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Kenya client Watervale Investments receives intensive COVID-19 support

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies around the globe – and the small business sector is taking the biggest hit by far. As a result, small businesses have seen their income all but disappear, while also facing increased input costs. Many have been left struggling to cover operational costs, including salaries. Businesses had to innovate to survive.

GroFin’s response to the pandemic was to provide intensive business support to its clients, including Watervale Investments in Kenya which employs 215 people. Watervale Investments, trading as Moko Home and Living, manufactures mattresses and furniture. Watervale offerings include low-cost, zero-waste cushions made from by-products of European foam factories. These are distributed through Moko’s partner network of over 150 micro-enterprises operating across Kenya which in turn retail Moko products to serve the end customers.

GroFin’s investment in Watervale goes back to 2017 when the company needed funds to meet working capital needs to purchase raw materials required to expand its operations.

GroFin Kenya assisted the business by giving cash flow management and social media training, as well as training and implementation of COVID-19 infection control measures. Training in COVID-19 infection control measures and implementation of ESG policies have improved the company’s workplace safety for all employees. Watervale shifted all B2C sales and marketing activities to digital channels to make up for reduced retail showroom activity. Its digital sales grew from 50% pre-COVID to 70% of all sales during the COVID period.

COVID-19 has also affected the cost of raw materials which was on the high. Luckily, the company had diversified its supplier base before COVID, especially for imported raw materials, to ensure that Watervale is not dependent on a single country or supplier. This has been extremely beneficial for Watervale and it has been able to adjust its sourcing dynamically and minimise supply interruptions during the lockdown.

In an effort to reduce cost and improve performance, Watervale has innovated to use steam as a utility.

The rationale was that this would reduce the steam cost of our factory since we would only pay for steam used and that an expert service provider would have the responsibility for maintaining the boiler to avoid downtimes. – Eric Kouskalis, Director of Watervale Investments

By switching from diesel-powered boiler to biofuel, Watervale is making a huge step toward reducing its carbon footprint.

GroFin introduced Watervale to the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment that is seeking to co-invest in innovative private sector-led initiatives. Watervale’s application has been submitted and is being reviewed by the investors. With this new investment in perspective, the business wants to launch new products soon.

We have grown the business successfully over the past two years providing sofas and mattresses. We have developed concepts for dozens of new home furniture products, and we are working to secure the financing and build our internal capabilities to bring them to market at scale. – Eric Kouskalis

Enabling innovation at Uganda manufacturing client Bestever Paper

As a start-up, it is often challenging to start and grow a business. With a solid own contribution, Abuhbaker Luzinda – the Managing Director and founder of Bestever Paper Industries approached GroFin Uganda in 2014 for working capital needs to start production. The company manufactures quality eco-friendly polypropylene (PP) products.

The business was performing well and there was a need to expand, therefore Abuhbaker solicited GroFin’s help again in 2017 for another round of financing to purchase a third production line. This significantly improved the business’ capacity and enabled Bestever to innovate by adding the production of ropes using waste from bag production.

Initially, Bestever used to pack ropes in bags, and this was quite bulky. As a result, the ropes occupied a lot of storage space and made transportation expensive. Bestever became the first to introduce new packaging for ropes in Uganda where it packs the ropes in rolls. This made them significantly less bulky which freed up some storage space as well as reduced transportation costs for Bestever and its clients.

“Our ropes are stronger and preferred in the market. We initially used to buy sewing yarns, but we started making them for both our consumption and sale to our competitors. This too has increased our revenue streams and improved our profit margins,” – Abuhbaker Luzinda, Managing Director and founder of Bestever Paper Industries

By the time of GroFin’s second investment, Bestever has further diversified their product line from two to six products which include laminated bags, shopping bags, sewing yarns, among others. As part of GroFin’s support to the business, we recommended to Bestever to open regional distribution centres to increase local demand. Upon advice of  its GroFin Uganda Investment Manager, Bestever installed a management system to link production to the inventory and its financial accounts. This has, subsequently, increased the productivity and efficiency of the business. With no revenue in 2014 when GroFin first invested in the business, it had achieved a turnover of USD 6.8m in 2019.

However, with the impact of COVID-19, Bestever Paper has seen its turnover decline by USD 1m in 2020. The ban on public transport, as a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19, has made it difficult for manufacturing businesses like Bestever Paper to continue production. One of the conditions imposed by the government to manufacturing company owners was to accommodate all their staff at the factory premises since public and private transports were banned. Given the fact that Bestever Paper employs 363 permanent staff, it could not accommodate all the employees at the factory. Consequently, Abuhbaker decided to completely close its operations.

Abuhbaker explained that this has resulted in a decline in demand.

“We export about 30% of our production but due to closure of borders with neighbouring countries, especially Burundi which is the destination for over 80% of our exports, we saw a sharp decline in revenue for April and May. Local demand also significantly reduced.”

Despite these challenges, the future still looks bright for Bestever. “Our dream is to be the largest preferred producer of quality polypropylene products. Our target is to hit USD 10m turnover by 2022,” says a proud Abuhbaker.

Realising the dreams of a fashionista entrepreneur in Tanzania

Binti Africa, a textile manufacturing business located in Dar es Salam, is specialised in corporate uniforms, African print attire, handbags, and other accessories. The business was incorporated in 2011 by fashionista entrepreneur, Johari Sadiq, and employs 15 people.

Johari approached GroFin in 2016 for working capital needs and to set a new factory with modern machinery.

“My dream is to become the leading supplier of uniforms to the private and government agencies. Also, to export the African attires to foreign markets and probably having my boutique stores in some of the fashion cities such as Johannesburg,” – Johari Sadiq, Owner of Binti Africa

GroFin’s business support to Binti Africa has been to ensure the business has a proper financial management system in place: Binti’s financial records, cash flow management and internal control have all improved by adopting the right accounting software. GroFin also assisted Binti to put in place a project management team for the construction of their workshop. The workshop is large enough now to accommodate the entire production process in an upmarket location. Besides, GroFin has ensured that Johari put in place a succession plan.

Finally, one of GroFin’s major interventions has been to assist Johari in getting a reliable supplier for a state-of-the-art machine and reliable fabric suppliers at a better price from India and Bangladesh. The new procured machine allows for quick finishing and better quality of uniforms and Binti can display a wider variety of collections. Johari has now started online sales for her African attires and is exploring new market segments (school uniforms) as per advice from her GroFin Tanzania Investment Manager to diversify the market and reduce concentration risks on the corporate uniform line.

All in all, Binti’s liquidity and cash flow have drastically improved, and the income base has widened because Johari is no longer dependant solely on tenders for corporate wear. She has machines that have fewer breakdowns and produce higher quality outputs, with fewer rejects, and more options.

Nevertheless, when COVID-19 struck, Binti Africa was severely affected just like any other small business in Tanzania. The impact of the pandemic on the business has caused severe liquidity problem and delay in the delivery of raw materials. Soon enough, Binti Africa could not meet its obligations towards its clients, causing the business to close the production department and provide compulsory leave to its employees.

To curb the impact of COVID-19 on the business, Binti started shifts to observe social distancing. Johari had to keep regular contact with her corporate clients as well as suppliers and add up freight cost to speed up the delivery of raw materials.

GroFin Rwanda supports SME clients to mitigate COVID-19 impact

GroFin Rwanda, a specialist impact-driven SME financier, is providing extensive support to its SME clients in different countries to help them mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on their businesses.

GroFin clients in Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Ghana are also benefitting from €5,2 million in funding from the Investing for Employment (IFE) facility. GroFin is partnering with IFE, which is a subsidiary of the German Development Bank (KfW) and forms an integral part of the German Government’s Special Initiative on Training and Employment (“Invest for Jobs”).

Under the Invest for Jobs brand, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) offers a package of measures to support investment activities that have a high impact on employment in Africa, of which IFE is one key pillar

GroFin is a multinational, private developmental finance institution committed to the successful development of SMEs to create sustainable wealth, employment, and economic growth. It provides funding to the underserved market of small and growing businesses that often struggle to access funding from traditional financiers.

Rwandan entrepreneurs have received 40% of the total €5,2 million in funding and these local beneficiaries have commended GroFin for its support in aiding their recovery, enabling them to sustain their operations, and to protect employment.

Wilson Gafurama, managing director of GroFin client RGL Security, explained that some of its business activities were halted due to COVID-19, while some of its clients failed to pay their debts to the company. He thanked GroFin for interventions that helped the company to return to normalcy. RGL has over 3000 employees.

“Some clients halted their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We used to work with 400 institutions, including gaming companies. Some suspended their activities without clearing payments,” he said.

GroFin assisted RGL by conducting an assessment to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on the business and enabled it to access IFE grant funding to pay its employees for two months.

“It is in this context that GroFin came to us and analysed our business. In November, they provided two-month salaries for our employees,” Gafurama noted.

Dr Ubarijoro Sowaf, managing director of Ubuzima Polyclinic, says his business has enjoyed a good partnership with GroFin for the past eight years and benefitted from deepened support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wenceslas Habamungu, managing director and owner of Ecoplastic, a recycling business producing plastic bags in Mageragere in Nyarugenge district, says GroFin has helped the company in the areas of business advisory and training.

“Working with GroFin has tangible and mutual benefits. Unlike some banks, GroFin never abandons its clients and continues equipping you with soft skills and tangible support until your business is successful and sustainable,” he said.

Christian Bugabo, the Investment Executive who heads up GroFin Rwanda, says the funding provided through GroFin’s partnership with KfW is aligned with national efforts to support economic recovery amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bugabo says GroFin will continue to walk with beneficiaries on their journey to regain growth. “We are optimistic that their operations will progress further. GroFin will sustain closer collaboration with beneficiary companies and provide all the necessary support for their businesses to thrive,” he reiterated.

Headquartered in Mauritius, GroFin offers financing and support to SMEs in 14 countries in Africa and the Middle East. It is supported by 34 international finance institutions, development organisations, and private funders who have committed nearly $535 million in capital.

GroFin has been operating in Rwanda for 13 years – since 2007. To date, it has invested $24 million to support 56 entrepreneurs in the country. This paved the way for the creation of 4033 jobs, of 32% of which are held by women and 75% of which are held by unskilled or semi-skilled workers.

GroFin provides loans ranging between $100,000 (over Rwf 98 million) and $1,5 million (over Rwf 1,4 billion) to help them increase profitability, create jobs, and contribute to national economic development.

This article was originally published by Igihe.

Jordan SME grows while rebuilding lives of Syrian refugees

Arabella for Aluminium provides employment opportunities to refugees in one of Jordan’s poorest governates.

Former lawyer, Mohamed Darwish, is lucky to have a job on Arabella’s factory floor. Darwish is one of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees presently living in Jordan. His family may have escaped the death and destruction of war when they fled from Aleppo in Syria, but building a new life is not easy.

With close to a third of Jordan’s private sector labour force employed by SMEs, the sector has a crucial role to play in addressing the refugee crisis. And with Arabella located just a few kilometres away from the Zaatari Refugee Camp in the Governate or Irbid, this SME offers a rare employment opportunity at a decent wage to both Syrians and local workers.

Under the Nomou Programme, Arabella is a GroFin Jordan SME client that specialises in aluminum extrusion, fabrication, decoration, and surface treatment & coating. In 2015, GroFin provided the company with financing to purchase equipment and complete infrastructure work at its new production site. But only a few months after it started operations, an unexpected halt in production could easily have seen the business fail.

When cracks appeared in three of the company’s extrusion press containers – which are crucial to its production process – it had no choice but to halt operations. Two of the containers were shipped to Thailand for repairs and while the third was repaired locally, the process still took several months.

Arabella was soon unable to meet its obligations to GroFin and would have defaulted under a traditional financing framework – likely forfeiting its assets and going under. However, GroFin’s model provides room to adapt its financing to the needs of the client and was able to devise an alternative payment plan to allow Arabella to overcome this difficult period.

“Not all business support is about increasing sales and revenue. It is also about helping the client to survive and overcome tough times.”

Wael Sunna, Investment Manager at GroFin Jordan, says small and medium-sized businesses are extremely vulnerable to shocks and the ability to overcome such unexpected setbacks is key to their survival. “Not all business support is about increasing sales and revenue. It is also about helping the client to survive and overcome tough times,” Sunna explains.

GroFin has also provided Arabella with further advice to improve its cash flow through negotiating better payment terms with suppliers and improving collections from clients through shorter payment terms. In 2017, GroFin provided the company with additional funding needed to boost its stock of aluminum pellets to meet higher demand for its products.

With GroFin’s support, Arabella has been able to continuously increase its production and sales. At the end of 2018, the company employed 84 workers, compared to 49 a year before, 20% of whom are Syrians. Arabella continues to grow and is expanding its production facilities even further through the addition of a new furnace for processing scrap aluminum.

“GroFin became our partner when banks refused our loan applications. In the beginning we were short of experience, but we found all the support we needed in GroFin.”

Mr. Sobhi Al Zubi, the entrepreneur behind Arabella, says he will never forget GroFin’s support and loyalty to his business. “GroFin became our partner when banks refused our loan applications. In the beginning we were short of experience, but we found all the support we needed in GroFin. They were there to help us with everything from planning to marketing and sales,” he says.

Sobhi says perseverance and determination were crucial to his success.

“I am always positive, despite the setbacks. I always keep looking forward – never back. You have to feel successful on the inside, then even people who start from nothing can become successful.”

Learn more about the The Nomou Programme and GroFin funding and business support for entrepreneurs and SMEs in the Middle East.

GroFin Nigeria supports women entrepreneurs to ‘step up and scale up’

GroFin Nigeria (Lagos) recently hosted nearly 90 women entrepreneurs at a capacity building workshop in Lagos. The event formed part of GroWoman, GroFin’s Gender Lens Investing Initiative, and focused on equipping women entrepreneurs in business planning and strategy. Women empowerment is one of GroFin’s core impact objectives.

GroFin hosted the event in partnership with Sheba Centre, a GroFin client and events management company. Omolara Adelusi, the owner of Sheba Centre, shared her entrepreneurial journey and encouraged other women entrepreneurs “to step up and scale up” their businesses.

Women entrepreneurs from various sectors including agro-processing, education, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing attended the event and were inspired by its theme of ‘Breaking the Myth’ around gender roles which assume that women cannot – or should not – venture into the business world.

Bisi Onim, executive director and COO at FundQuest Financial Services, and Tope Orolu, managing director at TIS Capital & Advisory, spoke on the role of a business plan in a thriving business. The speakers encouraged entrepreneurs to develop their business plans holistically.

The learning sessions included practical guides to business planning which some of the participants even described as an “abridged MBA”. Attendees also testified to have garnered more knowledge on sustaining their business, building a proper structure as well as implementing the right strategies for business growth.

“The facilitators made the business plan very easy to digest. I am going to run my business as a system and leverage on resources outside of my immediate environment. I will further develop my business plan and would love to have more information on subsequent events of this nature.” said one attendee.

GroFin’s mission is aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) through its focus on women–led businesses and women employment. GroFin has supported over 122 women-owned businesses and 30% of the jobs our investments sustain are held by women.

GroFin is partnering with the International Trade Centre (ITC) in SheTrades Invest, an initiative to increase investment in women-owned businesses in the countries where we operate. The SheTrades initiative aims to connect three million women to market by 2021. In addition, GroFin works with the Vital Voices Programme to help women entrepreneurs lead positive change in their communities. GroFin sponsored 12 clients for the VV GROW Fellowship, a highly competitive one-year accelerator program for women who own small or medium-sized businesses.

If you are a woman entrepreneur looking to grow your business, learn more about GroFin’s financing and business support. Or speak directly with a GroFin representative at one our local offices for more information.

GroFin receives high accolade at Nigerian Healthcare Excellence Awards

GroFin Nigeria won the Outstanding Healthcare Project-Friendly Financial Institution of the Year Award at the Nigerian Healthcare Excellence Awards (NHEA) 2019.

The award recognises banks and financial institutions that have created an inclusive innovative financing model for healthcare entrepreneurs or healthcare SMEs across the value chain. NHEA is an initiative of Global Health Project and Resources in Partnership with Anadach group and celebrates organisations who have contributed immensely to the growth of the Nigerian healthcare sector.

Felix Ezeh, Investment Executive at GroFin Nigeria, felt honoured that GroFin was recognised for this prestigious award:

“By this award, the public that voted for GroFin made a statement that they are appreciative of the work we are doing.  We heard them.  Our promise to them is that this award will only spur us to do more.”

NHEA’s recognition aims to stimulate quality improvement and innovation in the Nigerian health sector leading to improved service delivery & management of key health issues and the capacity of individuals to influence and set new performance standards in Nigeria & beyond.

GroFin’s unique model of combining finance and business support helps healthcare entrepreneurs and SMEs overcome challenges and improves their ability to manage the complexity of a growing business. GroFin has dedicated healthcare investment and business support expertise, both through its in-house healthcare “industry experts” and through formal partnerships with specialist healthcare partners like Medical Credit Fund (MCF).

GroFin’s healthcare portfolio in Africa and the Middle East consists of investments made in 41 SMEs, representing a total investment of US$ 16M, across the value chain of businesses in the healthcare industry including hospitals, clinics, dental facilities, maternal care and pharmaceutical outlets. Business support offered by GroFin includes a business planning framework, quality management systems, cash flow advice, medical waste management systems as well as operations and management expertise. And through its investments, GroFin has over 277,280 patients able to obtain medical care services annually and has helped sustain a total of 3,950 healthcare related jobs.

The NHEA 2019 brought further good news as a GroFin Nigeria exited client Healthplus Limited won Retailer of the Year Award, further helping to cement GroFin’s impact in the health sector of Nigeria.

About GroFin

GroFin is a pioneering private development financial institution specialising in financing and supporting small and growing businesses (SGBs) across Africa and the Middle East. We combine medium term loan capital and specialised business support to grow SGBs in emerging markets. By successfully combining medium term loans and specialised business support delivered through our local offices, we have invested in over 700 SMEs and sustained over 88,150 jobs across a wide spectrum of business activities within the 15 countries in Africa and Middle East that we operate in. GroFin has its headquarters located in Mauritius.

Media enquiries: Felix Ezeh, [email protected]

GroFin and Shell Foundation: Harnessing technology for SME finance

From mobile money to blockchain and data analytics, fintech is not only disrupting the way corporate financial institutions operate, it also presents far-reaching opportunities for social enterprises and development finance institutions to strengthen their impact and efficiency.

Shell Foundation (SF) supports innovators to test new technology and enterprise models to help overcome two major global development challenges: access to energy and access to affordable transport. Its portfolio includes both social enterprises as well as market enablers – like GroFin – that accelerate the growth of proven sectors.

SF, a UK registered charity, has supported GroFin since its inception in 2004, when the two organisations came together to develop a unique model that combines finance and support to grow SMEs and drive inclusive economic growth. In line with SF’s focus to support businesses and intermediaries capable of delivering social change at scale, it also assisted GroFin in two projects aimed to enable the company to better leverage technology and increase the efficiency of its growing operations.

Mairi Tejani, Head of SME Growth at Shell Foundation, says financial technology innovations create a unique opportunity to redefine the SME lending ecosystem.

“We remain committed to supporting initiatives that increase the efficiency of the SME finance sector in emerging markets, and are pleased to partner with GroFin to test the use cases for financial technology innovations in SME funds.”

Increased efficiency

GroFin provides financing and business support to SMEs in 14 countries throughout Africa and the Middle East and has invested in over 700 businesses. The ability to provide effective business support to its clients is integral to GroFin’s business model. This requires the company to accurately capture and analyse financial and other data gathered from these SME businesses, or created through its transactions with them.

Until recently, GroFin relied on various internal systems and manually extracted the data it needs for analysis and reporting – a process which was both time-consuming and error prone. With Shell Foundation’s support, GroFin enlisted Altron Karabina, a specialist in helping companies digitally transform using the Microsoft platform, to develop a data warehouse and business analytics platform.

The data warehouse allowed GroFin and Karabina to develop automated reporting templates, eliminating the need to manual collate and update data for reporting purposes and greatly improved efficiency. For example, the project has allowed GroFin to slash the time spent on collating certain data for creating quarterly reports for investors from about two weeks to mere minutes.

GroFin is now using its own internal resources to extend the infrastructure and functionality created during the project to create a wider range of automated reports. Since the completion of the project, GroFin has already published more than 60 automated reports. The automation of reporting processes is freeing up time and resources within GroFin’s investment team, allowing them to spend less time on verifying figures and conduct the analysis needed to manage their portfolios and support their clients better.

A digital solution to capturing data

The need to maintain an efficient system of collecting data that is complete, accurate and auditable also led SF to provide GroFin with support to test and pilot a blockchain platform from BanQu, a US based, blockchain solutions provider. GroFin tested the use of a digital platform using distributed ledger technology (DLT) as a more effective and convenient means for its clients to submit the data required from them.

Philippa Massyn, IST Executive at GroFin, says the pilot project showed the great potential for development finance institutions and others engaged in impact investing to use digital platforms to collect data in the field.

“The project showed that a digital platform can not only make it easier for SMEs to submit their data, it can also be used to generate key insights through analytics.  We believe that if SMEs see this immediate benefit to submitting their data, they will be incentivised to submit again and on time.”

Serving SMEs better

Ashraf Esmael, Chief Development Officer at GroFin, says exploring new ways to capture and analyse data from SMEs, can make an important contribution to the development of the sector.

“Small businesses are vulnerable to shocks and therefore need to identify changing trends early on. The ability to capture and analyse data quicker and more effectively will help GroFin to provide better and more timely support to SMEs, and to do this more efficiently.”

Ryan Jamieson, CTO at Altron Karabina, says the company is excited to work with organisations like GroFin which have both an economic and societal impact.

“Altron Karabina helps companies to understand, manage and make decisions based on their data. In GroFin’s case this not only improved their own businesses processes. It will also help them to empower the SMEs they serve.”

Facing Jordan’s SME challenges & growing in frozen food market

Small and medium-sized businesses employ around a third of Jordan’s private-sector labour force. Yet, World Bank Enterprise Survey data shows that nearly 49% of small and 33% of medium-sized businesses in the country still cite access to finance as a major constraint to their growth.

GroFin allowed Al-Mutamayeza for Frozen Food Trading, which trades under the name Saboba, to overcome this challenge by providing the business with three successive rounds of financing. The company distributes high-quality frozen and processed meat and poultry products. Thanks to GroFin’s investments and continued business support it was able to expand into new geographical regions in Jordan, venture into new market segments and broadened its product range.

Raed and Mohammad Saboba founded the company bearing their name in 2007 in Zarqa, Jordan. They first approached GroFin in 2013 to finance the purchase of additional inventory to expand the distribution network of the business. GroFin also supported Saboba in the formalisation of its business plan and financial projections, equipping the entrepreneurs to monitor progress against the forecasted plan to better identify areas of improvement.

As Saboba grew, GroFin continued to work closely with the business to optimise its product range and pricing, as well as its brand positioning and marketing reach. In 2015, GroFin encouraged Saboba to explore new markets and provided the business with financing to introduce new products targeting hotels, restaurants and catering companies. In response to GroFin’s advice to diversify its product range, Soboba later obtained additional financing to acquire the right to distribute a global brand of powdered milk and other dairy products in Jordan.

Due to the success and improved profitability the company has achieved since partnering with GroFin, Saboba has acquired new premises and its brand is now well-known in Jordan.

“GroFin’s financial and business support resulted in extending our geographical coverage, increasing our number of products from 12 to 25, hiring new employees, and growing sales by over 15% annually,” says Raed Saboba, co-owner of the business.

Saboba currently employs 35 workers, compared to 21 at the time of GroFin’s first investment. However, the company’s growth has not only allowed it to create new job opportunities, but also to enhance the life and careers of its employees. Wafaa Tom is a female employee who joined Saboda in 2016 and heads up the company’s finance department.

“The growth in the company’s operations impacted my knowledge and enriched my career as I am currently dealing with bigger transactions related to a number of reputable customers.”

Alaa Al Faqeer, another female employee at Saboba, says she struggled to find a job with a decent salary as she did not have any tertiary education. All of this changed when a friend encouraged her to apply for a job at Saboba.

“Saboba paid for my tuition to enrol at university and I received a degree in Accounting, which helped me to further develop my career. When I got engaged, Saboba also generously participated in my wedding expenses, as my husband and I could not fulfil all of them,” she says.

GroFin Jordan - SabobaGroFin Jordan - SabobaGroFin Jordan - Saboba

At a mere 14.4%, the World Bank points out that Jordan’s female labour force participation rate is the lowest in the world for a country not at war. This is despite the fact that women comprise more than half of Jordanian university graduates. Gender discrimination in hiring practices contributes to this number, as well as to the country’s high female unemployment rate of nearly 24%. With GroFin’s support, Saboba has empowered Tom and Al Faqeer to overcome these barriers.

Rwanda woman entrepreneur lifts local community out of poverty

Agasaro Organic helps local farmers by adding value to their produce

Pineapples grow easily in the fertile soil of the Nyamasheke District in Rwanda’s Western province. But with the fruit in such high supply during the harvest season and no local means available to process it, farmers here have always struggled to get a decent price for their produce.

As in the rest of the country, agriculture is the main source of income for many households. The Rwandan economy may boast a low unemployment rate, but national labour statistics show that over 60% of the country’s workers are in fact self-employed in the agricultural sector. These subsistence farmers typically have little control over the prices they are paid for their produce and so remain trapped by poverty. Women are also most likely to bear the brunt of poverty as, according to Oxfam, they head close to a third of agricultural households and provide almost two thirds of the labour on family farms.

Agasaro Organic is helping to change this for the 552 farmers in Nyamasheke who now act as its contracted suppliers, Agasaro is a woman-owned business which processes pineapple, maracuja, strawberry, honey and other agricultural products to make organic juices and biscuits.

Agasaro not only offers farmers fair pricing, but also assists them with training and fertilisers to improve their yield. Sindayigaya John (33), a pineapple farmer who employs 25 workers to work his land, says working with Agasaro has allowed him to earn more than double the income he did when he sold his fruit at local markets:

“Working with Agasaro has improved our lives. My two children are now going to a better school and I am paying my employees’ salaries on time, which has also improved their lives. My vision is to one day also start a business like Agasaro.”

Isimwe Noella (26), also farms pineapples with her parents and five brothers. The family supplies three tons of fruit to Agasaro every week to earn around Rwf1,500,000. Before they could only make Rwf200,000 to 300,000 at local markets:

“The quality of my crops has also improved because of the assistance and fertilisers which Agasaro provides us. Working with Agasaro has financially transformed our lives at home,” Noella says.

While Agasaro’s were increasing steadily, inadequate packaging equipment was limiting its ability to increase production. In 2017, a lack of packaging materials even started to impede sales growth. Agasaro and other Rwandan manufactures previously relied on imports from Kenya to obtain plastic packaging. But stringent new Kenyan legislation banned the use of manufacturing of certain types of plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.

Isabelle Uzamukunda, the owner and managing director of Agasaro, approached GroFin for working capital to finance the purchase of new packaging machines to help address this shortage. As part of its business support offering, GroFin assisted Uzamukunda in the selection of appropriate packaging machines and helped her to review her business plan.

Uzamukunda says the financing and support she has received from GroFin has helped to increase Agasaro’s sales and staff complement:

“Before receiving GroFin’s support my monthly sales were never above Rwf20.2 million. Now my current turnover stands at Rwf29 to 30 million. I had 16 staff members, but now my team has grown to 26 employees.”

Ntwali Victor (34) is one of these new employees. Victor tried to support his wife and child by doing casual or temporary jobs before he started working as an electrician at Agasaro a year ago. His wife couldn’t find permanent work either but earning a steady salary has helped to change that too:

“I paid for my wife to complete technical school and now she has a small sewing business. I can pay my rent on time, pay for medical services and send my child to a better school. We were two jobless people at home – now one of us has a permanent job and the other a business to run.”

GroFin has also assisted the business with networking and market identification and Uzamukunda says this has helped Agasaro to qualify for grants from different donors:

“I have the contract for a $199,000 grant for the construction of a modern plant in-hand and signed. This is all because of GroFin’s financial support and business advice which have taken me to another level as a businesswoman.”