A  few years into her marriage, Josphine Ekai was faced with a terrifying realization about her relationship.

Josphine had married a man in her community. At the time, she thought of her marriage as a deeply meaningful moment of transformation. She and her husband would come together as one team. They would build a home, a family and a better future for themselves and their children.  However, during the first few months of her marriage, a time during which she was supposed to feel most connected to her husband, Josphine realized that she never felt more alone.

He was drunk all of the time,” Josphine said. “Family became an afterthought for him. I was left all alone to care for my family. I used to wake up at 6 a.m. every morning stressed out with one question: What can I do to make sufficient money, so that my children don’t go to bed hungry? Everything was on me.  I was the only one hustling to provide for myself, my husband and my child.”

Josephine lives in the  Oldonyiro ward of Isiolo county in Northern Kenya.  16% of the people in Kenya live in extreme poverty – defined by the World Bank as people living on less than $1.90 a day. However, the number jumps up to 50% for the Northern part of the country.  Over 90% of the people in the North are pastoralists. However, extreme cycles of droughts and floods caused by climate change have made the pursuit of traditional livelihoods difficult to downright impossible.

“I couldn’t see how things could ever get better. There was just no opportunity I could see that would allow us to better our lives. I was beginning to lose faith.”

It was then that mentors from BOMA’s poverty graduation program visited Josphine’s village.  Josphine was selected to enroll in BOMA’s poverty graduation program. Participants for BOMA’s poverty graduation program are identified through a three-pronged approach that includes community consultation, ranking via BOMA’s unique targeting tool, and baseline surveys conducted by independent enumerators.

Josphine enrolled in the Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity. The Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity is a USAID-funded program designed to improve the resilience of people living in extreme poverty.

Josphine joined the Nachio Business Group – participants in BOMA’s poverty graduation program are placed in business groups made up of three entrepreneurs. Working in groups allows women to collaborate with community members, divvy up responsibilities and manage the many demands on their time.  Josphine opted to become the treasurer of her group.

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Members of the group received financial and life skills training from BOMA mentors.  The trainings covered supply and demand, profit and pricing, record keeping, marketing, savings, borrowing lending, planning for long-term expenses, investing, and strategies for sustaining the business. Life-skills sessions include household decision-making, the importance of educating children (especially girls), family planning, and the rights of women under the Kenyan constitution.

‘’After we received our first grant, we started off with a livestock business. We also operated a small convenience store,” Josphine says.

Business group members come together to form savings groups. Josphine and her fellow group members each contributed 400 Kenyan shillings per month to the group. We can all relate to how saving money is critical to building resilience against future shocks. Saving money is especially true for people living in extreme poverty, many of whom have little in the way of safety nets provided by friends, family members, governments and financial institutions.

Josphine and her saving group members formed a constitution for the group. They mutually agreed that group members could take loans from the “kitty” in times of need. These could be paid back after a stipulated number of days with a small interest. Savings group members also decided to use the money to venture into new business areas.

Josphine applied for a loan of 50,000 Kenyan Shillings.  Through her mentoring sessions, she had learned the importance of pursuing a “blue ocean” business strategy – entering areas that are not characterized by a high degree of competition.

“There were not many businesses selling LPG gas cylinders,” Josphine says. Josephine started off with 10 gas cylinders. She utilized the business skills learned from BOMA’s mentors to stock inventory, fulfill orders, and drive customer satisfaction. Business boomed. She was quickly able to repay her loan. She was even able to buy an additional 30 cylinders as she scaled her business.  She also added capabilities to her business — she is now able to refill gas cylinders for her customers.

It has become easier to take care of my family expenses. My greatest achievement after opening this business is that I have built my very own house where we are living with my children. I do not have to pay for rent anymore. I am grateful to BOMA for coming to Oldonyiro and changing my life. I appeal to other women to continue to work hard. We should work together in unity because when we work in a group, we will achieve more than working alone.”