We’re excited to introduce Bidhaa Sasa, Whole Planet Foundation’s newest partner in Kenya. Bidhaa Sasa sells, delivers, and finances beneficial products to low income populations in rural areas. Our team likes their client-centric approach to affordable credit, responsive customer service, and attention to internal systems.
Bidhaa Sasa means “Products now!” in Kiswahili. All of their products are selected for their productive time and money savings benefits, and are priced under 10,000 Kenyan shillings, or roughly $100. They currently offer solar products, gas and efficient cookstoves, and maize drying tarps. And they are continuing to test new products to add to the mix. Since they first launched in 2015, Bidhaa Sasa has sold a total of 12,000 products. WPF support will help Bidhaa Sasa reach 4920 new borrowers access these beneficial products.
To learn more about how Bidhaa Sasa works, I spent some time shadowing their field staff in Webuye, western Kenya. I learned they spend a lot of time traveling far distances on foot, matatu (mini-van bus), and boda (motorcycle taxi), to provide a high level of customer service to clients. When staff deliver products to clients, they also take the time to walk through all the features of the product and review the loan terms. Bidhaa Sasa staff also go directly to their clients’ homes or businesses within a few days of receiving complaints about faulty products. They’ll sit with the client to test the faulty product, and try to fix it on the spot with spare parts. If the problem can’t be fixed, they might give the client a new product immediately.
During our rounds I had a chance to meet Humphrey, who is a repeat customer and a group leader. Humphrey has taken loans for a Jiko Bora, a gas cooker, and a canvas tarp for drying maize. As a group leader, Humphrey plays a very important role as a liaison between Bidhaa Sasa field staff and other clients. Group Leaders help provide information and demonstrate products to interested borrowers, motivate groups, and recruit new members. Leaders are given small bonuses for their efforts, based on group formation, new clients recruited, and completed loan payments.
Humphrey has a store where he sells various daily products. He keeps the gas cookstove he bought from Bidhaa Sasa at his kiosk as a demonstration product in case any of his shop customers might be interested in purchasing their own. He says the stove has helped him save time and money, so he can dedicate more energy to his business. As I chatted with him, a few of his shop customers stopped by. One customer had also bought a gas cooker from Bidhaa Sasa after learning about it from Humphrey. She uses her gas cooker to cook food which she sells at a market in a nearby town.
In recent years, there has been a lively debate about the impact of investing in the energy access sector. Investors are taking a deeper look at the tricky balance between cost, scale, and quality of service to rural clients; and the relationship between such household items and incomes. To address the first set of questions, many last mile asset distribution companies are relying on technology to manage their loans, such as the PayGo mechanism which enables remote switch-off of products if there is a late payment. Bidhaa Sasa has decided to focus on a high level of human interaction, social networks, and group cohesion methodologies. At WPF, we have partnered with companies who are trying different innovative approaches to delivering credit services to bottom of the pyramid clients. Whether the model is high technology or high touch, traditional microfinance or asset finance, we’ve found the fundamental principles of responsible finance remain the same: a commitment to accessibility, affordability, transparency, and customer service.
Zoe So is Whole Planet Foundation’s Regional Director for East and South Africa.