Lifeboat to save saints: Kenyan faith based SACCO

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It is the fourth Sunday of the month. Pastor Ken Yapha is preaching a message “Building the Ark of wealth”. Sitted in the congregation, I observe a middle aged woman of light complexion and few words sitting on the latter pews. She occasionally whispers to her fellow congregants asking for interpretation of some English phrases she has missed as the preaching goes on. One would easily dismiss Esther Madenge as an ordinary “mama mboga”, who does not understand English.

After the second service, assistant pastor, Gerald Ndirangu announces among other things the monthly meeting. Lifeboat Cooperative Sacco holds meetings every month. For a church committed to empowering its members financially, among other things, the Sacco is one of their instruments.

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Lifeboat Cooperative Sacco was registered in March 2010. It was started with an aim to empower God’s people to wealth creation. The brain child of Pastor Ken Yapha, the overseer of the River of Life Fellowship, Lifeboat has raised several members to create means of income in today’s economic environment dogged with unemployment. “The Sacco is meant to do what a lifeboat does to sinking people at sea. It saves people when a boat is sinking”, Pastor Yapha says.

He adds that we are living in the midst of an economic sea which swallows people. “This is why the Christian is the most frustrated individual, he has to do things the right way yet at the same time compete with worldly people, he therefore gives up participation on the marketplace”, he comments.

Abraham Baraka has been Lifeboat’s chairman for five years. I understand he is a busy man from our phone conversation. He is currently preparing Lifeboat’s books for audit and has made time for an interview with me at 11.30 a.m. I am wary of the value he has on his time. Nairobi’s traffic jam is crazy. 20 minutes to our meeting time, I am in a noisy route 23 matatu at Jogoo Road, crossing my fingers that he does not call while I am still in traffic. By a stroke of luck, we maneuver our way into town by 11.35.

Safely away from the blasting music, I call Baraka and agree to meet him next to Kenya Archives. The entrepreneur who is a father of five is devoted to the Sacco’s management. At 11.45, we snake our way along the busy Accra Road to a restaurant, exchanging pleasantries. “My family is doing well by God’s grace”, he says. Smiling, he reprimands me, “If I have an appointment, I strive to make it ten minutes earlier.” I express my apologies for keeping him waiting.

He does not lead the Sacco alone. Lifeboat has five officials- the chair, vice chair, secretary, treasurer and a committee member. The officials are monitored by a three member supervisory committee that is chaired by Pastor Yapha. The supreme authority of the Sacco is the Annual General Meeting, comprised of members, an official from the department of Cooperative and Development, together with the Sacco’s officials. “Saccos are fully democratic and that’s why the AGM holds major decisions”, Says Baraka.

At each AGM, a third of the committee has to retire and new officials elected. “At Lifeboat, we create a succession plan by nurturing leaders”, he informs me. “One lesson I learnt from Myles Munroe is, the best way to outlive your life is to make yourself irrelevant by putting systems in place to make the organization work without you’, Baraka adds.

Saccos are monitored by the government. “Once you are an official, you become a public servant and everything you do in office has to be scrutinized”, he asserts. He informs me that the accounts he is preparing, are audited yearly by an independent government appointed auditor. Accounts have to be audited in preparation for the next AGM, which will be in March 2015.

During the last AGM, the auditor raised the Achilles’ heel of handling cash from deposits and loan repayments. “This is why we introduced the standing orders”, he says. “Change is intentional though at the beginning, one might face opposition”, he adds. He informs me that some members were not happy with the standing order decision that was made during the last AGM. He explains that to access a loan, members are required to have saved through a bank standing order for six months.

Each member contributes a minimum of 1200 shillings monthly, and is to have a minimum of 5000 shares. “The Sacco’s income is from the interests on loans”, Baraka tells me. He says that the leadership is purely on a voluntary basis.

Lifeboat has divided the members into cell groups who guarantee one another for loans and encourage each other to do businesses and investments. This way, the leadership can easily track loan repayments. “We operate on a platform of trust and integrity of our members”, he says. He further adds that the default rate has been 0.5%, with the loan defaulters being in touch with the Sacco’s management. Those are not bad debts”, he informs me.

What are their weaknesses? “We realized that members were saving and reluctant to borrow loans. A lot of money was dormant in the account,” he says. We had to empower members to start borrowing”, he adds.

Esther Madenge is one of Lifeboat’s 500 members. She paid for her son’s college education, owns land in Ruai and is farming vegetables and rearing rabbits and chickens. “My husband is unemployed, so he is the one who now operates my vegetable business in Maringo estate”, she says. “All these projects have been made possible by loans from Lifeboat”, she adds.

Pastor Ken Yapha has seen people raised through Lifeboat. “Someone who started borrowing 5000 shillings and now can borrow 100,000 shillings”, he explains. He says plans to introduce Lifeboat Housing Sacco are underway.

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