UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Students travel to Kenya to redesign microfinance training program


UNC Kenan-Flagler students traveled to Kenya to assess and redesign the training program for a Kenyan microfinance organization.

Four MBAs and one BSBA spent several weeks in May working with the Jamii Bora (Swahili for “A Better Family”) Trust microfinance organization. The students were part of a global business project class of 12 UNC Kenan-Flagler students set up to make strategic recommendations for improvement of Jamii Bora’s member business training program.

Lisa Jones Christensen, UNC Kenan-Flagler assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, organized the project after meeting Jamii Bora founder Ingrid Munro. Jamii Bora was launched in 1999 as an informal collective by 50 beggars. It has now grown to have more than 200,000 members and 100 branches. It offers several types of loans for businesses, school fees, health and housing.

Jones Christensen’s students worked with Africa Nazarene University on the project to redesign the business skills curriculum that members of Jamii Bora receive. The students developed suggested curriculum changes in class. Several then went to Nairobi to further define the content and try out their suggestions in a pilot course offered to members.

After arriving in Kenya, the students lived with and interviewed Jamii Bora members for a week, said Stephanie Poole (MBA ’10), who traveled to Africa.

“We got suggestions from members to add content that we wouldn’t have thought in the United States to include in the training,” Poole said. “Some of that is understanding the need for financial literacy and supporting the communication of hope and having a bigger vision of yourself than what is around you.”

Jamii Bora’s system requires a potential borrower to form a lending group of five people and register as Jamii Bora members. The five group members must make weekly deposits for six weeks, each saving a minimum of 500 shillings ($6).

Jamii Bora then allows two group members at a time to take out microloans for more than twice their savings (1,000-59,000 shillings or $13-$700). Each borrower makes weekly payments for 50 weeks to pay back the loan with 0.5 percent weekly interest. Once the loan is repaid, a new loan can be made. If the borrower defaults on the loan, the loan group’s other members must cover the full loan repayment. Jamii Bora borrowers can graduate to take out larger individual loans over time.

“I had always thought about microfinance as more of a cash flow solution — if you give members a small loan then they are able to manage their cash flow and start a business,” Poole added. “But the difference in the successful and the less successful people is their attitude as entrepreneurs. Even if Jamii Bora just allows them to think beyond their immediate surroundings and give them hope — that is much more powerful than people know.”