both businesses. She chalked it up to competition; two of her neighbors had shops and she figured it would take more time to turn a profit. She closed the maize mill to focus on the shop, but she still wasn’t seeing the returns. She wasn’t sure what to do.
In March 2019, her husband heard about a financial literacy training run by Lipton and WE. The training is part of a program sponsored by Lipton to empower 150,000 people in Kenya’s tea growing region with tools to help them become financially independent. “He had heard about it at the market, and because he knew I am passionate about business, he told me to go.”
There, Korir discovered the main pitfall that had stalled her business development: recordkeeping—or lack thereof.
Until then she had been very cavalier about keeping records—in fact, she says didn’t keep any. “I didn’t think it was important. I would take money and pay school fees or buy food or put it from one business to the other.” She realized she wasn’t keeping track of the money she was putting into the shop or any profit she was earning.
The second major issue revolved around tracking stock. She says that she never kept an inventory list and kept buying what she thought people liked; instead of what was selling. “I bought children’s clothes to sell at my shop. But people buy clothes at the market because it’s cheaper, so I had clothes remaining at the shop,” she explains. She realized clothes weren’t a commodity bought often. “Here, people save for a while before they can buy clothes, and once they do, they wait for a while before they buy more,” she adds.
After she learned the basics of recordkeeping at the training, she bought a book to record all the shop’s expenses and income. She realized that most of the expenses were stock she couldn’t move. She stopped buying and trying to sell clothes, and stuck with household items like sugar, soap and tea leaves. “These are things people need daily, so they are easy to sell.”
In three months, she had saved enough money from her profits to re-open the mill. She’s using her newfound knowledge to make that business successful too.
How has record keeping improved your businesses? It is enabling me to monitor the progress of the businesses. When I see the numbers, it shows me whether I should be making changes. Like maybe buying more of a certain product and less of another one. I see the losses and I see the profit and I can plan ahead because of this. This means there is no wasted money.
Why is it important for women to have access to financial training? Women are always willing to work hard, so having the right support will help them become successful. When women are successful, they can support their children, their husbands and the entire community.
What do you hope to achieve in the future? I want to expand my shop so I can earn more money. I want all my children to get a university education so they can get good jobs. Two are already there, and I want the other two to join them after high school, so I will need to have enough money to support them.
This interview has been condensed and edited from a translation.
“When women are successful, they can support their children, their husbands and the entire community.”Alice Korir, Trainee
“Every time I went, they taught something new and I knew it was going to help me.”Caroline Korkoren, Trainee
“I saw what the women the trainers showed us had done and I thought that if they could do it, then I could do it too.”Magdalene Metei, Trainee
“Now when you see women, they have so much.”Mary Koech, Community Trainer
“Financial literacy training is important here because it helps people take care of the money they already have. It helps them see how else they can take care of their families.”Samson Langat, Community Trainer
Zeddy Kosgei is a multi-media content creator in Kenya with over three years’ experience as a broadcast journalist. She loves finding stories that matter and retelling them creatively and eloquently.