- Women’s investment groups are finally going from merry-go-round meet-ups to savvy money makers
Chamas, Kenyan colloquialism for investment groups, have been, for the longest time, a sure path to financial freedom. While a good many of them fizzle out before making any substantial gains, several others grow to become financial institutions of power, influence, and wealth.
Many of these investment groups are helmed and populated mostly by men, and many women’s chamas restrict themselves to merry-go-round activities. However, more women’s groups are starting to go big, pooling their money to reap substantial profit.
Saturday Magazine spoke to three such women’s investment groups. These groups illustrate the financial strides women can achieve and also celebrate their strength as women.
If ever there was a poster child for sound investment, Milele Alliance would be it. The eight-member investment company — started with 10 members in November 2007 — has an investment portfolio worth Sh35 million. Rose Mbanya, a director of Milele, shared its history.
The 10 founders of the group came from diverse backgrounds, on a who-knows-who basis. It mattered not their age or professions. What mattered was their shared goal: To collect their resources to achieve financial independence.
For eight months, the group met every third Saturday of the month, with the agenda to align its members’ synergies and to lay its foundation. They contributed a minimum of Sh30,000 every month.
They also agreed on objectives, rules and a constitution, its banking, accounting and auditing partner, and its legal adviser. Members committed to the group’s mandate by signing it.
In August 2008 the group registered Milele Alliance as a limited liability company. The money collected thus far became its share capital. Its first investment was the purchase of two parcels of land — 1.25 acres in Juja and two acres in Elementaita.
Member contributions were sufficient to finance the investment. To date, the land has been held in its books for speculative and collateral purposes.
Next, and in line with its five-year strategic plan, Milele focused its resources on one income-generating activity: The purchase and letting of residential property in Thika and Mlolongo. “The finances came through member contributions and a mortgage from our banking partner,” says Rose. So far the mortgage has a small balance remaining.
The second five-year plan started in August 2013. It has focused on a car-cleaning service located in Mountain View. A manager on site oversees its operations. Milele’s plan is to automate the service. To spread its risk, Milele has also invested in the stock market.
So what factors have contributed to Milele’s longevity and financial success? “First, we engage professional services. Accountants and auditors maintain our books. And before we make any investment, our lawyers conducts due diligence. Professionals also give us an objective opinion of the state of our affairs,” says Rose. Milele has also employed a full-time investment manager for its portfolio.
Second, Milele’s rules are clear on how to handle matters. “The two members who exited the group in August 2012 left without acrimony. Accurate records allowed us to settle their entitlement, plus extra.” Rose illustrates. These Milele rules also explain why the group has escaped the pitfalls that many a women’s group fall into, like personal conflicts and whimsical decision-making.
Lastly, Milele does not view itself as a chama. Milele views itself an investment company. Planning for the next five-year investment cycle is underway, a process the group takes seriously.
As women, how has Milele changed the lives of its members? “The investment company has taught us a lot about having a powerful vision and being confident to execute it in a professional manner while working with and learning from the correct professionals.
“On a personal level, we have bonded as investors and enjoyed seeing our company grow from strength to strength. More importantly, we have remained friends and can still challenge each other in the best interest of the company. Milele is something we are proud to have built,” Rose says.
Mapato Group is four years old and has defied the challenges of its size to make substantial financial strides. So, where did this group of (now) 17 women begin?
The idea for a chama was first conceived as a merry-go-round for six women in our social circles, says Janet*, a board member who declined to have her identity revealed. After four months, the women realised that the merry-go-round was not working for them. They decide to recruit friends — working women in their 30s – to join as members. The idea was to pool their resources and invest.
The group of 20 members, three of whom live in the diaspora, congregated for its first meeting in March 2010 and registered with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Services as a women’s group.
As it considered its investment options, Mapato elected its office bearers, documented its constitution, and started making monthly contributions of Sh5,000 (later upped to Sh7,500) and an annual subscription of Sh2,000.
Its monthly meetings involved team-building activities for members to bond and talks from investment professionals and managers for inspiration and to educate them on investments and internal management structures.