Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rural Field Visit - Village Style (with a resort feel?)

After the urban center visits, Melinda and I headed to a rural part of Kenya, known as Msambweni, located about 2 1/2 hours outside of Mombasa. However, since there is no place to stay in that area, we were lucky enough to be hosted by the founder of Yehu at his home. After riding a ferry across the inlet, we journeyed in a matatu to Akunda, where Louis Pope and his wife Chris picked us up. Unfortunately, it was already dark, so I wasn't able to truly appreciate the beautiful beach setting of the newly constructed home that Louis and his wife recently built.
When we arrived, we ate a wonderful dinner with chocolate cake for desert and chatted with a couple from Utah staying with the Popes. I know it seems trivial to put a desert in my blog, but it was my first chocolate cake since I arrived in Africa and I quickly realized that I never wanted to go this long without it again. It's the little things I miss, not the guaranteed hot running water and electricity, having my own car to drive, or even air conditioning when it is blazing hot, but it is the chocolate cakes and ability to get nearly any book you want almost 24 hours a day that I really miss. Next time I make a trip to a less developed nation, customs may be a little concerned about why I have Betty Crocker cake mixes and a small inventory in my luggage, but it will definitely be worth it.

The next morning, we woke up to the sound of the beach and a beautiful sunrise. I almost forgot that I was actually here for work and not vacation because it was so relaxing. But I quickly returned to reality, got out of bed and got ready for the village visits. Melinda and I met Rachel, one of Yehu's rural credit officers and went to the home of the center leader, where the meeting was underway.

The difference between these borrowers and the urban borrowers was only evident by their meeting location. They were both groups of hardworking entrepreneurs that depend on Yehu to provide the capital they need to run their businesses so they can take care of their families and ensure a positive future for their children. When interviewing them, I realized that they did have slightly different needs, such as roofing loans and Ramadan loans, while the urban borrowers were more concerned with health insurance and higher loan amounts. And although these rural borrowers knew what the competitor was offering, the number of competitors was only 1 or 2, not the 3 or 4 we found in the urban areas. After these meetings, I realized that the marketing strategy was going to have to be slightly differentiated for geographic areas -just one of the many valuable realizations I gained from conducting field visits.

The rest of the day was filled with visiting the local branch and meeting with the branch manager, another center meeting and visiting a borrower at his butchery business. Omar, the butcher client went from selling meat on a wooden table to building a completely tiled shop with plans for expansion, in just one year with the help of a Yehu loan. Pretty remarkable! At the second center meeting, Melinda and I were generously given gifts, hand-made by the borrowers themselves. Their craftsmanship was great, so I made some purchases for my family while I was there.

It was a spectacular day, ended with a nice swim in the ocean and bonfire on the beach. Life really doesn't get much better than this, right?

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