Kenya has been described as 'the cradle of humanity' , and despite being one of Africa' s most developed nations, the gap between rich and poor is growing.While the economy is growing at around five per cent a year, an estimated 46 per cent of the Kenyan population is living below the poverty line, unemployment is high and droughts frequently put millions of people at risk. Kenya is at the threshold of a major demographic transition and rapid urbanization. There are approx 2.5 million slum dwellers in about 200 settlements in Nairobi representing 60 per cent of the Nairobi population, occupying just 6 per cent of the land. Kibera houses almost one million of these people - it is one of the biggest slums in the world.
Although more than a quarter of households in Kenya are headed by women, only one per cent own land titles in their names, meaning they are ineligible for substantial loans. Not surprisingly therefore, women rate access to finance as a key barrier to entrepreneurship.
Lack of financial information and the inability to provide collateral and meet other banking requirements negatively affects women's economic productivity. 85 per cent of women's businesses are in the informal sector, making it difficult for them to scale up their operations. Many women entrepreneurs in East Africa lack the capital, technical skills and support needed to establish competitive businesses.
When poor people have understanding of, and access to financial services - secure savings, credit, insurance, money transfers and other products - can they help to break the cycle of poverty? Poor people, and especially poor women, have a strong history of credit repayment - they invest wisely, not only in income-generating activities, but also in the welfare of their families.
Using Kenya as the case study, participants were asked to consider the experiences of those needing access to finance to help break the cycle poverty. What barriers are there to women wanting to access basic financial services and becoming entrepreneurs? What are the benefits and limitations of microfinance and group savings and loans mechanisms? How does the experience differ for those living in rural Kenya to those in urban slums? What have NGOs, like CARE International UK and their partners been doing to address the problems faced by these women?
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