Business students working with Kenyan women
PLAINVIEW – Walk into the office suite in Wayland Baptist University’s School of Business and you will see a table covered with a royal blue table drape on top if which sits and array of colorful, beaded and woven jewelry, including necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Attached to each piece is a card with a picture of a Kenyan woman hard at work, with her name and a description of what she is doing.
In the small villages outside of Nairobi, markets are set up where tourists can purchase jewelry. A middle man will ask what people are looking for, then will collect the inventory and sell it to the interested party, pocketing most of the money and returning a few dollars to those who made it. Some of those manufacturers are groups of women who string beads and produce jewelry in an attempt to earn enough money to put food on the table for their families.
For the past year, ENACTUS, Wayland’s student entrepreneurial group, has been selling the handmade jewelry to raise funds for future trips to Africa, as well as providing additional income for the groups of women producing the inventory. But what ended as a fundraising opportunity for students, began as a teaching and service opportunity when the Wayland group first traveled to Kenya nearly two years ago to offer basic entrepreneurial training.
Dr. Barry Evans, dean of the School of Business, explained that the unemployment rate among women actively seeking jobs in Kenya is more than 48 percent. Many people who want to work or start their own businesses simply don’t know where to begin. ENACTUS sought to what the students have already learned and present it to potential business men and women in Kenya in order to help them develop businesses to improve their livelihood.
“We went over there to do entrepreneurial training,” said Jessica Echols who graduated Dec. 12 with a degree in business administration. “We really put an emphasis on marketing. From what we were told, that was a major concept that they didn’t understand; but we also did finance, accounting, management and different things like that.”
Echols explained that they would meet with large groups and break them into smaller groups of people with similar interests. Some groups were agricultural in nature while others focused on other areas of commerce. Wayland students would work with these groups to help set up business plans and to teach them how to look at finances and evaluate the cost of production in order to determine what to charge.
One student returned from the initial trip with some handmade jewelry. Dr. Evans wondered if the Wayland students could work directly with these groups of women to raise funds for future trips.
“I thought a better way to do it would be to contract directly with the women who make the jewelry,” said Evans, who was familiar with the market system used in Kenya. “The middle man in that system was the one who pretty much made all the money. It didn’t really help solve any problems rather than provide a few meals for them.”
Dr. Gilbert Werema, an online marketing professor for the School of Business, has a sister who lives in Kenya. She helped make contact with the groups and set up the direct line through which Dr. Evans was able to order merchandise.
Evans and the students viewed samples of the jewelry and tried to decide what would sell locally. Last fall, they placed an order for about $3,000 worth of merchandise.
“That was life-changing for the women in the village,” Evans said. “That was more money than they had seen at one time in their lives.”
Evans said the group organizers used the money to purchase new inventory and hire more women to help fill the order. Echols said it was nice to see their investment pay dividends for the workers in Kenya.
“Now, (one of the founders of a work group) has a huge box … it’s just a big box with a glass side and it has every type of bead, different colors, things like that,” Echols explained. “Before we made our investment, she didn’t have that. It was a way to expand her business.”
ENACTUS has spent the last year selling the jewelry and the $3,000 order has turned into approximately $6,000 in sales. Evans said they are trying to expand the fundraiser, offering beaded bracelets in school colors to the Plainview High School Band Boosters to sell as a fundraiser for the band. He said it is a win-win-win proposition as the band boosters stand to make the most profit while ENACTUS will also clear some profit and it all benefits the women in Kenya.
Evans is hoping to work with other groups interested in selling the bracelets as a fundraiser. He said the women can produce them in whatever color combination is needed.
The jewelry can be purchased at the School of Business or online by clicking on the merchandise link at bookstore.wbu.edu. Look for the ENACTUS Kenyan jewelry link in the side bar. For more information about the program, contact the School of Business at 806-291-1020.