By Jonathan Arp

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles by Jonathan about vocational and cultural discipleship related to Mavuno Church, in Nairobi, Kenya. You can read the first article here and the second here.]

Driving through Nairobi, the slums will sneak up you. Sitting in traffic their metallic brownness will catch your eye just at the edge of your vision. When the panorama of an estimated one million people living normal, everyday lives in leaning shanties comes fully into view for the first time, the experience is overwhelming. The crater of corrugated metal and poverty is strangely beautiful from far away. The lived reality is jarring. Two thirds of Nairobi’s population live in slums.

The slums of Nairobi (1)

The slums of Nairobi (1)

“The greatest poverty that I have found in my seven years working in the slums is the poverty of the mind. It’s not how much money you have in the pocket, it’s really what you think of yourself,” explained Daisy Waimiri, the energetic founder of Maono, a ‘table banking’ micro-investment company working in the slums of Nairobi.

Daisy Waimiri, the energetic founder of Maono

Daisy Waimiri, the energetic founder of Maono

Investors have long said they they put their money behind people, not projects. The thought is that if the right group of people are working together, any type of business has a much better chance of thriving than a great idea with uncommitted or incompetent people. Maono is taking this kind of people-centric approach to investing a step further. By focusing on the spiritual, bodily, and economic well-being of an entire group, Maono is investing in the benefits of a collaborative and well-trained community, regardless of the businesses being started.

Table banking (1)

Table banking (1)

“Maono as an organization comes and does is what is called a table topping. Now on your table, say you have $1,000 USD,” Daisy explained. “That money, we as an organization do not lend to the individuals, we lend to the group. They decide who to give to, they decide how much to give. So for us we look if the group is viable, if the group is able to pay. We don’t look at the individual, we look at it collectively.”

Maono then takes a certain percentage of the gross profits at the end of the year. The businesses range from small grocery stands to kiosks selling “airtime” (cell phone minutes). If the group is unsuccessful, then so is Maono, and vice versa. The Maona model encourages a collaboration between the group and the organization lending to it that seems impossible in the traditional banking and loans model.

Table banking (2)

Table banking (2)

Microfinance companies like Kiva have long used a “people-first” approach in the backstories and photography that bridge a connection between the backers and the prospects. But the model of mcuh microfinancing is still rather traditional. A loan is given based on the economic viability of the business being started. While many of these organizations work hard to ensure a low default rate, if the business does not flourish as expected, the small business owner is left with debt and the potential for collateral seizure depending on the organization doing the funding.

“The money that we lend to the group, we do not charge any interest. And that is the difference between us and a typical microfinance institution,” Daisy said as she detailed Maona’s table banking approach. “It is the group, not our organization, that decides how much to increase each individual’s capital.”

Maono’s model has more in common with a new phase of investing innovation just being started by companies like Pave. Pave’s entire business model and mission statement is focused on connecting the right young people with experienced mentor/investors who will benefit most from their success. In exchange for a lump sum of money to be spent at the prospect’s discretion, a certain percentage of annual income is given for a certain number of years based on an algorithm of earning potential. The incentive for collaboration and ensuring individual success is part of the model. There are no fees and no guarantee of success.

Maono by no means invented this concept of ‘table banking.’ But what makes their model unique is the training effort put into each individual person included in these groups. All things constant, the earning potential of someone in the slums is low. The real role of Maono is to train. They provide basic business skills training, training in various family planning and health skills, but the foundation of the training is spiritual. Daisy explained, “If you have your place in Christ and know there is a bigger person, a bigger somebody that cares so much about you, that thinks you are more valuable than you think you do. That is one of our biggest trainings because we believe that without that, regardless of how much money we can give, if they haven’t changed what they think about themselves, really, we haven’t really done much.”

Maono is a ‘Frontline Initiative’ of Mavuno Church, a growing, engagement-focused church in Nairobi. A Frontline Initiative is the final part in a series of vocational and cultural discipleship programs at Mavuno focused on growing in knowledge and practical application of the Christian faith in order to “fearlessly influence” neighborhoods, workplaces, and eventually, the city and the entire country. There are over sixty frontline initiatives in the various industries and lines of work throughout Nairobi. In the same mold as Maono, the church hopes to create leaders in all sectors of society focused on redeeming and discussing the Gospel implications of their work. Daisy started Maono as she was going through Mavuno’s vocational discipleship programs and Mavuno has provided her with support and mentorship along the way.

Maono is applying this same leadership development concept to the way train and equip emerging leaders throughout the lower income areas in Nairobi.  “I can’t wait for those change agents to come from the slums … I know that when it comes from there, we will not have slums,” Daisy said when I asked her what her dream scenario would be.

No slums in Nairobi is an ambitious goal. But big changes typically come when a small group of determined individuals are committed to an idea bigger than themselves. Poverty may never be solved by capital investing alone. By helping show many small groups throughout the slums that there is something bigger than their current reality, Maono and Mavuno Church is taking a bold step towards that ambitious goal.

The slums of Nairobi (2)

The slums of Nairobi (2)

Jonathan Arp is a writer by night and a classically trained internet advertiser by day. Typically calling NYC home, he has spent the past few months working in Google’s Nairobi, Kenya office using phrases like “building a digital ecosystem” to describe what he does.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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