As a child, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?
For Mercy, she dreamed of a career doing something she loved, but extreme poverty prevented her from pursuing these ambitions—her work options were limited to whatever job she could find in Kenya to earn an income and provide for her family. But through Village Enterprise, she’s reclaiming her career dreams and, for the first time in a long time, getting excited about what her future holds.
Several years ago, Mercy—who is now 39 years old and a mother of five—landed a job in a textile factory in downtown Nairobi. Even though it was two hours away from home and the pay was minimal, it was still an income. But a serious health issue forced her to quit her job and move back home to Mbooni, Kenya—a rural region where work opportunities are scarce and income inconsistent. Now depending entirely on her husband as the sole provider for their household, money grew tight and her family struggled financially. They began skipping meals to make their food reserves last longer, and they couldn’t afford school fees for all of their children.
At one point, Mercy—still struggling with her health issues, but determined to provide for her family—found work by making gravel. Day in and day out, she would crush large stones with a hammer in exchange for an average of 100KES ($0.67 USD) per day. To her, this was a low point in her life. She had dreamed of living comfortably with her family and working a career that brought her joy and fulfillment, but that felt impossibly far out of reach.
Mercy in front of uniforms that she printed through her business
But everything changed for Mercy when she was enrolled in the Kenya Social and Economic Inclusion Project (KSEIP) and began Village Enterprise’s poverty graduation program. KSEIP, launched in 2019 and funded by The World Bank, is a five-year collaboration between Village Enterprise, the Government of Kenya, the Global Development Incubator (GDI), and BOMA. The goal is to support the Government of Kenya as they begin to formally integrate a poverty graduation approach into their existing social protection programs. In doing so, KSEIP has the potential to provide millions of Kenyans with a reliable and sustainable pathway out of extreme poverty.
Mercy standing with Village Enterprise’s KSEIP Program Implementation Manager Isaiah Lekesike (far left), her Village Enterprise Business Mentor Martin Muendo (second to the right), and Jackson Muraguri, County Program Manager with the Global Development Incubator (far right)
Over the past four years, Village Enterprise has been training the government on all aspects of our poverty graduation model—from targeting households and establishing business savings groups to best practices in mentorship, technology, and curriculum development. During this time, the Government of Kenya’s role has primarily focused on observing Village Enterprise and learning-by-doing by participating in implementation activities such as mentoring and training. However, starting in November 2023, the roles will begin to shift—Village Enterprise will transition from directly implementing the program to supporting the Government of Kenya as they put everything they’ve learned into practice and begin implementing the program across the country. By providing ongoing technical assistance, Village Enterprise will continue to ensure that programming remains consistent with industry standards and best practices, and entrepreneurs like Mercy have the best resources they need to thrive.
True to Mercy’s creative personality and innovative thinking, she launched an incredibly unique business through KSEIP. Instead of starting a retail, farming, or livestock business like many first-time business owners in Village Enterprise, Mercy opened her very own printing business. Having originally thought of the idea while working in Nairobi, Mercy never dreamed it would be possible given her situation, but Martin, her Village Enterprise Business Mentor, believed in her and encouraged her to pursue her passion. Using custom screens and ink, Mercy prints designs and official logos on clothes and uniforms for local schools, businesses, and NGOs. And as the only printing business anywhere nearby, she’s thriving.
Mercy’s employee holding one of the shirts they printed for a local primary school (above). A table displaying some of the equipment Mercy uses to print (below).
Using the skills she learned through Village Enterprise and under the guidance of her business mentor, Mercy has been able to set up a value chain transporting supplies all the way from Nairobi to Mbooni. Not only has this made her business as efficient and cost-effective as possible, but it has allowed her to actively make connections with partners and tailors in the region and set the groundwork for her to expand her business as demand grows. With the flurry of exceptional feedback and increased orders from customers, Mercy is excited about what’s next—she dreams of expanding her skillset and one day becoming a designer herself, creating and printing her own designs. With the profits from her business, she’s already been able to purchase a smartphone and plans to set up an online store or social media account for her business. She’s also currently saving up for a sewing machine to take her business to the next level.
But for Mercy, having a thriving business isn’t the only thing that matters to her—she wants to use her success to help others. “When I started my business, the first thing to come into my mind was about others,” said Mercy. “I had a rough journey…so why can’t I involve others to make money like me?”
Having already hired two people from her community, she’s now mentoring them on her printing trade and helping them on their own journeys out of extreme poverty. In her vision for the future, she hopes to eventually employ and mentor dozens of other people through her business.
Mercy with two people from her community that she’s hired and started to mentor through her business
Several of the screens that Mercy and her team use to print designs
“KSEIP stands out as a distinctive program within Kenya,” said Isaiah Lekesike, KSEIP Program Implementation Manager at Village Enterprise. “It presents the country with a valuable opportunity to implement an initiative that has already demonstrated promising outcomes in addressing extreme poverty.” Through KSEIP, Village Enterprise has already trained 3,698 first-time business owners like Mercy who have launched sustainable, climate-smart businesses in their communities, making a real and lasting impact for generations to come.
KSEIP is part of a larger collective action strategy for Village Enterprise. While Village Enterprise provides the industry’s most cost-effective poverty graduation model compared to those independently and rigorously evaluated by a randomized controlled trial (RCT), it is African governments who are best equipped with the infrastructure and systems to significantly and effectively scale poverty graduation programs, helping to reach millions of people and empowering them to end extreme poverty in Africa once and for all. “By partnering with governments, we hold the key to a monumental shift—envisioning an Africa free from poverty, all in the span of a single generation,” said Taddeo Muriuki, Chief Government Relations Officer at Village Enterprise.
The Village Enterprise KSEIP team in Taita Taveta recently celebrating their two-year anniversary working in this community
Mercy has come a long way since having to crush stones into gravel for money. All of her school-aged children are now back in school, her family is eating consistent and nutritious meals, and she feels incredibly proud of the life she’s been able to build in such a short time. As she reflects on her journey, she credits her success in part to her own innate determination to create a better life for her and her children, but especially to her business mentor, Martin, who’s believed in her from the start. “He’s helped me think bigger, to see what’s possible,” said Mercy. With his mentorship and encouragement, and Village Enterprise’s training and support, Mercy’s confident she now has everything she needs to achieve her dreams.
Mercy outside of her printing business